Posts Tagged faith
arlier this year, my husband had agreed to do a full-time assignment for seven weeks in addition to his permanent full-time job. During that time, I was so overwhelmed by my three children that I was sure I was experiencing emotions I thought any single parent would. And I thought to myself not only then, but many times in the past: how does a single mother (or father) do it? How does one provide for their children, care for them and all of their needs (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), and still manage to stay balanced? It was the last time I would secretly ponder these questions before I contacted Melanie who graciously introduced me to her previous life of single parenting.
A beautiful red-head and just eighteen years old, Melanie married the kind of man most teenagers her age dreamt of marrying – the kind that smitten girls would describe as the tall, dark, and handsome type. Gradually, the couple had three children and a successful business operated by Melanie in their million-dollar home. On the outside, they appeared to be the quintessential picture perfect family. But after enduring over nine years of pain, the verge of collapse abruptly came to a head. On an ordinary April afternoon, Melanie’s estranged husband took his belongings and left her behind with their three children, setting into motion a bitter process toward divorce.
Needless to say, Melanie was overcome by a myriad of fears and worries. Finding a new home and earning an income to pay the bills while raising and supporting her young children was downright overwhelming. But that was just the beginning. Melanie was afraid of the repercussions she felt her ex-husband was capable of or might inflict upon her person and her reputation. She dreaded humiliating her parents knowing how much her sister’s divorce almost a decade before had devastated them. She feared being despised by the church she had grown up in and belonged to for over twenty years. And she worried that she would be rejected by her friends and her children treated as outcasts.
At only twenty eight years old, Melanie officially had sole custody of the couples’ children (ages 7, 5, and 2), tarnished credit due to her ex-husband’s poor financial decisions, and a profitable business she was forced to gradually shut down. Melanie desperately searched for spiritual guidance to help navigate her young family through the uncertainties of their fragile situation.
Adjusting to her new role as a single mother was extremely difficult. Stress was at an all-time high in the beginning. Tardiness and speeding tickets became the norm for a time. Car collisions were miraculously avoided as she tended to her fighting children in the backseat. That first summer on her own, Melanie realized few outdoor activities were as appealing as they were low maintenance, so she planned park excursions with her kids and enjoyed picnics together. Sometimes, she took her children on walks or visited their grandparents. But for every good moment Melanie had, she had several moments where she was tired, sad, and lonely.
“Holidays used to be the worst because I knew that everybody was going to hang out somewhere and I was the oddball. When you are involved in a tight-knit community, you don’t really have a place. Suddenly, wives were holding on a little tighter to their husbands. When I saw this, it was hurtful, but I couldn’t react to it because I felt like these were the consequences of divorce. And there are consequences. But I went through them as best I could.”
As she might have expected, Melanie did lose some friendships, but she was determined to protect her children from the typical stereotypes placed on broken families. Melanie made a conscious decision to intentionally focus on her children and their well-being. Throughout the ordeal, she continued attending her home church but with some feedback from her children, kept an open mind and explored other area churches also. Her immediate family was her main source of moral support. Melanie’s eldest sister reminded her of an exemplary woman, wife, and mother – the woman described in Proverbs 31. “I posted the passage on my refrigerator and memorized it. I thought this was a very wise and business savvy woman. God was with this woman and if He was with her, then God would be with me too,” says Melanie.
In the years following the divorce, Melanie describes developing a sincere dependence upon and a close relationship with the Lord like she had never experienced before:
“I didn’t know God the way I knew Him when I went through my divorce. I fell in such a deep love with this Jesus and I wanted Him in every aspect of my life. He brought the right books for me to read, the right music to encourage me. I was so hungry that I would download podcasts of sermons and listen to them after I put Timothy [Melanie’s youngest child] down for a nap. I would drink my coffee while I listened to the Word and absorbed everything like a sponge.
He met me in my brokenness and revealed Himself in a TOTALLY different way and it was like an adventure… I always prayed, ‘God, if I don’t have a provider, You be my Provider. If I don’t have a husband, You provide for me the way a husband would provide.’ I didn’t get any handouts. Not even from my family. It truly was God providing for me in a supernatural way.”
She had just six short months to make some critical decisions before her ex-husband permitted their home to go into foreclosure. Finally, just before the house was taken away by the bank, Melanie found a residential home for lease. It was the only option she had at the time and was convinced she was destined to move her family there. The family packed their possessions and moved into the rental where she was permitted to launch an elderly care home for the second time. Her vacancies quickly filled and her business grew – a feat she credits to her heavenly Provider.
“Hauling and loading groceries for the business and the kids in the pouring rain, alone, was very overwhelming sometimes. There would be times when I would just sit in the car and rest my head on the steering wheel and I’d pray, ‘God, I don’t have anymore strength. Please, help me!’” On numerous occasions, Melanie locked herself in the bathroom and wept in desperation believing that life with three small children was not meant to be lived alone.
“When your spouse dies, it’s so horrible. But it’s a clean cut and you have everybody coming around you, consoling you and praying for you and having compassion on your children. When you go through a divorce, it’s like a jagged tear and everybody walks away because they don’t want to be associated with you and you’re left alone with the pieces.”
Sadly, one of the most heartbreaking pieces was Melanie watching the aftermath of her ex-husband’s complete withdrawal from his children impact them negatively. Rejection led to severe anxiety issues that influenced their behavior at school and at home. When Melanie occasionally scheduled a break for herself, her children would call her from their grandparents’ home begging her to take them with her. In her words, Melanie was “their everything.”
Not only was she terribly needed by her children, but she was the primary caregiver of five elderly clients. Melanie’s business was running steady, but a year later, the owners asked her to consider purchasing the home or relocate. Because the home was priced beyond her budget, she found herself standing at the crossroads again. Instead, she sold the business to the owners and once more, the Lord was her guide. He led her to a home that was not her preferred choice, a fixer-upper, but it didn’t require a down payment. Only at the insistence of her parents, Melanie warily agreed to proceed with the deal. More and more, Melanie realized how gracious the Lord was with her, not because of what she did, but because of Who He is. She started her business a third time, her expertise and savvy skills more refined than years past, and her earnings surpassed those of the days when she lived in her grand manor with her ex-husband. The increased revenue enabled her to refurbish the home while providing the best care for her family and her elderly residents.
By this time, Melanie had a revelation that changed her mind about the God she thought she knew.
“He wasn’t this God just waiting to get down on me every time I messed up. He was comforting me when there was nobody else. Alone, at night when I was bawling my eyes out – not because I missed my ex-husband – but because people had their own families and I had to respect that. And then the next day, I had to hold it together for my kids and for everybody else and act like I’m strong when inside I was thinking, what am I doing? But He supernaturally came through for me emotionally and financially.”
At times, comfort for Melanie came in the form of passages from Scripture (Isaiah 54:4-17, specifically) or from pages in books written by inspirational authors like C.S. Lewis. Other times, lyrics from a worship song struck a chord in her heart. But perhaps the most influential instruments the Lord used to encourage Melanie were people.
Melanie met ladies at her children’s school that held regular prayer meetings and spoke words of truth into her life. She hired a humble and courteous couple to help her with her business, but quickly became like guardian angels over her curious children. A thoughtful friend drew close to her during her hardship and occasionally invited her to lunch or offered to take the young family boating. Still, others stepped in with random acts of kindness and provided charitable gifts, like bicycles. Outnumbered by her children and limited by her business at home, trusted friends helped Melanie by taking the kids on spontaneous trips to the Lego store and other little outings that her children looked forward to visiting. “God pulled away some people and brought near some people. As I went through those four years, He brought in individuals at just the right season – the perfect counsel and the perfect help. They are the kind you just can’t find on your own; they were the hands and feet of Jesus. I can’t overstate how much God used them to touch my life.” Then finally, one individual in particular entered Melanie’s mending world, forever changing the seasons and dynamics of her maturing little family.
[…to be continued…]
[…continued from Part II…]
zedin was sitting at his work desk when Cory called on the 27th of May last spring. Gripping his phone firmly, he anxiously waited for Cory to tell him the final results of his testing.
He would not only need three of the six proteins in his blood to match Adis’s, but he must have two fully operating kidneys in order to donate one. Some people are born with a single kidney (termed renal agenesis) and others have kidney dysplasia, a condition where two kidneys are present but only one functions correctly. If the CT showed that Azedin did not have two working kidneys or the labs revealed that only one was healthy, Adis would remain on the national waiting list indefinitely. Time was running short.
‘I just want to let you know I have all your results back and…’ Cory paused. Azedin’s anxiety grew with every passing moment. “…And?” he thought impatiently. He would be heartbroken if Cory didn’t deliver promising news. “…You’re a match!” There was silence on his end of the telephone line. Azedin couldn’t believe what he heard. “We’re a go!” she exclaimed as she excitedly began to list the available dates for surgery.
Out of the six proteins in Azedin’s blood, all six were a complete match; typical of what is found in blood samples between twins. Kidney function tests and the final CT exam proved Azedin had a life-saving kidney to donate to his brother. He kept the results private as he and Adna planned Adis’s surprise birthday gift, the gift of a lifetime, with just two days to spare.
The evening of the gathering, Adis was in his living room telling jokes and laughing with family members when Azedin approached him with his surprise birthday gift. Azedin created a personal coupon book to break the news to his brother and the rest of the family. The first coupon was a voucher for $150 toward a new motorcycle jacket of his brother’s choice. The second coupon was cardstock cut into the shape of a kidney and its anatomical parts sketched onto its surface. The final coupon was a “Life Certificate” Azedin designed where he listed two surgery dates for Adis to choose from.
You can watch Adis’s reaction here.
The family was overwhelmed by the news. Adis’s wife and mother were both overcome by emotion. At first, Adis was confused and surprised, then sad. He tried to be happy, but he could hardly conceal his mixed emotions. Adis was aware that Azedin had been inquiring about the process of organ donation, but he didn’t know his brother was seriously exploring the option to become a donor himself. And Adis didn’t question Azedin about any involvement in the matter, concerned that he might instigate unintentional pressure upon his sibling. In fact, Adis preferred that his family not become implicated in the donor process, fearing he could never repay them should any of his loved ones ever need a kidney transplant in the future. Once Adis came to terms with the results, he was looking forward to better days.
While Adis was willing to continue dialysis for as long as necessary, he knew it was only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. The first month Adis was on peritoneal dialysis (CAPD), he was manually filtering his blood four times a day, carrying small bags of cleaning solution with him everywhere he went. It was inconvenient and sanitation was extremely imperative to avoid possible peritoneal infection. Then he was switched to a different dialysis treatment (APD) where his blood was filtered and cleansed by a cycler while he slept at night only. He continued this method for four more months. While it is an efficient treatment, undergoing dialysis on a daily basis can negatively impact the body and shorten one’s life span. A kidney transplant was the ideal solution to prolonging his life.
The last night before surgery, Adis was feeling anxious, but continued to think optimistically. Unfortunately, his worst nightmare occurred and something went terribly wrong. He was awakened in the middle of the night when he sensed his clothes and bed sheets were drenched! After eliminating a few possible reasons as to why his garments could be wet, he frantically jumped out of bed to find that the tube that connected to his port had somehow detached and fluid gushed out. He had been warned by specialists to take extreme care at night when sleeping to avert possible contamination, essentially delaying surgery. He immediately contacted his home health nurse who arrived around three o’clock in the morning to assist Adis at home. After phone calls to doctors were made and extra precautions were taken to avoid infection, the nurse left. Adis was unable to fall asleep again as he stared at the clock, waiting for any signs or symptoms of infection to occur after the untimely ordeal. Hours passed sluggishly until morning finally arrived and Adis received word that he was cleared to proceed with surgery.
Azedin and Adis were scheduled for their operations respectively on the morning of July 8th. Their parents were nervous. They looked on at their adult children as they were wheeled into the surgery prep room, frightened by thoughts of anything that could go awry. Azedin recalls being more than ready for the procedure, trusting his life into God’s hands. A little apprehensive at first as to what the future would hold for his younger brother, Adis made a conscious effort to resume meditating on positive thoughts. In the surgical prep room, Azedin’s fiancée was standing nearby while the couple chatted with Adis and his wife. The anesthesiologist interrupted their conversation with an announcement directed at Azedin: “Here comes the good stuff!” Azedin looked to his right where his older brother lay on a stretcher wearing a surgical cap as he was undergoing preparations for surgery also. He continued to scan the space when he exchanged glances with his sister in law. Ultimately, he rested his eyes on his soon to be wife and managed to utter his final observation: “You guys are all dizzy right now.” Those were his last words to his family before falling into a deep sleep.
LIVE! video taken from the day of surgey can be viewed here.
A large incision was made on the right side of Azedin’s abdominal cavity where surgeons removed his right kidney. Next, they cleaned the kidney and flushed a water-like solution through its parts before placing it in an ice chest. Adis was in the next operating room already sedated and waiting for his life-saving organ to be transplanted. Though Azedin’s procedure was completed in just over sixty minutes, the entire process lasted about four hours.
Adis’s body embraced the new kidney immediately. Abnormally elevated creatinine levels plummeted drastically and continued to do so until they finally returned to normal the next evening following surgery. His swelling was gone and for the very first time in many years, he felt great. When Azedin learned how well his brother was responding after surgery, he was very grateful. “I don’t really show my emotions very much, but there’s just times where you can’t hold yourself back; whether you want to or however strong you want to be, you just can’t be. Emotions run.”
Azedin was released two days after surgery and within a week, he was walking around comfortably. Three weeks after surgery, he was already riding a bike again. He doesn’t feel any different than before nor does he sense that something is missing on the inside. Other than the large scar that wraps around his right side as a daily reminder, his everyday life continues unaffected by the procedure. He is still as active as before, enjoying sports like snowboarding, football, soccer, and basketball. For safety measures, Azedin undergoes an annual physical and completes lab tests to ensure his internal processes are balanced and functioning normally.
As for Adis, the first three months after completing surgery, he went in for checkups three times a week to ensure his body was not rejecting the kidney. His visits gradually decreased to a checkup once a month until his one year anniversary. Adis takes two pills in the morning that help suppress the white blood cells, preventing lupus from potentially returning; a significant change from the numerous remedies and prescription bottles he was once accustomed to. When he reflects on photos of himself captured on several different occasions in the past, he vividly recalls how despite his smile, he was feeling miserable during that little glimpse of time. And yet he would often remember that it could always be worse.
On Azedin’s wedding day in November of last year, Adis stood by his brother as his best man. During the reception, Adis shared a spontaneous, emotional speech that moved over three hundred guests to tears in that reception hall. A slideshow organized by Adis followed shortly after. As Azedin viewed the pictures next to his bride, the memories he shared with his brother as they grew older together were even more meaningful. Realizing that his brother could have possibly not survived to witness his wedding day or have the opportunity to create more memories together gripped his heart. “I realized how quickly things can disappear in life. Something that’s come up can take you down so quickly. Adis was fine and then suddenly lupus just took over his body. It opened my eyes to appreciate what I have and I’m beyond thankful.”
The overall experience has made Azedin sensitive to those struggling with lupus and other illnesses as well as compelled him to encourage others to become organ donors. He became involved in an online group called the Living Kidney Donor Network where he shared a little bit about his story. In fact, his story even motivated a woman he doesn’t know to become an anonymous living donor. He hopes to raise more awareness about lupus and inform others that life is still as full and rewarding with a single kidney.
As for the gift that Azedin gave Adis, the gift of life leaves Adis at a loss for words. “Thanking somebody for something like this is almost silly. How do you repay somebody for saving your life?” With Azedin’s healthy kidney intact, Adis has the chance to live at least twenty years or more. “We all have to go some day,” Adis reasons. “Some go sooner. Some go later. Visit those who are sick. Put yourself in their shoes. You may never fully understand, but it might give you a little different perspective on life. Do the things you love. Don’t stress over insignificant matters. Have fun and laugh. Find peace and find faith. Appreciate life.”
[…continued from Part I…]
en-year-old Adis and his then six-year-old -brother, Azedin, were separated from their father as the boys and their mother endured six terrifying months in a concentration camp in Bosnia. The trio miraculously escaped flying bullets, falling mortars, and exploding grenades while desperately running through a forest in hiding. When the broken family finally arrived in Slovenia as refugees, they heard no word on the condition of their father, of his whereabouts, or if he was even alive. And they didn’t for the next two years. One morning in 1994, he unexpectedly appeared at their refugee camp as his heartsick family blinked at him beyond disbelief. After their emotional reunion, returning to Bosnia was clearly not an option. They sought help from and were reunited with a relative who settled in the upper northwest of the U.S. just the year before after also fleeing from their war-stricken country. The traumatic experiences would be enough to last a lifetime, but sadly, Adis was forced to contend for his life once more.
Ten years later, Adis and his young wife returned to their home in the northwest after vacationing together on the East Coast. He noticed a small rash with little red speckles on both of his cheeks. After the dermatologist examined the area of interest, Adis was told it was a possible outbreak of a skin condition called rosacea. Rosacea seemed innocuous at first even when he learned that his blood test results were slightly irregular. Lab tests revealed proteins not normally found in urine samples; however, because the figures were still within normal range, the new developments did not seem critical – at least not yet.
The first three years were calm with the rash being the main sign of any possible health issue, but another dip in Adis’s health put him on a winding downward path. Eventually, doctors discovered that Adis’s immune system was damaging his kidneys. Lymphocytes, or white blood cells, normally circulate through the bloodstream searching for foreign contaminants that help fight against illnesses, for example, the common cold or flu. Instead, his body determined his kidneys were a foreign substance. The lymphocytes erroneously attached themselves to his kidneys, aggravating them and hindering them from functioning properly. While this battle was occurring in his body, signs and symptoms were not yet manifested outwardly. “I was feeling fine and I would be feeling fine until my kidneys got to a point where I didn’t feel fine anymore. By then, it was almost too late,” he says.
After probing into his health more closely, doctors performed two biopsies: they took a sample of his skin and one from his kidney. Based on the activity present in his body and the findings from the biopsies, medical professionals established he had signs consistent with those of lupus patients and diagnosed him with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
The kidney biopsy revealed his kidneys were only 45% functional. While the doctors advised he may need to undergo dialysis should his kidneys continue to deteriorate, Adis was somewhat in denial while clinging to the hope that his health would improve before it got worse. Up until that point, Adis had been drinking herbal teas and utilizing natural anti-inflammatory medicines. But as his health waned, he was prescribed a variety of different medicines in an attempt to keep his body in balance. His kidney function continued to lessen, down to 35% and then 30%. He rapidly began to show signs of disease and began to experience symptoms. His body retained water to the point of pitting. (With his finger he would press on his skin and a temporary impression remained after removing his finger from its surface). He frequently felt hunger pains knowing if he consumed any amount of food, it would be just like feeding poison to his body. The bathroom was his loyal companion as he was constantly nauseous, sometimes vomiting ten times a day, if not more.
The medicine eventually was of no use. Adis was not improving and options were few. Doctors recommended a chemotherapy treatment on a monthly basis for six months in 2011. The treatment would circulate through the kidneys and “burn off all the white cells that are on the kidneys to relieve them” of the constant stress. Then they would be able to operate to some degree without the lymphocytes hoarding the kidneys. Since the lymphocytes were very aggressive, they scarred the kidney tissue, essentially drying out the areas affected (similar to the likes of a prune), hindering filtration and normal function.
Adis’s condition improved during the course of the treatment, but after six months of chemotherapy, lupus was very active in his system again. He was unable to take medicine or treat his symptoms after completing chemotherapy so that his body would have time to recover.
With decreased kidney function, he had changes in urination, an alkaline or metallic taste in his mouth, ammonia breath, chills, shortness of breath, intense cramps, trouble focusing, and extreme fatigue. Edema worsened and frequent vomiting was brutal. He consistently felt tired and even though he slept very long hours at night, he would wake up as if he had never slept at all.
Through it all, his daily routine didn’t miss a beat. Though on light duty, Adis continued overseeing a port management company he worked for full time while keeping all of his medical appointments. He was also the president of a Bosnian non-profit organization in his community and was dedicated to serving them unwaveringly. His faith in God grounded his emotions. Laughter and a positive mindset helped him look beyond his circumstances. He maintained his active lifestyle playing sports, meeting with friends, joining them on spontaneous trips, and riding his motorcycle. Riding his motorcycle helped him forget about everything and cleared his mind. “I basically did not let lupus stop me from doing anything. I just kept going to keep my mind from thinking about how sick I was.” Adis kept moving and kept smiling.
A second biopsy of his kidney was later completed showing his kidney function had drastically decreased to 15% – both kidneys were equally affected and his body was in serious distress. Dialysis was his last resort or he would surely die. Without his kidneys normally filtering his blood of the daily toxins, Adis’s potassium levels would increase to dangerous levels. It was only a matter of time before he would go into cardiac arrest. He remembers times when he would be contacted at home by a nurse and notified to report to the nearest emergency room immediately because his potassium levels were dangerously high. His body was no match for the complications the doctors now referred to as lupus nephritis.
Finally, Adis had had enough. His symptoms had become very unbearable and had no other choice but to agree to dialysis. Once he started dialysis in early 2013, he was placed on the national waiting list in hopes of receiving a kidney from an anonymous donor.
To put Adis’s grave situation into perspective, the National Kidney Foundation’s website states that every twenty minutes, a patient is added to the kidney transplant list; almost 2,500 patients are added to the list every month. Fourteen people die every day while waiting for a kidney transplant. These figures are not just numbers, but souls. Death was knocking at Adis’s door…
[…to be continued…]
walked up to Diana’s doorstep with her cousin and my best friend, Emma, beside me on a blustery Friday night. It was September 27th. We had planned a surprise bash for Emma’s 30th birthday with her closest family and friends; Diana and her husband, Beni, were very kind to host the celebration. The 28-year-old slender brunette who is typically chatty and cheerful just didn’t seem quite herself that night, however. I sensed something was amiss, but assumed that by the time all the guests appeared, Diana was just exhausted from a full day of preparation for the occasion. What we didn’t know was that Diana and Beni received upsetting news earlier that afternoon.
It began one week prior to the birthday celebration when Diana had an appointment with her primary care physician. She was scheduled to discuss stones in her tonsils. In passing, she mentioned a lingering cough that continued for six months. Dr. June prescribed Prilosec; a tablet used to alleviate gastric reflux, and intuitively ordered a chest x-ray as well. An experienced respiratory therapist herself, Diana was surprised that her doctor referred her to radiology without waiting to assess potential improvement with Prilosec alone. Still, Diana headed to the imaging department as soon as she was released from her appointment.
The following Tuesday, Diana received a call from her physician. The x-ray revealed a shadow in Diana’s chest but there was not enough information on the radiographs to determine what the shadow indicated. Consequently, the radiologist recommended a CT scan. It was during this particular exam when Diana began to feel uneasy. “That’s when I started thinking things might not be good. I didn’t know what it was, but they found something.”
Several hours later, Dr. Phillips, a veteran pulmonologist, phoned Diana at home. Dr. Phillips explained the CT scan demonstrated a 6cm mass on the right side of Diana’s chest and enlarged lymph nodes in her neck. The presence of lymph nodes is typical on a normal CT exam, but when they are enlarged, there is cause for concern. “He was kind of beating around the bush with me for a while, but then he finally used the word ‘cancer.’ [‘It looks an awful lot like cancer…’] Doctors don’t really say ‘cancer’ unless they REALLY think that’s probably what it is,” Diana clarifies. Upon hearing the devastating news, Beni shook his head in disbelief. “I remember Beni just giving me a kiss on the head and just kind of hugging me while I was still on the phone with Dr. Phillips.” She sat at the bottom of the stairwell, their two-year old son nearby, and cried in Beni’s arms as her mind processed the shocking results. Naturally, thoughts began to fill her mind. “I can’t believe it. I’m so young! Wow, this means that I could lose my hair – I was thinking I’m losing my hair – I wasn’t thinking that I could die. I didn’t think about that until much later.” That night, she slept very little – maybe two hours at most.
The next morning, Friday, September 27th, Diana, accompanied by her husband, was scheduled to see Dr. Wilson, another skilled pulmonologist. Her experience as a pulmonology patient brought a whole new dimension to her career as a professional. “I feel for the patients so much more. I really understand what they’re going through. Now I think to myself, Oh, wow! They have that kind of cancer? Wow! I’m so sad for them. I know what pain is and I know what they’re going through.” Dr. Wilson assessed the CT images with the pair explaining in detail the abnormalities found on Diana’s scan. He maintained the findings could be nothing less than cancer.
Tears filled their eyes as they slowly came to the realization of what this diagnosis meant. Unquestionably, Diana felt despondent and uncertain about her future. “I was thinking about my son, Noah. What am I going to do with my son? I have to go through cancer. And then Beni – I’m so glad he was there – he just kind of held me, held my hand quietly telling me we’ll get through this. He’s been my rock this whole time.”
To confirm the diagnosis, Dr. Wilson ordered a biopsy of one of Diana’s lymph nodes in her neck. During the biopsy, the pathologist insinuated it could be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “It was nice to just know something about it,” Diana explains. “Looking back, that was the hardest day for me – just finding out I have cancer. That was really difficult to swallow.” She would not be notified with a definitive answer as to which cancer she had until the following week. “The hardest part was not knowing what kind of cancer it was,” she recalls.
As they grappled with the news, Diana and Beni determined they would try to keep things “as normal as possible” for as long as they could beginning with hosting Emma’s party. Below is an excerpt from Diana’s journal regarding that day:
As much as I wasn’t in any mood for a party, it was too late to cancel and we thought that it would be best for us to carry on as usual. The party went well other than the fact that it was soo late and since I hadn’t slept well the night before, I was really tired. And my neck was sore from the biopsy that morning. I was relieved when everyone left. This was a dark, dark day.
In an effort to continue their daily lives, Diana remained an active vocalist on the worship team at her local church, continued leading a young couple’s fellowship group with Beni, and reported to her part-time job as usual.
While Diana contemplates the symptoms she was initially experiencing (chronic cough, night sweats, itchy legs, and shortness of breath upon exertion), she didn’t consider them serious enough to be addressed urgently. She certainly didn’t believe they could be a result of cancer. As was established later, her lymph nodes, upper spine, pelvis, and spleen were affected by cancer. Because she presented with symptoms and the fact that other regions were involved outside of her lymph system, Diana was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 4B – essentially, stage IV cancer. She would be required to undergo chemotherapy once every two weeks for approximately six to eight months.
…We kept thinking, God is in control and His will be done in our lives. Lord, help us to continue to say that,even when it gets tough. Anyway, we prayed together facing each other with our knees touching. I’m so grateful for my husband! I love being able to share all my thoughts and worries with him. And I’m glad that we can still smile and laugh even during this time! Lord, thank You for giving us peace and even joy during this time…
With a name to match the illness, Diana began the painful process of informing her family and friends. She was mostly nervous about sharing the news with her mother. Eighteen years ago, Diana’s father was diagnosed with stomach cancer and doctors gave him a 40% chance of surviving. After sixteen chemotherapy treatments and a very critical surgery, the abundant prayers of family, friends, and fellow Christian believers were miraculously answered. Her father still lives today. Nonetheless, Diana just couldn’t bear to face her mother and tell her that she now had cancer. “That word, cancer, I think for my mom is very scary.” Just as Diana had expected, her mother took the news very hard. Diana tried to comfort and reassure her mother that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a very treatable disease and that medicine has improved drastically in the last twenty years.
Diana expressed her long existing desire to share a deeper relationship with her father. “Now, it is not like what it used to be. He can say ‘I love you’ without reservation. He always gives me hugs and always has something encouraging to say to me.” Unless a friend or relative attends chemotherapy with Diana, her father is always beside her, lending his moral support. Whether he reads a book aloud or imparts an encouraging passage from the Bible to her, she feels a stronger connection with her father like never before. “He knows more than anybody what I’m going through. If this is the only benefit from all of this, I’m happy. I’m closer to my dad because of it.”
In addition to her father, Diana has a large group of supporters. Two of her younger sisters voluntarily cut several inches off of their long locks to support their big sister and her cause. (Diana strategically cut her hair to chin length first and eventually trimmed it down to a buzz cut, intending to avoid the possibility of her son being frightened by her new appearance. It was an answer to her prayers when he wasn’t affected by her outward changes). Beni, her biggest fan and the love of her life, even buzzed his hair short just minutes before her second haircut since learning of her diagnosis. It was his way of helping her determine how short she wanted to clip her hair. She has also welcomed many friends who wished to join her during her chemotherapy treatment. Numerous prayers have been lifted on her behalf and with tear-filled eyes, she describes how extremely proud she is to be a part of her church, an extension of a family, who has overwhelmed her and her family with kind and generous support. Diana has also found comfort and consolation through a co-worker’s daughter who is a recent breast cancer survivor. She feels each positive person has notably contributed to helping her cope during this difficult time.
But mostly, she gives the greatest credit to God for coaching her well in advance for her hardship. “God always put it on my heart to pray that if I ever go through a trial or a tribulation, He would help me endure the way He would want me to. And I was praying this for a long time and I didn’t understand why until I got the news about cancer. Then it totally made sense. God prepared me more than I ever could be to go through this.”
Naturally, she experienced days when she would wrestle with uncertainty. She didn’t always feel so strong so she would remind herself of God’s assurances throughout the Bible. “I believe God is with me. He has come to give life and to give it abundantly. He’s not going to leave me or forsake me. That’s what His promise says in the Bible. I would remember those verses every time that I felt a little bit of doubt and a little bit scared – I’d say, ‘No. I choose to believe that You have life for me, God – that I’m not going to heaven yet, and if I do have to go to heaven, it’s to give You the glory. I know and trust that You hold me in Your hands and that You’re here with me.” Scripture passages like Job 23:10, (“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold), and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, (Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal), have been especially reassuring to her throughout this journey.
One day in particular, however, she experienced a meltdown. On December 17th, she was in the restroom at work. She noticed in the mirror that the lymph nodes in her neck appeared inflamed again. Her cough and itchy legs still had not resolved. She was petrified. “I freaked out. I was thinking, Oh my gosh! I’m not responding to treatment. I can’t believe this! I was 100% sure that I hadn’t responded to treatment. That was the second day, I can say, was one of the worst days I’ve had since learning of my diagnosis.” In her anguish, she prayed intensely. In a sermon she randomly selected on her phone from an app called OnePlace , Jeremiah 29:11 was the text on which the message was founded on: “For I know the plans I have for You,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Diana remembers being very encouraged by the message but she was still fighting with doubt. “I was thinking, Ok, God, I don’t understand – I think this was the first time that I ever used the word why? I don’t understand why You want me to go through this and it’s bad enough that I have cancer, but You want me to go down this road? Where I’m not responding? And I will have to do more: a bone marrow transplant and I will have to be hospitalized for a month and You just really want me to go down this road – not just cancer – but not respond to treatment, too?” On her lengthy drive home from work, she had time to continue her discussion with the Lord. “Ok, God, if this is what You want me to go through, then this is what You want me to go through. And I know that You’re not going to give me more than I can handle. So I trust that and I place it in Your hands.”
The next day, on December 18th, after completing four sessions of chemotherapy, Diana had a PET scan scheduled to determine if her body was in fact responding to treatment. The following morning, on the 19th, the oncology nurse called with results from the PET scan. Diana’s journal entry depicts her emotions best after she had heard the latest information:
It’s completely clear. There is NO CANCER anywhere in my body! This is the BEST news I have ever received! Better than a pass on a board exam or finding out I’m pregnant… I can’t describe how happy I am!! I called Beni at work and told him and I texted everyone else… It’s amazing how one day you can be SO LOW and the next, so high! Thank You, God, for Your faithfulness! And that You’ve answered our prayers. I thank You that I don’t have to do extra treatments or a stem cell transplant since I’m responding so well! YAY!!!
The personal battle was a significant milestone in her walk with the Lord. Even though things didn’t appear in Diana’s favor two days prior to hearing the exciting update, she decided she would trust God, believing He was in control of her situation. “It made me so happy that I actually resolved that with God before I found out the good news because I just feel closer to Him now.” That bleak afternoon on December 17th, her faith, perhaps the size of a small mustard seed, began to flourish once again.
Even though Diana’s PET scan doesn’t show any indication of cancer left in her body, she is still advised to continue chemotherapy for another three months to ensure the disease doesn’t return.
Ultimately, Diana feels this was a trial to draw her closer to the Lord. Her prayers often requested that the Lord would reveal Himself to her. At first, she was unsure how cancer would do that. But she is now confident that it worked. “Because when you’re broken, there is nothing else but God’s Word and me and Him. I have nothing else. I have nowhere else to turn. Why does it take suffering for us to actually do what we have to do and pray more and read the Bible more and really do what we should be doing in the first place? Why? Why can’t we be like Joshua where he’d stay in that tent after Moses left just simply because he wanted to know more of God?”
I asked Diana to share some words of advice for anyone who is currently affected by cancer or even a reader who has a relative or friend living with cancer. Her pearls of wisdom: “Really try to get close to the Lord. Read the Bible if you can. That’s what has really encouraged me a lot. Remember that God will never leave you or forsake you during this time. That’s what He promises to all His children. And He will never give you more than you can handle.”
I personally had the privilege of reading each carefully typed journal entry, a practice Diana doesn’t normally engage in. But her diary serves as a record to remind her of how close and near the Lord has been to her through this difficult time. Her little light shines so brightly in the simplest of ways but speaks volumes to believers and unbelievers alike. Her victorious smile illuminates pictures of herself as she sits in her seat before or after receiving chemotherapy. She continues to passionately worship the Lord with her voice, heart, soul, and mind, knowing that the God of the mountain is still God in the valley. Just as her intimate prayers are neatly inserted on the pages of her journal, she has the Lord’s promises inscribed on the tablet of her heart.
“It really encourages me to think that in some way, I’m making a difference in someone else’s life. It makes me so happy. I would pray about that. God, I don’t want to just be the one that is called for something. I want to be chosen because I’m ready to do something for You. And it’s amazing to see that He used someone that I feel is a nobody. I’m in awe that He could use me.”
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Note: Each physician’s name has been altered to protect their identity.