A cancer diagnosis changes a person for good. I still remember the disbelief and fear when I was told I had stage 2 colon cancer. I was just two weeks on the job and had not even taught a class. I just knew they were going to fire me, so that I did not increase their healthcare budget when I had just been hired. But the amazing people at Santa Clara University told me just to get well and return to teach! As wonderful as their generosity was, I was still in shock.
After the surgery and finding out that I would have to do chemothereapy, I really got scared, because I had seen people suffer so bad from chemo. I started crying, and I asked, “Why me, Lord? I am a good person. I try to always do my best and treat people right. I have endured so much already. So, why me? Are you mad at me?” I just could not comprehend why I had cancer. I was already diabetic and had a pacemaker for a heart condition. So, having cancer seemed like overload. Someone told me that God does not put more on you than you can bear. I responded, “Well, He must have a very high opinion of my capacity to suffer.” I was just not ready to be comforted. I was wallowing in my anger.
Then, a couple of days later, as I laid contemplating taking chemo, I started thinking about the little children at St. Jude’s Hospital and other children’s hospital that were dealing with cancers far worse than mine. I thought about the people in the Intensive Care Unit of hospitals across the world, and I asked myself, “Are you better than these people? Do you think they deserve their suffering more than you do? What makes me so special? With no answers to the questions, but a fresh take on the situation, I realize just how blessed I was, and I said, “Why not me?”
You see, I had been on painkillers for nearly three months, because the doctors in Illinois where we had moved from and the first doctors that I saw when we moved to California could not determine why I was having pain in my right side. They did tests and found nothing to explain the pain, so they gave me pain pills and insinuated that I needed psychological help. So, when I was hired at Santa Clara University and was given health insurance, the first thing I did was find a doctor who would determine what was causing the pain.
I went to the new doctor on a Wednesday, and I told her my story of living on pain killers. She scheduled a Cat Scan for two days later. I went for the test, and, before I could get home, my doctor called me and told me I was scheduled for a colonoscopy on the following Monday, and one week from the day she started to treat me, I had surgery to remove a cancerous polyp in my colon. They had found it pretty early.
What is so amazing is that the pain was not from the cancer but from scar tissue from a appendectomy years earlier. The surgeon said I was really lucky to have the pain, or the cancer may not have been found. I do not know why the doctors before then had never scheduled me for a colonoscopy as I was over age 50. But, I believe that God placed me where He could use my story for His glory.
I think of the woman in Luke 8:43-48, who had constant bleeding for twelve years. She endured a lot at the hands of doctors, spending all of her money, and she got worse. But, then, she went to where Jesus was, and, at the risk of losing her life because she was considered unclean, she reached through the crowd, touched Jesus’s robe, and she was healed. Jesus called her, Daughter, and told her that her faith had made her well. Still today, people are encouraged when they read or hear her story, and God is given the glory. It was my hope that God would use my suffering and victory in the same way.
I made the decision to teach my students while I was taking chemotherapy. The university offered to let me Skype, instead. But, I needed the energy that I feel from my students, so, I said I wanted to be in the classroom. I told my students that I was taking chemo, and that if I started running out the room, please make sure I was heading for the bathroom. They were compasssionate, caring, and empathetic, offering to bring me food the one time that I had to cancel classes because I was too ill to teach.
Then, toward the end of the quarter, one of my best students came to my office, and she told me that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She said that she was so scared of her mother dying until she remembered me. She told her mother that her professor was on chemo and still teaching, and it helped them both be encouraged and hopeful. I said, “To God be the glory!”
I will have been cancer-free for nine years in October, and I thank God for every day. I do not take living for granted. I see my struggles differently now, and I ask God to use them to help someone else, which is partly why I started this website. I am not the same person that I was before cancer. I realize that Jesus was correct when he said that we will have many trials and sorrows here on earth (John 16:33). I have learned that nobody deserves sickness. Illness is not a form of punishment for lack of faith. I cannot tell you why some of us survive and some other do not survive. I just know that I am just an ordinary person with an extraordinary God.
I hope that as you read this post, if you know someone over age 50 who has not had a colonoscopy and have insurance, that you will encourage them to ask their doctor to schedule them for one. Colon cancer is the “silent killer, ” especially for African Americans who are more likely to die from colon cancer than are others, mainly because by the time the disease is discovered, it is well advanced. I am blessed, and my husband believes that I would not be alive today if God had not laid it on my heart to move to California. He went ahead of me, opening doors for me, guiding me to the right doctors. So, now my question when troubles come is not Why me, Lord?, but Why Not Me?
Dear Father in Heaven,
I am a living witness that You hear and answer prayer. I thank you for every breath I take, because I could be dead. You saw what I could not see and you opened doors for me. I am so grateful. I pray today, Father, for all the people dealing with cancer, and for those who have just been given a diagnosis and are trying to figure out why they have cancer. Touch their hearts and give them peace and comfort. Help them to endure what seems impossible to endure. Lord, I don’t know why bad things happen, but I do know that I trust You to be there to help us through the difficult moments. You have never failed me. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.