I never think of myself as a cancer survivor. Never. For years I’ve heard people talking about cancer survivors, but I’ve never put myself on the roster. Since signing up for Facebook I’ve seen umpty-million posts about cancer and survivors scroll past on my screen and never once have I counted myself among the ranks of those who have survived cancer.
Don’t get me wrong. I occasionally remember that I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor almost 30 years ago. I remember that my doctor called me with the diagnosis on the phone. On the phone! At work. At 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. When I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my youngest daughter. I remember hanging up in shock and crying all the way home that evening. I remember that I went through some of the most frightening weeks of my life after that phone call, and that the doctors waited to perform surgery until a few days after my daughter was born.
But the scar on my face where the tumor was removed has faded so much I never even notice it anymore. If anyone else notices it, they never mention it. In fact, nobody asks me about it except those few friends I knew back then who remember that odd spot on my face that we thought first was a pimple and then a blood blister. Nobody in my family ever mentions it. Cancer came and went. More challenges came that required all my time, energy and attention, and the memory of my cancer scare faded almost as completely as my scar.
The other day, I was listening to the news that a woman from my church just received a clean bill of health after her own cancer scare. She’s the mother of two young children and, like me all those years ago, she went through some heart-wrenching times while waiting for her surgery. I never thought about my own brush with cancer when I heard about her diagnosis, or when I prayed for her as she prepared for surgery. I didn’t think about it when the surgery was performed or when we got the news that the surgery had gone well and she was recovering.
But the other day as I listened to her talk about writing good-bye letters to her daughters before she went into the hospital, my own experience came back to me in excruciating detail. I remembered the shock, the anger, the fear. I remember feeling numb with disbelief that my doctor called me on the phone to tell me (I thought) that I was going to die, and that he left me to deal with it on my own for an entire weekend. I remembered having to wait and wait and wait for the surgery for more than a month because the baby didn’t come when she was due, or the week after, or the week after that. Finally, she was delivered by C-section (a story I’ll save for another time) and a few days later my cancer surgery was scheduled.
I remembered the surgery, which didn’t go all that well because the lab was down so they left the incision open for yet another long, agonizing weekend, until they could make sure they’d gotten a clean margin. But even after the lab results were in, I still thought I was probably going to die and I was absolutely convinced that my oldest daughter would grow up without me and that my baby, now just a week old, would never know me.
And with all those memories I realized for the first time ever that I am a cancer survivor.
But that’s not the important thing. Whenever I’ve managed to remember my own cancer diagnosis, I’ve counted myself lucky. The doctor was able to remove the tumor which, like my friend’s, had been miraculously contained in a tight little ball inside my cheek. The doctors later told me that I was lucky. That if the tumor had grown any more rapidly or spread differently, I’d have died without question.
Lucky? No. I was blessed.
This is the first time I’ve looked at what happened in my own life and seen it through eyes of faith. This is the first time I’ve acknowledged God’s part in healing me and letting me live to see my daughters through times that turned out to be even more terrifying than a cancer diagnosis. This is the first time I’ve acknowledged that He healed me and because of that I was able to see my daughters grow into amazing women. Because He held me in His hand I was able to see my my two adorable and quite fabulous granddaughters come into this world, and I’ve been able to witness Him performing miracles in the lives of my family and friends.
I may be almost 30 years late in saying this, but I’m hoping that it’s better late than never. I just know that I need to publicly thank my Heavenly Father for performing that particular miracle in my life and letting me stick around. I’m thankful that He has let me witness all the other amazing things He had in store for me. It’s a long, long list, and knowing God and the way He works, it’s bound to become even longer.
You ask why I believe in God. This is just one of the many reasons.