Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Facing the Fear of Cancer

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Learn more about You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.

Dannah Gresh: Dawn Wilson says God’s love is what helped her face a scary cancer diagnosis with courage.

Dawn Wilson: I just call it snuggling in to God. I mean, just realizing He was there for me. He hadn’t changed. He was still my strong refuge and who loved me. He loved me deeply, and He delighted in me. And I didn’t have to be afraid.

Leslie Basham: Today is October 16, 2019, and this is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: Last month, Nancy and her husband Robert released a book called You Can Trust God to Write Your Story. It’s already encouraged so many people to face tough things with trust in God’s providence, and we’re returning to that theme today.

I venture to say that all of us will be affected by health issues at some point either in ourselves or those we love. And today’s guest will show us how to trust God to write your story when it involves a serious diagnosis.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I am so grateful today to have the privilege—and it really is that—of talking with a longtime friend, one of our Revive Our Hearts team members who doesn’t live here in Michigan but lives out on the West Coast and serves with us from there.

And Dawn Wilson is in the middle of quite a journey, quite a story that God is writing. She knows that. It’s not the story she would have written, but it’s the story that God is writing for her.

Dawn, thank you so much for being willing to join us from your home in Southern California today to just talk about the script that God is writing in your life.

Dawn: Oh, I’m so glad to be a part of this, Nancy. I’ve learned so much from you over the years, and I’m sure that part of what I’ve learned from you and others there at Revive Our Hearts has really poured into this new journey I’m walking on.

Nancy: We’ve known each other a long time. Actually, you and your husband Bob were some of the very first team members of our parent ministry, Life Action Ministries, back in the . . . whatever . . . the Dark Ages. (laughter) Did you actually meet here at Life Action? Am I remembering that correctly?

Dawn: Yes. I was on the first team of Life Action. We actually went to Bob’s church in Whittier, California, and I stayed in his parents’ home. That was our first meeting. He joined the team that year and just kind of worked up through the ministry. A couple years later we left the team, married, and went into the pastorate for a few years. Then later on we served in an evangelistic ministry ourselves.

Nancy: So God has been writing your story for years as you look back on that, and you see His hand, His providence, just in the way He brought you together. And the Lord has used you and your husband in a significant way in some strategic overseas ministry opportunities. We could actually talk the whole time just about some of the things God has taught you in that journey, but just thank you.

When I think of you, Dawn, I think of a woman who is always saying, “Yes, Lord,” to whatever piece or part of the journey He has you on. I’m sure that’s not always easy. It certainly isn’t easy in this current journey we’re going to talk about. But I just want to affirm that I have seen that in you, that when Providence writes a story for you that you had not anticipated, you are so quick, it seems, to say, “Lord, I don’t understand this, but I embrace it.”

It seems like the practice of doing that for years perhaps is what has helped to prepare you for now facing some tremendous health challenges. Do you sense that yourself?

Dawn: Yes, I do. It’s amazing to me. I actually went through some things that I had written recently, and counted all the times that I had mentioned the sovereignty of God or the providence of God. I was amazed. It was just flowing through my life right now. I recognized that God must have been building that into my life through the years as I believed His Word, that He really is the sovereign God who has a purpose in my life.

Nancy: And what a great thing that that foundation has been laid in your heart—not just your mind but in your heart and your life—because I think if we ignore God’s sovereignty, if we ignore His providence, if we’re not trusting Him in the everyday matters of our lives, then when we get to these hard places, we have no foundation. We have no moorings for our souls.

Dawn: That’s right.

Nancy: I’ve watched your heart be tethered to truth in this journey, and I can’t help but believe that that’s because of decades of soaking in God’s Word and believing what God says. And now when the chips are down, from a human standpoint, that’s the default, the way your heart is inclined. It’s to say, “God is good, and I trust Him even when I can’t see what He’s doing.”

Dawn: That’s right. It’s all about daily surrender to that. I can believe it in my head, but if I’m not going to surrender to that truth and embrace it, then it really isn’t going to have an effect in my life. But God’s been enabling me to do that.

There’s been some hard times when I question the truth. There’s nothing wrong with questioning the truth, as long as you go back to the Word and see what God has to say for Himself.

Nancy: I love that—back to the truth.

So unpack for us, just a little bit. Tell us what you received a number of months ago, a really startling, unexpected diagnosis. Just give us a little bit of sense of what led up to that. I know you hadn’t been feeling well for a while. Give us a bit of the picture of what led up to that difficult diagnosis.

Dawn: Well, in 2018, around October, I developed a respiratory problem. It just got worse and worse, and nothing the doctor was doing was helping that. So by mid-January, it was still bad. It kept coming and going, but I was not getting healed from it. So my doctor said to go in and have a blood test, and that was mid-January, just to see if something was going on.

I remember she called that afternoon and she said, “I want you to go to the emergency room now.”

And I said, “You mean, like Urgent Care to get some medication?”

She said, “No, Dawn. I want you to go to the emergency room.”

And that was a two-day hospital stay, and during that time they discovered I have multiple myeloma. It’s a chronic, non-curable disease. It’s a rare cancer of the plasma cells. The plasma cells just multiply. They clone themselves, and they start taking over and basically killing off the red blood cells. I was extremely anemic, and that was the big clue that there was something going on with my red blood cells. So that was kind of a shock.

Nancy: I’m sure it was! Were you alone? Was Bob with you? Do you remember when you first heard that diagnosis? Just give us a picture of what that moment was like for you.

Dawn: Well, when I got the phone call to go to the emergency room, I was just holding the phone in the living room and looking at Bob. I told him when I got off the phone, “We have to go to the emergency room right now.” We were overwhelmed by that. So, yes, he was home from ministry overseas—which I was thankful. And he was with me the two days in the hospital through all the different tests.

It’s such a confusing time. And I have to say, in one way I was almost relieved to have a name for what was going on, even though it was such a shock that there was something that serious that was wrong. And I realized that this is going to be a total change in my life from that point on.

Nancy: So the “C” word—cancer.

Dawn: Yes.

Nancy: What did that do to your mind, your heart? Give us a sense of the emotions around that.

Dawn: Oh, I had so many friends who were actually going through cancer at that time—different kinds of cancer. I didn’t realize how many kinds of cancer and how different they are and how different treatments are. I had never heard of the word, “multiple myeloma.” I had no idea what it was. So that was kind of scary because I didn’t know what it was going to mean.

And then to have the doctor say, “Well, without treatment, you have probably less than a year. And if we can get you a stem cell transplant someday, we can get you five years.”

And just that . . . it sounded so finite—to have years put to my life. I really wasn’t quite sure at first how to handle that.

Nancy: Just to give context here. You’re in your sixties, and you’re blogging, you’re writing. Dawn serves as a research assistant with our ministry but does a lot of her own writing and blogging as well. You do some speaking. You’ve had a very active ministry life. You’ve got grown kids and grandkids, and you’re active in their lives.

So this wasn’t at all what you were expecting to hear, like a number of years attached—and it’s not like you’re eighty years old.

Dawn: Right.

Nancy: So, where does your mind go in that? You say a year without . . . is it the stem cell replacement? Am I saying that right?

Dawn: Stem cell transplant.

Nancy: And even with that, maybe five years? I mean, it has to be, if you’ve not been to that point before, so jarring. Describe what kind of process your mind goes through when you start thinking in those terms.

Dawn: Well, I had some funny thoughts, actually. I thought, Well, if I’m going to die soon, I want to make sure I go through all the stuff in my house so my family doesn’t have to deal with all my junk. I mean, silly little things like that.

And also things like, “What are the priorities in my life? What am I going to do with the time? If I have a year left, what’s the most important? If I have five years left, what’s the most important to deal with? What would honor the Lord? How can I glorify Him? Will I have the strength to do anything?”

This is going to be a new normal for me, and I’m a Type-A person. I’m just constantly on the move, constantly doing two or three things at once. That’s always been my pattern. And now all of a sudden to realize that I’m going to be knocked down to my knees and be so weak that I’m not sure I know what I’m going to be able to do. That was a jarring thought to me.

Nancy: During this time, you’ve done such a beautiful job of communicating with people who know you and are praying for you. You call them “Team Dawn.”

Dawn: Right.

Nancy: These are your prayer partners. You’ve posted a lot of these updates on Facebook and through email and other means. I printed out yesterday just a series, a sequence of those updates that you’ve posted. I’d love for you to read a few of those because you’ve been journaling your heart. It’s kind of a way you’re sharing with people to pray for you, but it also expresses what’s going on in your heart.

I’m looking here at the first update that I see that you sent out in January—January 25, 2019. It says, “Dear Praying Friends,” and it’s when you told people about the first, the initial diagnosis. It’s a lengthy update—we won’t read the whole thing—but I’d love for you to just read that part in the last paragraph that we’ve highlighted there, and just what was going through your heart and your head when you were telling people about this and asking them to pray for you. Can I just get you to read that?

Dawn: Right. Nancy, it’s funny—I’m a writer, but I’ve never journaled. And so putting all this on Facebook actually had become a journal for me. I remember writing that day, and at the end of that very first post, when I was just struggling. The doctor said I was strangely calm and not like most of his patients, and I was able to tell him I was calm because my heavenly Father and I had been talking about this for days, and I wasn’t afraid. I wrote, 

“God still has a plan, and though it might mean suffering, I firmly believe His plan is always for my good and others’ growth and God’s glory.”

And that’s how I began to see this right from the beginning, that God had a plan in this. I wasn’t sure what that plan was going to be, but I knew it was a plan with purpose, and I wanted to make sure I was getting on board with God’s purpose.

Nancy: I love watching that. It is the point we all need to come to if we’re going to have that calm and be free from fear.

You told the doctor that you and your heavenly Father had been talking about this for days. Were there points in that conversation with the Lord when you would say you were afraid? And how did He move you from fear to faith? Can you remember back to that point early on?

Dawn: There’s nothing wrong with being afraid. I think some people think Christians should never have fear, but fear is a very normal, human reaction. So, yes, I did have fear, but when I talked to the Lord about it, He transformed that fear. I think it wasn’t so much faith that transformed my fear as it was God’s love.

The Scriptures do say, “God’s perfect love casts out our fear.” And I think as I kept turning to the Lord . . . I just call it snuggling into God, just realizing He was there for me. He hadn’t changed. My circumstances changed, but He hadn’t changed. He was still my strong refuge, and He loved me. He loved me deeply, and He delighted in me. And I didn’t have to be afraid.

Nancy: Wow. Snuggling into the heart and the love of God. That sounds like something, again, wasn’t new for you. You’ve had some experience in hard times and places that prepared you for this experience. Am I right about that?

Dawn: Yes, but I have to tell you, I’ve written several times that having cancer is a gift because it has deepened that relationship in ways that I never thought possible, ways I didn’t foresee. In many ways I thought I was walking with the Lord in close relationship, but He began to show me different ways that I was still kind of going my way instead of His way. I was trusting my plans and my agenda.

So this whole experience has driven me to say daily, “Okay, Lord. You know I don’t have a lot of strength. What do you want me to do today?” It’s been a much closer walk. I walk with the Spirit and walk in His love more than I ever have before. I call it a gift. It really is a gift.

Nancy: Well, it’s a gift that comes in a package that most people wouldn’t want. You wouldn’t have wanted it. And no one would say, “Lord, bring on cancer, bring on physical affliction.” But as you’re walking with Him through this—and you don’t know the end yet. You’re still very much in the middle of this. You’re receiving it as a gift that God has given you for purposes that are good purposes, for your good, as you said, and for others’ growth and God’s glory.

How did you come to care about those things more than you care about having a healthy body?

Dawn: I think the word is legacy for me. I knew that, first of all, I wanted to be a woman of influence in the lives of my children and grandchildren. And I also wanted to reach my local community, my neighborhood. And I knew that because I had been sharing truth for years on Facebook and in other situations, people—whether I liked it or not—people would be looking at my life to see how I’d respond, to see if what I had been saying was now true.

So I said, “Lord, I want to grow in this, and as I grow, I want to be transparent and share my journey. And if I’m up, I’ll share up. And if I’m down, I’ll share down. But through that whole process, I want to give You glory. I want to show people that Your presence, what You’re doing in my life at this time is making all the difference.”

And to realize that people will be observing . . . I know that Dr. Jeremiah when he went through it . . . As a pastor he went through lymphoma. That was part of his struggle. He knew that people would be watching him, and he didn’t want to be a fake. He wanted to be authentic. And that was my heart, too.

Nancy: And from a distance, Dawn, I’ve watched you do that in such an amazing way. I’ve watched this. I watch your posts, and I think, Oh, Lord, when it’s my time for something that is this life threatening and challenging, I want to have that kind of hope-filled, grace-filled, God-centered response that is going to communicate to the Lord and to others that I know He is writing this story even though it’s not the way I would want to write it.

Tell us just a little bit of an update. I know this is kind of a moving target here. Give us a little bit of a description of what the physical process has been thus far to give us a sense of where you are in this process physically.

Dawn: When we first got an opportunity to speak with a stem cell transplant doctor, he had hoped that I would be able to get that transplant by June or July or August of this year. But my myeloma has been very aggressive, and the lighter chemo and other medications they were giving me earlier on were just not moving the needle at all to help me recover from the anemia that I had to get me to a place where they could actually do the transplant.

So, recently, we were able to change the medication and finally get the cancer chemo that the doctor had hoped I could have earlier on. I’m getting half doses of it to see if I can tolerate it. I’ll be getting twelve cycles of that. So I’m looking at twelve months now of this other kind of chemo before we can even consider the stem cell. We’re just hoping that the red blood cells will multiply, and they’ll be able to take that in a transplant.

But it’s all just so uncertain right now about when that’s going to be, and that waiting is hard sometimes. But there’s providence in the waiting, too. I can see what God is doing and shaping my life, my husband’s life, how He’s changed some relationships in my family. So there’s the joy in the process even though it’s long.

Nancy: You talk about that sense of uncertainty in another entry that you posted on Facebook this past Spring. I’d love for you to just read that for us.

Dawn: Sure. 

“In this time of uncertainty, I am confident my time is in God’s hands. There is so much I want to do, so I struggle with priorities. I just don’t have much energy. Everything in me wants to be scared right now, but I simply can’t explain the joy I’m finding by resting in God’s sweet mercies and lovingkindness to me. He’s making Himself known every day. So I’m embracing these days as gifts from Him. Everything feels so slow and uncertain right now, but I’m choosing to trust the Great Physician. He knows what He’s doing, and I will be content with what He prescribes.”

Nancy: Wow. Just so many things that reveal your heart there but that also reveal God’s heart for you. You talk about His sweet mercies, His lovingkindness. I can imagine that it might be tempting at a time like this to think, God . . . He doesn’t know what He’s doing. Or, How could this be merciful or kind? Have those kinds of thoughts ever crossed your mind? Or do you just lean into what you’ve come to know about God over the years?

Dawn: What I believe about God is a bedrock of my life, but that doesn’t mean that Satan doesn’t tempt me with his lies, different thoughts that shake me up a little bit. Again, I have to keep coming back to the truth of God’s Word, or I can really be overcome by those thoughts, especially in the night hours when I can’t sleep.

I wrote on one post, 

“Satan wants me to dread, but I’m choosing to be settled in my thoughts, believing the Lord God knows what’s going on. I don’t need to fear bad news because if bad news comes, my Father God is still with me and working in and through me.” 

And, as you said, I am in His eternal loving care.

Nancy: It’s interesting, you’ve used the word a couple times, “I’m choosing—I’m choosing to trust.” You’re choosing contentment. You’re choosing to believe that God knows what is going on. That sounds like there is a battle there because you could choose to believe what your emotions are telling you or what you’re feeling when you’re weak. But you’re choosing something that is more permanent, more sure, and more lasting even than your own natural emotions.

Dawn: Right. My whole ministry for years to women has been about making wise and godly choices. So I think the whole idea of choosing really comes natural to me. I want to cooperate with God what He says in His Word, and those are choices. I want to make wise and godly choices.

Sometimes when those scary thoughts come, Satan tempts me to believe less than the truth. But I want to make the choices that are going to give me peace, the choices that are going to help me rest in Him. There really isn’t any strength in our life spiritually unless we’re making those choices to cooperate with God’s loving care.

Nancy: We’re listening to Dawn Wilson who’s been a longtime staff member, a longtime friend, a longtime staff member of Revive Our Hearts, actually one of our very first when the ministry launched. And we have been ministry partners for a long time. Dawn is actively involved in helping me prepare for interviews, helping me read other people’s books that we’re going to be talking with them about on the broadcast.

Dawn, neither of us would have anticipated that this point would come where we would be talking about your own journey. We’ve read about other people’s journeys with things like this, but now it’s very much your story and the story God is writing in your life.

I’ve been so touched to follow Dawn’s story in light of the book that Robert and I have written recently, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story: Embracing the Mysteries of Providence. And we’re making that book available to any of our listeners today.

You may be going through a cancer journey or a journey with a prodigal son or daughter or facing financial challenges, just something that it’s a script you would not have written for your own life, but God is writing it for your life. And you want to have that bedrock assurance for your heart that God knows what He is doing, that He is good, that He loves you, that He’s in control.

And the very things that Dawn is living out in this season of her life are the things that we talk about throughout this book—how to embrace the mysteries of God’s providence, how to draw near to Him, how to see Him at work in your life when He’s doing things that are different than the story that you would have perhaps written for yourself.

We’re making that resource available today to any listener who makes a donation of any amount to support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. You can make your gift by giving us a call at 1–800–569–5959, or you can make your donation online atReviveOurHearts.com. And when you do, make sure and let us know that you’d like a copy of the book, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.

Dannah: Thank you, Nancy. I know you and Dawn are going to continue your conversation tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. And sometimes when we face a medical diagnosis that serious, we also face a battle with Satan’s lies. That’s the case for Dawn as she’s been fighting this battle with cancer, but she’s also remained hopeful about the future even in the face of very scary medical facts. 

I’m Dannah Gresh, inviting you back to learn more about that tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Reminding you that God’s perfect love casts out all fear. Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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