2016 has been an interesting year so far!
At the end of December 2015 on a brief visit home to the UK, I visited my Doctor for what I hoped would be a simple appointment. I was convinced I had been suffering from haemorrhoids and thought I would be leaving with a tube of cream to bring a quick relief!
To my surprise I was referred to Cancer Services and fast tracked to see a Colorectal Surgeon, who, after giving me some quite intrusive tests, diagnosed me with squamous cell carcinoma in the bowel. Basically, I had skin cancer in the anal canal.
I had MRI and CT Scans on Christmas Eve and was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumour just before the New Year!
The surgery was aborted as the tumour had attached itself to my sphincter muscle and removal could have left me permanently incontinent! I was referred to a Clinical Oncologist who informed me that I would have to go through 5 ½ weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment to blast the tumour to smithereens.
Happy New Year 2016! (NOT the start I was hoping for!)
Looking back the shock could have been debilitating. I didn’t take the diagnosis lightly! My Father died from Liver Cancer when he was only 46 years old (4 years younger than I was when I was diagnosed) and he died within 9 weeks of his diagnosis. Even though I remember vividly the shock of dealing with my own emotions at that time, being only 18 years of age and 8 months pregnant, my husband and I knew that God had me covered and that somehow, somehow, He would work it all out.
During a time of prayer with friends on the day of my diagnosis, I felt the Lord say, “Just another testimony” quickly followed by, “My Grace is sufficient for you”.
That was it; that was what we stood on for the next 4 months as I endured the prescribed therapy.
So the treatment began!
We drove more than 3,300 miles back and forth to the hospital for 45 separate appointments, sometimes taking more than 8 hours each day due to the delays of broken down machinery and the sheer volume of patients waiting for treatment.
As I accepted God’s reassurance, I purposed to use this trial to bring honour to Him through my testimony. It may sound too easy, but I can assure you some days were easier than others, but throughout the treatment I came back to God’s Word to me time after time. His Word is His Power! He is Faithful & True and we experienced many blessings along the way. God is truly my source in every way and we lacked nothing as we walked this path out. I learned to trust God like never before.
Every day I looked for a Word from God to sustain me through my daily devotion, through emails from friends and family, through posts on Facebook, and there were many which ministered to and encouraged me. We had more than 200 friends from all around the world praying for us daily and several churches met together to pray for my complete healing in their weekly prayer meetings.
During this time of seeking the Lord for reassurance, I particularly enjoyed the Passion Translation bi-weekly devotion, I Hear His Whisper, which I receive by email and always seemed to speak right into my heart, right where I was, right into how I was feeling. It was as if the writer of this devotional, Dr. Brian Simmons, had been reading my mail! God chooses whom He will to encourage us.
I am also thankful for the many and varied people I came into contact with, whom I would never have otherwise met, to whom I desired to reflect God’s Love. With the same comfort I received, I was able to comfort others. The medical team at the Bristol Haematology & Oncology Centre were a delight to deal with, always ready to welcome with a smile of reassurance, despite the many delays that were inevitable when it comes to being reliant on technology!
It struck me that many of the staff were very young, (which made me feel a little old!), but nonetheless competent and professional in their administration of the treatments! My first session of Chemotherapy was administered by a wonderful Filipino nurse who was a Christian and attended one of my friends’ churches in Bristol. She spent most of the treatment relaying miracle healing stories to me which she had personally witnessed, which reassured me greatly as I underwent the grueling task of having Chemo drugs pumped into my body through a pipe they had inserted in a vein from my arm to my chest.
Every week I had a review with a senior radiotherapist, called Alison whose smile just lit up the room. She was a breath of fresh air to many who were under her care as she really did care and showed it without reservation. Alison epitomises what it means to be called to a vocation as opposed to simply doing a job. During my review times we teased one another and laughed together as I shared the goodness of God and the prayers of my friends and family that clearly were at work. She was mystified that I was not needing pain medication more than a few Paracetamol, (Tylenol), and that I was still able to sit down during the reviews!
In fact, I couldn’t resist calling Alison the week after the treatment finished just to encourage her and thank her for her care and friendship! After all, on my final day of treatment she said she would miss us and the fun we brought on Tuesday mornings!!!
From the first day of treatment till the last, I felt sustained, supported and encouraged, despite the fear that tried to rear its ugly head! I can confirm that faith overcomes fear every time when it is met head on with the power of the Word of God. I have adopted a quote from the group TobyMac that really spoke to me which says, ‘At any given moment in time, you have the power to say this is not how my story will end!’ I declared the Bible verses on healing over my symptoms and over my life and never entertained that cancer would overcome me. It’s so true that we need to take every negative thought captive which sets itself up against the truth that God has spoken over us. We overcome by the word of our testimony, our words have the power to hurt or to heal, to tear down or raise up, to take captive or to set free those around us. I have become so much more mindful of my confession these days!
With no home to call our own, as we had sold ours back in July 2015 when we left Wellington, Mark and I had no alternative but to trust God to provide somewhere to stay. Friends, Frieder & Grace graciously opened their home to us as we waited for Treatment to start and our friends Jack & Anne Hunter didn’t hesitate to offer their home for six weeks in January and February as they were going to Australia and New Zealand to visit family. In fact, God had already told Anne that we would be staying in their house back in September! As the time for their return was approaching and my treatment end date approached rapidly, the medical team were asking where we would be going to stay next? Recovery from the destruction of the good and bad cells caused by the intense radiation I was exposed to each day, was said to make me feel worse before it started to heal and I guess they couldn’t come to terms with us having no fixed plan for our accommodation with only a few weeks left of treatment. At every enquiry we responded, ‘we don’t know yet but God will provide, He knows what we need.’ There was no doubt in our minds that He would have something prepared in advance for us, He just needed to let us know and as usual His timing was perfect. In response to our monthly newsletter we received a call from friends we hadn’t seen for a while, who referred us to a Ministry Retreat Cottage in the Cotswolds, which amazingly had no bookings for the next 6 weeks! A beautiful cottage in a beautiful, peaceful countryside for my recovery! What could be more fitting?
God really does know what we need and when we need it!
Following a challenging weekend at the end of the 28 sessions of Radiotherapy and two weeks of Chemotherapy, the road to recovery began in our beautiful little retreat in the country! Slowly but surely I regained my strength as I returned to a more balanced diet and a little exercise in the country air. Within 3 weeks I was strong enough to go to Wales to catch up with family for the Easter break! I was keen to see my Mother, children and grandchildren again, to show them just how God had brought me through. They were relieved to see me and especially to see how well I looked.
A check up with my clinical oncologist, Dr. Stephen Falk, was scheduled for just after Easter and on the 30th March we eagerly anticipated the confirmation that the tumour had been obliterated. The consultant was taken aback by my progress and how remarkably I had come through with minimal side effects and no loss of control!
I declared that “prayer works”, to which he replied, ‘obviously!’ Upon examination Dr. Falk declared, ‘the tumour is completely gone!’
Yay, though we already had an inward confidence it was a done deal, it was good to hear those words of confirmation. It was indeed ‘just another testimony’ and ‘His Grace was sufficient!’
The unsung hero throughout these past few months has been my husband, Mark. I have honestly in 17 years never known him to be so positive, so encouraging and so resolute that this trial would not consume us. He pressed through his own disappointment about not returning to Dallas, to CFNI, as planned, as well as being the supportive rock I needed when the fear crept in. There was nothing that was too much or too scary for him to conquer and I am truly thankful to God for him. He waited on me as I rested and even overcame his dislike of cooking to keep me well fed throughout my recovery period! We are now closer than ever having overcome this trial together and ready to take on the world and whatever it holds for us next!
As I write this account of my brush with cancer, we are sitting in an apartment in Florida as we serve Go To Nation, a Missions organization in Jacksonville for 6 weeks. We also have a vehicle provided for us! With love in our hearts and hope restored for the future God has for us, I declare My God surely supplies all my needs according to His riches in Glory!
This has been a remarkable journey, which has taught me more of the goodness of God, brought me closer to my family, for which I am thankful, and has given me empathy for those who have been affected by cancer or debilitating illness. I may have had cancer, but cancer didn’t have me!!!
We look forward with eager anticipation to the good things God has in store for us next as we press on to discover His plans and purposes for our future!