When I walked the track at my local Relay for Life a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think of all the people with cancer who’ve touched my life.
Taylor Gibbs came to mind. The grandson of football and racing legend Joe Gibbs beat childhood leukemia, and I had the privilege of interviewing his family right before they celebrated with Taylor’s Finish Line Festival in May 2010.
Then I thought about Nellie Buehler. I had the honor of interviewing the former teacher shortly before her death in 2010. She passed away a few months later – and I wrote her final story for the Mooresville Weekly. She’ll always be a winner in my mind because she never let her cancer diagnosis stop her from her passion of serving others.
But more than anyone, as I walked the track that night, I thought about my mom.
I fought back tears as I watched her sport her survivor’s T-shirt and finish her lap strong.
It was 1998, and I was a naïve 17-year-old when my mother was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was devastating.
I was scheduled to leave on a 6-week mission trip to Scotland when doctors discovered that the swollen lymph node embedded underneath her skin was malignant. They scheduled her surgery for a total hysterectomy the day I was to leave. When they dropped me off at the airport, I sobbed and held her as if I would never hold her again.
Standing at that airport gate, I took quick, deep breaths, causing myself to hyperventilate. My face burned red as I choked on the tears that stung my cheeks.
Because in my mind, I was saying goodbye – for what could have been forever.
But when I took my seat on the plane, still sobbing, I experienced something that only my faith in Jesus can explain: peace. I looked at the elderly lady sitting next to me and said: “This must be the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, because there’s no other way to explain why else I’d be filled with peace right now.”
She smiled, encouraged me and simply listened as I explained that as I was lifting into the air, doctors were wheeling my mother into cancer surgery.
Somehow, I knew that everything was going to be OK.
My mother started chemo soon after her surgery, and she prayed the whole time I was gone that she’d still have her hair when I returned. She did. It started falling out in clumps the next night. Finally, her friend shaved off the remaining strands about a week later, and she started wearing a wig.
The rest of that year is a blur. There were good days and bad. I remember hiding in my room crying when my mom was sick. I didn’t want anyone to see me sad. I wanted to be strong.
And I remember laughing the windy day my mom’s wig went flying off her head in a restaurant parking lot. The looks on the faces of the people watching were priceless.
When I think back on that year – my senior year of high school – I know it was only God that sustained us through chemo treatments and my mom’s sickness.
And that strength returned when my mom was diagnosed again 4 years later. It was my junior year of college, and this time I skipped class to sit with my dad as my mother underwent surgery again.
Surprisingly, I remained calm, but my dad paced the floor, bit his fingernails and tapped on his chair.
I read Bible verses aloud, and that peace came again.
“In this world you will have trouble,” says John 16:33. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
At the end of the surgery, the doctors had good news for us. They had caught my mom’s cancer just in time.
Cancer changed my mom, it changed my family and it changed me. It made me re-evaluate what’s important in life, and it made me thankful for what I have.
God can use anything for His glory. He used a terrible disease to strengthen my faith in Him.
*This story first appeared in the June 10, 2011 edition of the Mooresville Weekly.