Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: When Margaret Ashmore was diagnosed with breast cancer, it made her think about death and life.

Margaret Ashmore: It has made me realize that my days are borrowed, and I want to use every one of them, the balance of my life, to glorify God with my life.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, October 19. 

Here's Nancy continuing in a series for breast cancer awareness month. The series is called, Surviving—and Thriving—Through Suffering.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: As you’ve been listening to our series on dealing with breast cancer, you may be thinking, “This subject doesn’t really relate to me.” And it may not at this moment.

But whether you’re a woman or a man listening to us, chances are good that through the course of your lifetime you will have a female loved one—a mother, a sister, a daughter, a close friend—who will face breast cancer. We want to talk today about how you can minister to those who are in this situation of life.

One of our guests is Margaret Ashmore, who is a Bible teacher, a conference speaker. You can learn more about her ministry by going to her website, which you can link to through ReviveOurHearts.com.

We want to talk today, just for a few moments, about how God used other people in your life to be a blessing and a help to you through the ordeal that you went through several years ago.

Then from a different perspective, we have Dr. Sally Knox, who was your breast cancer surgeon. Dr. Knox is a renowned breast cancer surgeon. She works through the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

She’s written a fabulous book that I’m encouraging all of our listeners to get. It’s called The Breast Cancer Care Book.

Dr. Knox, thank you for writing this book based on your experience of dealing with thousands of breast cancer patients. I love your heart and the wisdom God’s given you and the perspective you have as a doctor and as a Christian woman.

Dr. Sally Knox: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy: The subtitle to your book is A Survival Guide for Patients and Loved Ones, and at the end of each chapter, you give some tips for what loved ones can do.

Margaret, let’s start with you. As you walked through your breast cancer experience—and it was an ordeal; it was a fight, and there were times when you were very, very sick—how did God use other people in your life so that this wasn’t a journey you had to go through alone?

Margaret: There were times when I would be lying in bed, and I was ill because of chemotherapy. There was one point in time my eyes were so bloodshot because I’d been so ill and had been throwing up so much; I literally couldn’t get out of bed, yet I would hear someone outside my window mowing my yard. They would just show up and minister to me in that way and then leave.

I had many cards. I had phone calls. I got one card from a dear friend of mine. She quoted a poem by John Donne, and it said:

“Do Thou so make my bed in all my sickness that, being used to Thy hand, I may be content with any bed of Thy making.”

Things like that were a great comfort to me, that God was sovereign over my sickbed, and that He was going to use it for His honor and glory.

So the Body of Christ, the friends and family, were absolute necessities to me to continue to give me hope through this ordeal.

Nancy: I assume they ministered in some very practical ways. Obviously, mowing your lawn was one, when you couldn’t do it yourself. What were some of the other practical ways that God used people to help you through that time? Were there times when you just needed help getting to a doctor’s appointment?

Margaret: Yes, and I had many people take me to my radiation appointments. I had many people take me to some of my chemo appointments.

One thing that was really interesting—and my pastor, Tom Nelson, will love this—I love old episodes of the Andy Griffith Show.

Nancy: Doesn’t everybody?

Margaret: I hope so. I had a friend of mine who went with me to chemotherapy, and you know, Dr. Knox, they have video monitors where you can watch videos while you’re getting this chemotherapy pumped in your veins. She would make sure I had a funny episode of Andy Griffith to watch every time I was getting chemo treatments.

Another thing that was just wonderful for me was notes in the mail—just a note of Scripture, a note of encouragement, a note of truth. I would find myself waiting for the postman to come just so I could get a shot of encouragement for that day. All those things served to help me along my journey.

Nancy: Dr. Knox, what do you encourage caregivers and loved ones to do when that diagnosis first comes?

Dr. Knox: Let me just say some practical things. The normal thing to do when a friend of yours or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer . . . there’s a natural tendency to think about people you’ve known that had breast cancer, or this, that, or the other.

And before you know it, out of your mouth is going to come, “Well, you know, I knew somebody who died just last week with breast cancer.”

Nancy: Not helpful.

Dr. Knox: That’s not helpful, and it’s funny because breast cancer patients will tell me about this time and time again, and it’s devastating!

Nancy: Did you have that happen, Margaret?

Margaret: Many times; and again, well intentioned, well meaning friends who just let it slip that several people they have known have died of breast cancer. What that does is really diminish your hope, and I think it compromises your battle.

Dr. Knox: So the thing I would say to those loved ones and those friends of the patient with breast cancer is: Monitor your mouth, and perhaps say nothing at all, because a lot of times it’s your presence that makes a difference for that patient.

It’s more the fact that you cared enough to show up, to be there, that ministers far more powerfully than words that you’re grasping for, that you don’t quite know what to say to this person.

Nancy: What about just helping to listen to the doctor and to take some notes? Can that be helpful?

Dr. Knox: Oh, so helpful. Oftentimes because of the tension of the situation, the patient’s only taking in maybe 25 percent, so it’s so helpful to have others there to listen to what the physician has to say.

I would say to the friends and family, relax, and realize that you don’t have to have—in fact, I would discourage families or friends from having—spiritual answers or an explanation as to why this happened . . . or even going to the literature or going to the Internet and coming back with all kinds of things that they want this patient to try.

“Have you read this? Have you read that? Have you tried this alternative method, or have you thought about this?”

Nancy: That can be really overwhelming, can’t it?

Dr. Knox: It can be overwhelming. The other thing I want to say is that, oftentimes, the husband or the significant other is suffering as much as or more than the patient themselves.

That’s often overlooked because everybody’s focusing on the patient that’s got the diagnosis. They’re handling challenges like, “Well, do I go to work today, or do I cancel work so I can be there for her test?” And yet, work is where the insurance is.

So there are all kinds of practical issues they’re having to grapple with. Think about ministering to the kids and the husband as well as to the patient themselves.

Nancy: Margaret, I know that prior to your diagnosis of breast cancer, you had struck up a correspondence with Elisabeth Elliot. Tell us a little bit about how God used her to be a blessing to you through your breast cancer process.

Margaret: I had corresponded with Elisabeth for a number of years, and right after I was diagnosed with breast cancer—of course, I went through the chemo, and I lost my hair—and shortly after I went to a conference that Elisabeth was giving in south Texas. I, out of 800 women, was the only one with a bald head.

So she looks out and sees me and tells her husband, Lars, “Go up and ask that girl if she would like to have lunch with us after the conference.”

Well, I have no doubt that she thought I might not be long for this world. She said, “We’re going to go out of the country in a few weeks. Would you like to go with us?” I did, and by virtue of that just got to know Elisabeth, and one of the great joys of my life is to call her a friend.

All that to say, when I was going through the worst of this, I came home and there was a message on my answering machine (and if any of you have heard Elisabeth’s voice, it’s very unmistakable). This is what she said:

“Margaret, do not lose heart. Second Corinthians chapter 4, verses 16 through 18, ‘Though your outer man is decaying, your inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary light affliction is producing in you an eternal weight of glory, far beyond all comparison, while you, Margaret, should look at the things you can’t see, not the things that you can see; for the things that you can see are temporal, and the things you can’t see are eternal.’ Margaret, God will use this, and for this you have Jesus.”

And she hung up the phone, and it just gave me great courage for the days to come.

Nancy: God may want to use you in the life of one of your loved ones, to give a word of encouragement and blessing and peace spoken through the Word of God. You can’t go wrong with the Word of God sensitively applied, timed in a way that is sensitive to the need of the other person.

Leslie: We'd like to send a copy of the book Nancy has been describing. It's our way of saying "thanks" when you donate any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

We're going to get back to the conversation between Nancy, Margaret Ashemore, and Dr. Sally Knox. But first, let's hear from one of our listeners who's gained some insight on this topic.

Listener: I am twenty-nine years old, and on February 25, 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It really was a shock to me, just thinking that I was untouchable or not as vulnerable to get any types of diseases.

I had so much to look forward to, and being diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age has really made me stop and think, “I am only here in this world for a short time.”

I have three kids. My daughter was not even a year old when I was diagnosed. I just remember feeling very scared, very alone, not knowing what was going to happen—that really scared me. I tend to be a person that is self-sufficient, a very go-getter, needs to be in control; the diagnosis made me stop and think, “I am not in control. God is in control.”

The Scripture that always came to mind that helped was the one where Paul has a thorn in his side, and he asked God three times to take the thorn away, and God said no, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). That really helped me to get through that because I knew that His grace was sufficient for me. I knew that somehow I was going to be okay.

People outside would say, “Wow, you’re so strong,” and I would say, “No, no I’m not, I’m really not strong. It’s not me. It’s God.” I really also held on to Philippians 4 where it talks about not being anxious, and that God would give me the peace that transcends all understanding (see Phil. 4:6-8).

I really saw that Scripture come to life when people would say, “How is it that you’re going through this and yet you’re so calm? You’re still smiling. You’re still happy. You’re still living.” And I would say, “It’s God. It’s only God.”

I’m happy to say that my cancer is gone. I have finished chemo and radiation, gone through major surgery, and hopefully, God willing, it won’t come back.

But I just feel like God has taught me such a major lesson. I would have never learned how to depend on Him had I not gone through this. I’m just grateful for your show, Revive Our Hearts. I’m so grateful that I can turn on the radio and listen to something that is encouraging. Thank you.

Leslie: Maybe you have some insights on surviving and thriving through cancer or some other type of suffering. You can share yours by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com. When you’re at the website, find today’s transcript, then scroll to the bottom to leave your comment.

Now let’s get back to Nancy Leigh DeMoss with Dr. Sally Knox and Margaret Ashmore.

Nancy: Margaret, while we were together at dinner last night, you told me that you wouldn’t trade your experience with cancer for all the money in the world. Why would you say that?

Margaret: Well, I’m reminded of the words of the old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” that says,

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

I will tell you in all honesty that I had a considerable amount of dross that needed to be consumed and a great deal of refining that I needed to go through, and I just saw it as a God who loved me.

The Scripture says how blessed is the man that God chastens and corrects. God’s only real motive through chastening is to draw His child back to deeper fellowship with Himself. That’s exactly what God did through the cancer that He allowed in my life. His severe mercy—it did draw me closer to God. It did give me a clearer idea of what is important in life.

Interestingly, too, what I thought were such problems—after cancer, those things seemed so trivial. I just didn’t get upset about the little things in life anymore, for the simple reason that I was so glad to be alive! Just going for a walk in the morning and being able to breathe, being able to walk, being able to think, being able to see . . . it just made me realize what was important in life.

 Nancy: Now you’re a breast cancer survivor, but Dr. Knox, you’ve treated a lot of breast cancer patients, and by God’s grace there are a lot of survivors, but I assume not all of them have survived. We can’t talk about cancer without also getting on that, what for many people is a difficult subject, of death and dying.

Dr. Knox: The very first thought that a woman has when she hears a diagnosis of breast cancer is that. “I’m going to die.” Fortunately, that’s usually not the case. The majority of women will be treated successfully.

But if we step back for just a moment and consider the fact that we all know that we will have that day one time; our days are numbered. There is such a thing, and it sounds crazy, but there’s such a thing as a healthy death.

That occurs when a woman and her family can acknowledge the truth of the situation. Now, this does not mean that they give up hope, and it does not mean that they are giving up on God.

They can still be praying, “God, take this away.” But if a woman can acknowledge and come to the truth that she may not be here, whenever, 6 months or a year down the road or a few weeks down the road; it allows her to do things that empower her and, more importantly, minister to those around her.

For instance, a mother that has, let’s say, an eight- or a ten-year-old child. One of her greatest griefs is that she wanted to be there when they graduated from high school. She wanted to be there when they got married or graduated from college.

Well, if she can acknowledge her situation and come to the truth of that situation, she can do some powerful things. She can record a cassette or make a video of her message to that child when they graduate from high school. That mother can do powerful things like that.

Oftentimes I’ve had families that know mom is dying, but they can’t talk about it. They won’t talk about it. But health comes when you can talk about it.

It’s just like buying an insurance policy. When you buy an insurance policy, you’re not saying that you’re going to have a car accident tomorrow. You’re just saying that you’re going to be prepared in case that should happen.

You know, “I need to convey to you certain information about what I would want done if I should pass away, and this is what I want, and that is, and . . .” you know, start taking care of the many details ahead of time.

Nancy: Margaret, through your breast cancer process, did you think about death? Were there times when you thought you were going to die, or that you might die? How did you process that?

Margaret: Well, the New Testament speaks of death for those who have rejected Christ. It uses the Greek word tanathos, which means “separated from God.”

The real problem of death is the separation from a holy God. But when He speaks of the death of a believer, He uses, interestingly, the word depart. You’re just going from this world to the world God has prepared for you, to His eternal kingdom.

This is a story that someone told me that helped me deal with the prospect of my death. It’s a story of a person who was going to an intersection, and they saw what they knew was an eighteen wheeler just careening toward them They were on a collision course with this eighteen wheeler.

They said they just literally braced themselves, closed their eyes, and waited for the impact. What they didn’t know is that the eighteen wheeler was going over a bridge, and just its shadow had crossed over them.

I thought, “That is why the Scriptures say ‘through the valley of the shadow of death,’ because that is all it is for a believer” (Ps. 23:4). It is just a shadow that will pass over us, and we’ll instantly be translated into God’s eternal kingdom.

So when I dealt with the idea of death, I thought, Jesus Christ has already taken the impact of death through His death and resurrection—the impact of sin.

He’s taken it upon Himself, and He’s paid for it judicially before God, and now death to me is departing, and it is as painless as a shadow. I don’t mean in terms of physical pain but just the fear of death.

Nancy: Margaret, you’ve told me that although, as far as you know at the moment, you’re cancer free. That is humanly speaking, and statistically there’s a strong chance the cancer could come back and that you feel in, a sense, that your days really are numbered. How does that affect the way that you live?

Margaret: Well, I can say it very simply: It has made me realize that my days are borrowed, and I want to use every one of them, the balance of my life, to glorify God with my life.

It has made the whole idea of the judgment seat of Christ very real to me, that I will be asked to give an account. What did I do with this gift of salvation that God gave me? This gift I didn’t deserve! What did I do? Did I spend on myself? Did I spend it just accruing, getting more stuff? Or did I use this life that God gave me and the salvation that He gave me to be a benefit to others?

As a matter of fact, that is what Paul settled on when he said, “I am hard pressed between the two. I’d like to be with the Lord, because it’s far better, but I think I’ll stay down here for your sake” (see Phil. 1:23-25).

I believe that is what God has allowed me to do: stay down here for the sake of others, which means I cannot live for myself.

 Nancy: Before we started recording here, Margaret, you shared with us a powerful quote from Jim Elliot, the martyred husband of Elisabeth Elliot. Read that quote to us again, if you would.

Margaret: He said this: “Make sure that when you die, all you have to do is die.” In other words, you have lived your life for the glory of God.

Nancy: Do you live that way?

Margaret: By the grace of God and because I have a wonderful gift of being very in touch with my mortality, I try to.

Nancy: I don’t know what God’s been saying to you through this series, and it may have nothing directly to do with breast cancer. It may have everything to do with preparing to face God, preparing to give account for how you lived the life that He gave to you here.

Margaret, Dr. Knox, thank you so much for opening your heart to us. Dr. Knox, thank you for your book, The Breast Cancer Care Book. We’re recommending that book. 

But most of all, we just want to encourage our listeners: In whatever season of life He finds you right now—as a sufferer, as a caregiver, just as a woman going through the course of everyday life—are you living your life in light of your mortality, knowing that one day very, very soon we will be facing the Lord?

Let’s pray together.

Lord, how I thank You for these precious women who have been sharing with me through this series—for the evidence of Your grace in their lives, for how they have responded to You, and for the richness of the fruit that I see in their lives. They’ve been in touch with death, with suffering, with loss; yet You have brought them through on the other side, with a fullness and a richness and a fragrance we want to have in our lives.

So Lord, through whatever means You choose to use, may we embrace the cross. May we receive the gifts You bring into our lives, and may we see that even the painful things transform into something of great value, worth, and beauty.

Lord, help us to live today in such a way that if our lives were to be snuffed out at the end of this day, we could stand before You unashamed, with great joy, ready to face You and ready to enjoy an eternity in Your presence. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

 Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been praying that all of us would grow and thrive when we face times of suffering.

Maybe you know someone going through breast cancer, and this week’s programs have helped you. If you’ve missed any so far, you can order them on CD by visiting our website. Just look for the series, Surviving—and Thriving—Through Suffering.

That’s also where you’ll find the book by our guest, Dr. Sally Knox. We'll send you her book, The Breast Cancer Care Book, when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Again, support the ministry by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

Through her experience with breast cancer, Margaret Ashmore has learned about endurance. She'll encourage you whether you’re holding on in a tough marriage, a tough job, or a difficult trial. That's tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

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

 

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