by Rosie James
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 and it raised many issues, including the challenge of hearing God’s voice and trying to discern what He was saying to me. I had surgery and the usual rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Many people prayed for my healing and as life went on, it seemed that I had indeed been healed.
When I developed bone secondaries in 2005, it again confronted me with the issue of discerning God’s way for me. In medical terms, secondaries are treatable, but not curable, and the average life expectancy from breast cancer secondaries is two to four years, although some live longer.
Since the first bout of cancer, I’ve been inundated with ‘cures’ and remedies that have worked for others … foods to eat and avoid at all costs, alternate therapies, meditation, juicing fruits and vegetables, moving to the pure environment of the country, having or refusing chemotherapy, building up my immune system (usually with very expensive supplements which would become affordable if I became a distributor!), to remove stress from my life (the cancer caused incredible stress), and the list goes on.
I faced many choices and decisions that needed discernment. I frequently prayed, ‘Lord, what are you saying to me? … What do I do? … How do I live?’
There were also those who shared spiritual insights … to claim God’s healing, not believe in the medical prognosis and maintain my belief in that healing; to immerse myself in worship and in His Word; to attend healing meetings, even flying to the USA during the ‘Florida Outpouring’; to seek ministry if there were demonic forces that caused the cancer.
Some of these options were presented as ‘The Word of the Lord’ and I needed real discernment to decide how to respond to them. They were also given to me by some wonderful people and I didn’t want to reject their ideas outright.
I hope for healing. Life is good and rich and I want to keep living. I want to grow old with my beloved Ian and see my children marry and start their own families. I want to continue to enjoy life and laughter and depths of relationships. I want to explore this amazing world, see Crossway’s future unfold, and see my friend’s children grow up. I ask God, ‘How can I best serve you; how can I develop my ministry; what do you have for me?’
I always hope that God will heal me. I read His Word and many stories of healing, and hope that He’s speaking to me, too. ‘Lord, you added another 15 years to Hezekiah’s life … are you saying you will do that for me as well? Lord, if a day is as a thousand years, would you please give me another 15 minutes of your time which would add 10 extra years to my life? What are you saying?’
I’ve grieved for those who’ve died younger than they intended and didn’t receive the healing they were hoping for. There were some who were so sure they’d be healed, especially after they were given words of prophesy, Bible verses and assurances of God’s intervention. I’ve also seen devastation and disillusionment when death occurs and people’s faith and trust in God are deeply shaken. I heard a heartbroken friend say, ‘The reason they died was because my faith level dropped’. I’ve also had the pain of being unable to say goodbye to dying friends because I’ve been told, ‘Don’t speak of death or anything negative; we’re believing God for healing. They’re going to walk out of this place fully healed’.
How do I die well? I need discernment! How do I respond to those who are praying for my total healing? (Perhaps they’re hearing God better than I am!) How do I be honest – yet sensitive – when talking to others about my future? (I nearly floored an acquaintance in the chemist shop when she asked me how I was going and I replied, ‘Feeling okay, despite the fact that I’m dying of cancer’.) How do I share this journey of dying without appearing maudlin, making others uncomfortable, being thought of as ‘giving up the fight’ or ‘not trusting God’ or ‘overly focusing on death’?
How am I living? The cancer is currently being held at bay with oral chemotherapy and some supplements. I’m blessed that I have very little pain and my energy levels are mostly okay. I’m trying to get things completed to ‘set my house in order’. This includes preparing to die. We’ve organised our wills and enduring power of attorney, we have funeral insurance, and last month we bought a plot in Healesville Cemetery (which has great views!). Even if I live another 30 years, these things won’t be wasted.
I’m also working on my ‘bucket list’. There are many things I want to do while I’m still on Earth. Ian and I travelled overseas in 2007 (with the cases half-filled with medication). This month we’re going on a nine-day cruise.
This is an especially hard journey for my family and those who love me. I care for them as well as I can, all the while trying to face reality yet hold on to hope.
I don’t try to hide the cancer from others, and this has given me much greater freedom to talk about God and eternity.
Sometimes I don’t know what God is saying. Sometimes He doesn’t seem to be answering my questions at all. A pastor once said, ‘When God chooses to remain silent, faith will rest content’.
I do know that God is always good and loving, gracious and compassionate. He holds me during this journey. I trust my timing into His hands. He ordains our days, so why fear death when we go through the gateway to eternity with Him?
I keep asking God that I may live well … and that I may die well.
Rosie James attends Crossway Baptist Church. This article was originally published in the Victorian Baptist Witness.