Today is Pastor Dawn’s second anniversary of being cancer free! Yesterday she told her story at the Pink the Park breast cancer awareness event in Odessa. Here it is:
Thank you for the invitation to share my breast cancer story with you.
I always get my annual mammogram because of my cousin Sharon. Her kids were about my age and we would play together at family reunions. Sharon found a lump in her breast but she didn’t get it checked out until it was too late. She died leaving three kids without their mom. As a child this made an impact on me, and I promised myself I would do whatever I could to prevent cancer.
So I get my mammogram every year during my birthday month, August, so I don’t forget. Two years ago they found something suspicious. You know how it goes, they want a biopsy, but I’d had scares before, so I wasn’t worried.
Then when my doc called and asked me to come in I knew it wasn’t good
They don’t ask you to come in for good news, you know? “I just wanted to tell you in person: you DON’T have cancer!!” Never happens.
So it was cancer. I remember feeling like I was walking into this huge unknown. My prayer was, “God, You know. I don’t.” When she told me, the doctor had an intern with her so I tried to be calm and remember I’m a pastor so there’s a certain decorum to keep. What I really wanted to do was fall on the floor and beg God to let me live at least long enough to see our babies graduate from high school.
Dramatic much? Well it was the C word, cancer, and it terrified me. That was far worse than the S word- strep, and the F word- flu, which were the worst things I’d had up to that day.
See, there was so much I didn’t know about the C word. I didn’t know that with early detection and good treatment, I have a 95% chance of no recurrence! And I didn’t know that a mastectomy wasn’t the only course of action, though I was ready to do it to save my life. But soon our surgeon gave us other options.
There was so much I didn’t know.
I called a dear friend who’d been through this a few years before me and she told me, “There’s so many blessings you will receive through this. You don’t even know.” I thought she was plum crazy. I’ll have what she’s having, right?
You know the verse from Proverbs 3:5, 6? “Trust the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding.” Well I couldn’t lean on my understanding. There was so much I didn’t know.
I didn’t know what a deeply moving experience it would be to have my church pray for me instead of the other way around. I remember a mother and her daughter bringing me a prayer shawl and praying over me on the morning I returned to the pulpit. I didn’t know how important it is to receive as well as give!
I didn’t know how much I would need my husband until after surgery when I couldn’t get dressed alone, and the discomfort was maddening. I didn’t know how much I could love my husband until I looked over in bed one night and he was reading a book called, Stand By Her: Supporting Your Wife through Breast Cancer. To all the husbands out there- get yourself a book like that if you ever need it. You don’t even have to read it… just having the book will get your points for the rest of your life!
I didn’t know how much the little things meant when going through treatment. The meals brought by, the cards which I would save up to read while in waiting rooms. I didn’t know that people who take the time to care heal you as much as any medicine.
I didn’t know how much my medical team would come to mean to me. From the first nurse, DeShea, who held my hand during the biopsy, to everyone who helped me, I was moved by their compassion. In fact I saw Melissa the receptionist at Texas Oncology a few months ago at the grocery store and I was all- Melissa! I gave her a big hug and told her husband how important her greeting was to me every day I came in for treatment. I gave him a hug too. And I’m sure they were like, We just came here to get some eggs!?
I didn’t know how important it would be to have people who were brave enough to ask how I am. As time goes by, it still means a lot to me to have people ask about my health. Most people don’t mention it, which is fine, they don’t know what to say, or they think they might upset me. But there are those special people who do, and I didn’t know how meaningful that would be. Having someone not be afraid say “cancer” and “how are you?” makes me more whole.
I didn’t know how cancer would affect my relationship with God. I wrestled some with why me, had I done something wrong, had God let me down, but i was also amazed at God’s faithfulness. There was still a little unhealed distance there until this past summer. Friends had invited me to do their wedding in a beautiful little town nestled in the mountains. I took some time to hike the morning before the wedding. After my hike, I sat down by a creek. I said to the Lord, “You’ve heard me say many words to you lately. But it’s been a long time since I’ve heard you say anything to me. Is there something you want me to hear?” I heard God speak to me. Not in an audible voice, not with writing in the sky, but in that still, small voice I can hear in my heart. God gave me 4 words: you are still mine. You are still mine! This is all I needed: the reassurance that God has not ever and will not ever let me go.
I didn’t know how much my ministry would widen. People often cross my path I can now encourage and pray for in a way I couldn’t have before. I remember watching a couple come in the cancer center while I was there for a check up. You could tell it was their first time. I didn’t want to be presumptuous, but the Spirit prompted me. I went over to them and said, “I know how scary this is, but you will see blessings beyond what you can imagine along the way.” Phil. 1:12 says, “What has happened to me actually is advancing the gospel.” I pray it is so.
I didn’t know how much my perspective would change. I haven’t had a bad day since my cancer diagnosis. I’ve had hard days, days I didn’t feel strong, days I made doozy mistakes, but I’ve had no bad days. Every day I’m able to love God, love people, get a free sushi sample at the grocery store, and run with my dog is a gift.
There was so much I didn’t know. I didn’t know that my friend was right: I have received so many blessings.
In the 14th century an anonymous saint wrote a spiritual guide called The Cloud of Unknowing. Its message is that the way we grow is to enter the realm of not knowing, letting go of pride and preconceived ideas, and giving up being sure. The writer says, “By love you can be grasped and held, but by knowledge, neither grasped nor held.”
So maybe I’ve come to know: It’s ok not to know, and enter the cloud of unknowing. Because God knows. And God is holding you in love, beyond all you can ask or imagine.