Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Margaret Ashmore has learned to see cancer as a gift.

Margaret Ashmore: I would even call it a severe mercy. God said, "Margaret, I want you to go through this. I want to use the treatments to free you, to cure you of deeper things, but also, I want you to be able to comfort others with the same comfort wherewith I have comforted you.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, October17. To introduce this week’s topic, we’ll start with one of our listeners.

Listener: I would just like to say how the Lord has blessed me. I recently discovered that I have breast cancer, and I’m going to have to have a mastectomy. I am just amazed at the peace that the Lord has given me through this.

In Philippians He tells us that we have the peace that passes all understanding. Everybody at work is just amazed. Everybody keeps saying, “I’d be a wreck.” I have had a chance to share my faith with so many people, and I just praise Him every day.

The love that I’m finding from people around me—you can read about this peace that passes all understanding and you can believe it, but when something like this comes up, it’s just such a blessing to know that it’s really, really true; and it really, really has touched my life.

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If you’re a woman listening to Revive Our Hearts today, there is about one chance in nine that at some point in your life you will hear a doctor say these words: “You have breast cancer.” Even if you never hear those words, it’s almost certain that a mother or a sister or a daughter or a close friend will hear those words.

We’re going to talk today with two women who know a lot about this subject. As I’ve gotten to know these two women, I’ve been so touched, not only by their personal experience in this area, but also how they have come to understand something of the heart and the ways of God; not only in relation to cancer, but also in relation to all types of suffering.

Margaret Ashmore is a Bible teacher and a conference speaker from the Denton, Texas area. Margaret has become a new friend over the past several months. She’s a breast cancer survivor.

Margaret, thank you for being willing to come on Revive Our Hearts today and help us address this subject from the perspective of your very personal experience.

Margaret: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy: You’ve brought with you a friend that I’ve just had the privilege of meeting, Dr. Sally Knox. Dr. Knox is a breast cancer surgeon. You practice out of Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Dr. Knox, you’ve written a book on this subject. The title is . . .

Dr. Sally Knox: Breast Cancer Care Book

Nancy: Tell us a little bit about that book and why you came to write it.

Dr. Knox: I wrote the book so that women that are newly diagnosed in their families could have some resource that they could get through quickly in a couple of days. I mean, there are many books available about breast cancer, but oftentimes they’re huge and they have lots of technical details.

A woman who is newly diagnosed is anxious, and she basically just needs something very quickly to bring her up to snuff in terms of what questions to ask.

Then something that I did that’s unusual, I would say, is really address the spiritual and emotional issues; because oftentimes patients will tell me that, yes, the physical battle is difficult in terms of being treated for breast cancer, but it also challenges a lot of our ideas about God and about how He works in our lives and why He would allow a trial like this in our lives.

Time and again I had seen God take these women through the experience, and not usually in the first year—maybe in the first two years after the diagnosis, but eventually I had women coming back to me and saying, “I wouldn’t tell anyone but you this because it just sounds so crazy, but it was the best thing that happened to me.”

The reason it was the best thing that had happened in their lives is because it changed their priorities. It caused massive changes in the way they thought. It deepened their relationship with God, and on and on.

It became almost a consistent pattern, and I realized I was in a privileged position to see God working over and over in these women’s lives. I wanted to write a book about it so that women being newly diagnosed with breast cancer—and their families and friends—would know that . . . no one would want this diagnosis; no one would ask for this experience; but here’s what God can do if you’ll relax and turn it over to Him.

It’s not that it’s easy to go through that experience; but He is able to bring lemonade out of lemons in a way that’s just amazing, in ways that none of us can understand. But I’ve seen His ways, and I know He’s trustworthy.

Nancy: It’s a book that is helpful not just as it specifically applies to breast cancer, but I’ve found so much in it that would be useful for other types of cancer and for other types of suffering as well.

Dr. Knox: Exactly. I’ve had patients with other types of cancer—ovarian, other (men and women both)—that have said that the book was useful to them just in terms of suffering and dealing with cancer of any type. There are really only a couple of chapters that are specific only to breast cancer. The rest of it really applies to any kind of cancer.

Nancy: And it’s organized in such a helpful way. It’s very readable, and at the end of each chapter you have definitions of new terms. Some of those terms I don’t think I even know how to pronounce. But you break them down and provide help for somebody, like myself, who’s coming out of a background where you don’t know a lot about this. I guess you wouldn’t know a lot about it until it’s really something that comes into your life.

Dr. Knox: Right. When you’re dealing with cancer in general or breast cancer specifically, the most empowering thing is information. When you enter into that experience, part of what’s so terrifying about it is that you don’t know anything about this topic. You’re depending on people you’ve never met before to make all kinds of life-changing decisions with you and for you.

So people will feel empowered if they can get some information. They say, “Now I understand that.” Then they go to their physicians, and the questions and issues that are coming up are things they’ve read about, and now they’re becoming a little more familiar. That helps the terror feeling a great deal. Now they can begin to deal with it in a healthy fashion.

Nancy: The book is called The Breast Cancer Care Book: A Survival Guide for Patients and Loved Ones. It’s chock full of practical wisdom and counsel about the decision making process, the journey of going through the breast cancer process, but it’s also full of a lot of biblical wisdom and insight and comfort and encouragement, both for the patient and for the loved ones.

We have here Margaret Ashmore with a life message in this subject. Margaret, how did you first come to hear this diagnosis? Tell us a little bit about the beginning of the journey for you.

Margaret: Well Nancy, I had just returned from a mission trip from Africa, and I noticed while I was there that my appetite was just not the same. When I got back to the States, I did what I would encourage every woman to do. I did a self exam and felt a small lump in my right breast.

It just so happened that a very good friend of mine worked at the local hospital, so I called her and said, “I think I probably need to come in for a mammogram and some diagnosis of this.” So I went in, and my friend actually did the sonogram and the mammogram—she was a good friend of mine.

I’ll never forget when I was lying there. They had already done the mammogram and said, “We think we need to follow up with a sonogram.” When that happens, you know that’s probably not really good news. So I remember being on the table and watching her face as she did the sonogram, and I knew I had cancer just by looking at her because we’re good friends.

And indeed it was the diagnosis of breast cancer.

Dr. Knox: Margaret, can I just say one thing, because there are a lot of ladies listening to us right now. When you’re having a mammogram done, if you have additional tests done like additional magnification views or sonogram, most of the time that’s not going to be cancer.

I say that because somebody out there is worried that just because she’s coming back in for an extra test, that means the worst. Most of the time, fortunately, it won’t necessarily mean it’s cancer.

Nancy: Which is a good word of encouragement. But in your case it was the diagnosis that you’d feared.

Margaret: Yes, it was. A good friend of mine had just gone through this very same thing and recommended Dr. Sally Knox. So I called and got an appointment, and I am one of these patients that came back a year or two later and said, “This was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Dr. Knox, upon my coming into her office, literally took my hands and prayed for me and said, “Lord, would You use this for Your glory.” Well, if I may, I would like to say how this was the best thing for me.

Prior to having breast cancer I have to say that there were areas of my Christian life I considered rather bound. There were just some areas of my life that were not lined up with the Scriptures. I was already doing some teaching and already doing a little speaking, and I just realized that I was not giving a life message—that there was something not right.

The reason why this diagnosis was so good for me—I have to use the illustration in Scripture of Daniel chapter 3 of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego going through the fire. It’s interesting to me that prior to their going into the fire, we read that they were tied up, bound. Bound and tied up. Four times we read that they were bound.

Well, when they got on the other side, you couldn’t even smell smoke on their clothing. There was no evidence they had been in a fire. But interestingly, when Nebuchadnezzar is looking at them in the fire, he says, “I see them loosed and walking about” (v. 25 paraphrased). So the question is, what burned? The bonds that held them.

Again, I was just one of these people who went to Bible studies. I did all the right things within the church, yet something wasn’t right inside. And God, who loves me and disciplines His children out of love, said, “Margaret, I’m going to allow you to go through the fire because I want to free you.”

I think it’s important to remember that God puts His children through a fire, not to harm us but to free us. All I know to say is that when I came out on the other side of cancer, after losing my hair, after the chemotherapy, after illness—you can look at me now and can’t really tell I’ve been through cancer—but I have to tell you that there was something that was set free in me, that God freed me through that fire.

That’s why I say exactly what Dr. Knox said. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I needed cancer. It was a great gift from God for me.

Nancy: Now, we’re not suggesting that cancer in and of itself is a good thing. We live in a fallen world. All sickness and disease ultimately is a result of the fact that this is a cursed and broken and sinful world.

I was thinking this morning before we came into the studio of what a wonderful truth it is in the Scripture, that God is in the process of redeeming this fallen world and making all things new. In the new creation there will not be cancer. There will not be death or sickness.

So we’re not saying that cancer is a holy thing or a good thing. What both of you are saying, I think, is that God has the ability, by His sovereignty and His grace, to transform even the fire, the effects of the curse, into something that is holy and good and ends up being a blessing in our lives.

Dr. Knox: And Nancy, I’d probably go even further to say that what we’re really saying is that you can trust Jesus. You can trust God. Because He will take us through circumstances that make no sense to us in our human, fleshly understanding. I don’t think, in many cases, that we are going to understand, this side of heaven, why something happens.

I mean, I’ve seen, and I think we’ve all seen, tragic situations in our lives—a teenager that’s killed in a car wreck or a mother that dies young—things like this that we cannot explain why they happened. We cannot see that there was any redeeming value or good coming from that. So I’m suggesting that I’ve had to become comfortable with the fact that there are many answers that I don’t have.

But this I do know—and this will carry you through—we have a God that you can trust.

Margaret: Absolutely.

Dr. Knox: It doesn’t have to make sense. It may not make sense this year or 25 years from now. Margaret is saying that eventually she got to the point where she could really thank God for the circumstances that were in her life. And we may have many listeners that it may not make sense this year or next year or on down the road.

Nancy: Any time this side of eternity.

Dr. Knox: That’s right. But this I know: God can be trusted.

Nancy: Amen.

Margaret: There’s an old poem by William Cowper, and a portion of it says,

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

That is my hope. Yes, there were confusing times, times when terrors would parade by my mind at night; but ultimately I rested on the fact that I serve a God who’s in control. He says in Job 38:11, “I tell the ocean waves just how far they can come up before they have to go back again” (paraphrase).

I’ve found great comfort in the fact that this same sovereign God could tell the same to a cancer cell, and that God can use a fallen world to promote His plans and His purposes. And His specific purpose was to free me through this disease.

Nancy: What did you do next?

Margaret: Well, I did go to Dr. Knox, and she said that we would do a lumpectomy. And that we did. What happened was that when I got the results of the surgery, Dr. Knox said that the margins were clear, which meant that the cancer seems to have been contained and that they “got it.”

Well, in my mind I was thinking, “Praise the Lord! I don’t have to go through any more suffering.” This was it. This was my bout with breast cancer.

Then I did a follow up with Dr. Knox, and she looked at me and said, “Well, now it’s time to schedule your chemotherapy and your radiation.” I looked at her, and I thought, “Why do we need to do that? My margins were clear.”

Well, I have to tell you, one of the awful tendencies of my life is to try to escape from difficult situations. I automatically started looking for a way out. The motive of my heart was to escape the medical system so that I could find an easy way out of this thing.

And that’s what I did. I literally dropped out of the medical system and did all kinds of alternative treatments. There was evidence that the tumor was growing, but I have to tell you, I just ignored it. I thought, “I’m just going to continue with this alternative treatment, hoping that it works.”

It got to the point where the tumor had gotten so large—I just remember sitting on my couch one day, and I realized I had a tumor that had come back, and I was terrified to make the call to Dr. Knox’s office because I thought they were going to say something like, “Well, we told you.”

But, of course, they did not. They received me back into the fold, and we got busy. Dr. Knox sat me down, after examining this tumor that had come back, and she gently took me by the hand and looked right into my eyes and said, “Margaret, if we don’t do something quickly, you’re going to lose this battle.”

And that’s what we did. We started fighting. I did five rounds of chemo, had a mastectomy, and had a stem cell transplant, which I’ll talk more about later, and radiation.

This is what I discovered through that. The emotion of fear is not a bad thing. God gives us that to protect us. But the key is to not be paralyzed through fear. You can have the emotion of fear, but if you’re paralyzed, it’s like looking at a red light on a dashboard and just putting a black piece of tape over it. Something is wrong under the hood, and if it’s not addressed it’s going to fall apart.

So God gave me the grace to get back into the system and to fight, and that’s exactly what we did.

Dr. Knox: Margaret, I think what you have shared is very powerful. I think that in your instance, you were turning to alternative medicine because what medicine was offering you didn’t sound very attractive.

I think another thing that happens commonly in the Christian community is the fact that we know we have a sovereign God. He can heal miraculously, and He certainly does that today, just like He always has. Oftentimes a Christian patient will say, “I know that this is what medicine recommends, but I have a relationship with God, and He is my healer.”

But let me just address that God is not constrained to heal any particular way, and He will use physicians, and He will use the chemotherapy drugs. He will use the radiation therapy treatment as His treatment plan.

Going through medical treatment doesn’t in any way mean that you have less faith or that God couldn’t intervene in a miraculous way. Oftentimes the miraculous way might be that He sends those chemotherapy drugs after just the right cells that we want to kill.

In other words, oftentimes I think Christians will think, “If I go through standard medical care, I'm giving up on God, I’m giving up on my faith,” when it’s actually just the opposite. It’s trusting God to take you through the fire that doesn’t look very attractive, and trusting Him that every step of the way He is using all of those steps to intervene miraculously.

Now it may be—as a physician I have had several instances where I know my patients were praying and their churches were praying, and there was a lump on the mammogram that I was pretty sure was going to be cancer, and then we go and take it out and it’s not cancer. Now that was God’s intervention.

But my opinion is, if I’m there as a physician and it’s cancer cells, then we treat it like it’s cancer cells. God gives us wisdom; God gives us understanding as to what to do. But it doesn’t have to violate our faith.

Margaret: As a matter of fact, I had many, many people praying for me, and of course I was and am grateful for that. Many of them would pray the name Jehovah Raphah over me, which is the God who heals. But interestingly, where we find that in Exodus 15, that was first instituted at the waters of Marah, a place of bitterness.

What I found was that there are worse things than cancer. There is bitterness in the soul. There is unforgiveness. There is moral impurity. There is jealousy. There is envy. Those things can eat up the soul worse than cancer can eat up a body.

When I called out to Jehovah Raphah, it was, “Lord, please use this cancer. Use the chemotherapy. Use the treatments themselves to cure these deeper cancerous malignancies in my soul.” That’s what I meant by the fact that God can use this suffering.

The Scripture says that “stripes that wound scour away evil” (Pro. 20:30 NASB). I believe that’s what God did in my life and why I call cancer a gift. I would even call it a severe mercy, that God said, “I want you to go through this. I want to use the treatments to free you, to cure you of deeper things, but also I want you to be able to comfort others with the same comfort wherewith I have comforted you.”

So, of course, it all works together for good. God allowed me to go through the very treatments to free me in those ways.

Nancy: Margaret Ashmore has been sharing with us out of her personal journey through breast cancer. It brings to mind the phrase in Scripture that says God brings treasures out of darkness. That certainly is what God has done in her life.

All of us in different ways can testify to how God brings beauty and treasure and goodness out of the things that can seem to be the terrors and the darkness of our lives.

We’ve been talking also with Dr. Sally Knox. Dr. Knox, I just appreciate so much your perspective on both the medical profession—God’s given you talents and gifts and understanding in that area—and how you see there’s no conflict between that and God who is all-powerful and great and wise. We don’t have to have a conflict between our faith and utilizing resources that God may entrust to us of a medical nature.

So you’ve written a book that I want to encourage many of our listeners to get. It’s The Breast Cancer Care Book: A Survival Guide for Patients and Loved Ones. I just love the way that you bring together these elements of the physical, the medical process, and some very practical instruction, but also some biblical wisdom about how to walk through this journey and how to help those you love do the same.

It’s a path through suffering to the heart of God. Whatever you’re suffering, whether cancer or unrelated to cancer, we want to encourage you, challenge you, to find your way to the heart of God through that suffering.

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Margaret Ashmore. She's offered important perspective on leaning on the Lord when dealing with breast cancer. Nancy also talked with Dr. Sally Knox, author of The Breast Cancer Care Book

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Now, if you visit a doctor for something like breast cancer, does it mean you don’t have faith in God's power to heal? That’s one of the questions you’ll hear tomorrow when Sally Knox and Margaret Ashmore return. I hope you’ll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

English poet William Cowper (1731-1800).

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