Lois Thompson, a breast cancer survivor, offers a personal insight into cancer and grief, following the death of her husband from cancer and her son to a tragic car accident at 19.
Every day, 48 women in Australia (and eight in New Zealand) hear those dreaded words: “I’m sorry, but you have breast cancer.”
When I was offered an insurance policy that would cover me, were I ever unlucky enough to be diagnosed with cancer, I refused. That won’t happen to me, I thought. Two years later, in 2006, I heard those dreaded words for myself: Breast cancer. What followed was a mastectomy, two rounds of chemotherapy, maximum radiotherapy and nine months off work for treatment. I regretted not taking out that insurance policy!
The foreboding, insidious force we call “cancer” is on the increase. Most of us are affected by it in some way, either personally or watching someone we know and love go through the battle with it. Our general reaction is “it’s an enemy that must be fought”.
Thankfully, cancer patients and our support network don’t fight this enemy alone. We’re supported by an army of medical professionals and researchers who help in the battle to conquer this enemy. Today, 89 out of every 100 breast cancer patients are termed “survivors”. They live beyond five years of diagnosis. Most never have a recurrence or suffer metastatic breast cancer.
Unfortunately, I had to undergo further chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a recurrence last year. But as was the case 10 years previously, I also had a mighty spiritual army fighting with me. I discovered afresh the power of prayer from Christians near and far. I experienced the presence, peace and power of God. I was encouraged by the Lord, as He led me to Bible verses that uplifted and encouraged me. My heart was warmed by the love and support of my family, friends and church.
My eldest son, John, died in a tragic car accident in 2002. He was 19. For a long time, in my grief, I just wanted to be reunited with him. The morning of his fatal car accident, John and I were alone downstairs, both ready to go to work. I was leading sessions in a four-week group program on chronic pain at work. I was dressed to impress, in the smartest work uniform I could find. As we met to kiss goodbye, John lifted his hand to my cheek and wiped away some of my blush.
“Mum, you have too much blush on,” he said. “You don’t need it.”
I replied, looking up into those beautiful eyes, “Thanks, Johnny. What would I ever do without you?”
“You’d manage,” he said quietly, as his hand gently brushed down my face.
At two o’clock the following morning, my heart was ripped from the inside. The police arrived to inform us that at midnight, John’s car had crashed into a pole around the corner, just two minutes away from our beautiful happy home. It was to be 10 years before I could wear blush again.
But as I faced the reality of my own death with my cancer diagnosis, my heart and eyes were opened and for the first time, I could see everything life and living had to offer. Cancer made me stop—it forced me to decide and I decided I wanted to live. As I fought to defeat cancer, my enemy, I found cancer my friend! I number myself amongst the many breast cancer hurdlers who say their life is richer, stronger and better for having jumped that hurdle.
Sadly, we are all too aware that despite fighting cancer with all available spiritual and medical weapons, sometimes cancer wins. I again faced crippling grief when my husband lost his battle against cancer in 2011 (he was diagnosed with advanced bowel and liver cancer in 2009). I thought I had done enough grieving during my husband’s long battle with this old enemy. I had my Christian faith and family and I seemed quite happy on the surface, but deep inside, I had once again lost the will to live. I lost sight of everyone and everything in my life. The pain of loss—grief—clouded my world.
“This isn’t fair!” I yelled at God. But Jesus always has an answer. He lovingly tried to explain: “Pat has run to his race plan. Our days are numbered by God. It is written in My Manual, in the book of Job,” He reminded me.
“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5).
My loving God led me through those clouds of grief. My husband had a full life, loving and serving Jesus, after the Lord saved him from suicide and alcoholism. God spoke to me through His Word: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
When Pat was dying from cancer, I told him how I would miss his company, his shoulder to lean and cry on, his patient listening ears and heart, and our close sharing relationship. He tried to reassure me that I could always go to God and talk and share. I remember telling him that I couldn’t have a physical relationship with God, like I cherished with him.
Pat was right and I was right. I can and do talk and share with God. He is always available and is forever there for me. He brings peace and comfort and strength to jump. However, we also have a physical body and God knows I need other people to physically touch and care for me. Therefore, He provides them at the times I need a human touch. I really appreciate those He uses.
For Pat, my beloved, his death was swallowed up by victory. “ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55–57).
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