He Will Hold Me Fast: A Cancer Journey (Part 1)

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20–21).

These verses had been my prayer theme for the past few years. They encouraged me to break down the borders of the mundane. To ask God to do big things, in seemingly hopeless situations. Most of my prayers had been requests for God to act in unimaginably big ways in the lives of others—but not so much in mine. Then came December 18, 2013.

"You have thyroid cancer,” the doctor told me. "We must remove your thyroid and assess how far the cancer has spread"

"No, God!” I gasped. My thoughts immediately jumped to the possible implications of this diagnosis. What kind of intense suffering might I be about to face? How could I cope with the treatment? What if my cancer was terminal? How could I leave my loved ones and my half-finished dreams? How would I deal with my own death? These fear-filled questions swept over me. "No, God, I can't do this,” I cried. This was more than I could handle.

I Did Not Like Depending on God

Ah, and therein lay the crux of the problem: it was more than I could handle, and I did not like—or feel safe—depending upon God. I liked (and felt safest) depending upon myself.

Perhaps my heightened self-reliance was partly in response to my father's death in a plane crash when I was just five. Nonetheless, two other things since that event have affected me even more:

  1. I came to trust in Jesus as my Savior.
  2. I have chosen to dodge many difficult situations that would force me to deeply rely upon God.

I suppose this is an embarrassingly, spiritually juvenile confession coming from someone who has known the Lord for forty-five years and been a pastor's wife for over half that time. After all, I know God. I believe God's Word. I've seen His goodness and kindness in remarkable ways throughout my years. Yet nonetheless, I've harbored a distrust, an unrest, a withholding of myself from Him. And the bigger the gap between the task at hand and my own ability to meet it, the greater the grip of fear inside my heart and my desire to avoid it. And avoid, I often did.

Then Came Cancer . . .

With the cancer diagnosis came a Grand Canyon-sized discrepancy between what I needed and my own ability to provide it . . . and I knew it. I wanted to escape, but couldn't. I had no choice but to walk straight towards what felt like a thousand-foot, mile-wide, sheer drop-off. Undoubtedly, this was exactly what my loving Heavenly Father had in mind for my good; but true-to-form, I was terrified.

In one sense, I was right to be terrified. Life was about to get very difficult. The surgery and radiation treatment themselves were not too bad, but my body's reaction to them was turbulent. I came to learn first-hand the great influence the thyroid and its four little buddies, the parathyroids, have on our bodies. Among other things, these tiny organs help regulate our heart rate, metabolism, mental health, sleep, and muscles. When my thyroid and half my parathyroids were removed, I began to experience severe muscle spasms in my back, arms, and legs. I had heart palpitations and insomnia. For a while my temperature took dips into the 96's, giving me chills that only a tightly-tied hoody and multiple layers of blankets could stop. Worst of all were the roller coaster highs of anxiety and lows of depression as my body over-reacted then under-reacted to the thyroid medicine. Each day brought its own issues. One symptom would resolve only to be replaced by another.

I felt like I was bobbing on a stormy sea, gasping for air when another wave would slap me. I was used to troubleshooting my symptoms and finding solutions, but not this time. This time it was about waiting, enduring, and entrusting myself to doctors and to the God who answers prayer.

My Turbulent Soul

My soul echoed my body's turbulence. Everything felt so desperately out of control, especially during the long nights. Alone, in the dark, I struggled with feelings that God had abandoned me. My pain and sleeplessness stood in stark contrast to quietness of those sleeping soundly in the rest of the house. Fears seized me and sometimes evil felt palpably close. Lies taunted me, tempting me to believe that God had dropped the bounds on my suffering and was cruel to let me suffer like this, night after night.

At times I couldn't even open my Bible—only hold it. I wept in shame at my inability to fight and believe. I knew God's Word! I believed His promises. Why wouldn't they stick to my mind and heart? Why couldn't I stand up to the lies? Why wouldn't I change? I was at the end of myself. "God, hold on to me! My body, my faith, my sanity!” I prayed. "You are going to do to this. I can't. I can't do anything"

And hold onto me, He did. For all my "I-can't-do-this” prayers, God came back with a sweet rebuttal: "Yes, but I can." Have you seen God interrupt your life in order to accomplish something great in you? Check the blog tomorrow to read part two of God's work in my life through cancer.

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About the Author

Connie Dever

Connie Dever

Connie and her husband, Mark, live in Washington, D.C. where he has been pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church for the past twenty years. They have two married children. Connie devotes much of her time to writing children's curriculum and music. She loves playing music, teaching children, and encouraging women—particularly pastors' wives.

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