I have lived in Ghana, Zambia and Burkina Faso for the last 12 years. We originally moved to Ghana because my husband accepted a position with a company there.
Because we were going to Ghana, I went for a full medical check-up, which included a mammogram. To my horror, I found out that I had stage 2 breast cancer and was facing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation! By this time it was only about two weeks before Ian was due to leave for Ghana. He would be with me when I had the surgery, but it was with a sinking heart that I realised that I would have to go through the chemotherapy and radiation without him.
Afraid and alone
I would love to tell you that I was very brave and ‘just knew’ that God was going to come through for me, but I can’t.
When I sat with Ian in the oncologist’s office 10 days after the surgery, and she started to go through the list of side effects my chemo would have, I started to cry, and cried on and off for two days.
I couldn’t believe this was happening to me! Other people got cancer . . . not me . . . but then I remember thinking, “Why not me? Why should it happen to other people and not me?”
I was even in too much of a state to be grateful to God at that point that the good news was that the cancer hadn’t spread to the lymphatic system. In fact, if we hadn’t been going to Ghana, I don’t think that I’d have gone for a mammogram at that time and I only had about six months, maximum, before it spread under my arm to the lymph glands.
God works all things for good
What was even more remarkable was that Ian had been retrenched six months previously, and unless he’d been retrenched, we wouldn’t have gone to Ghana, and therefore had those medical tests. It’s been absolutely amazing to me how God works all things together for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
The cloud of chemotherapy
What scared me the most was the chemo, almost more than the thought of death. I couldn’t sleep, and my last thought at night and my first thought upon waking, was “chemo” . . . like a huge, black cloud pressing down on me.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so isolated before.
I have a very caring family and wonderful friends, but the more they tried to encourage me and say that it would all be okay, the more desperate I felt, because how did they know I was going to be okay? They weren’t the ones facing chemo! And what did any of them know about cancer anyway?
Finding comfort from the Lord
Sometimes, I’ve found, you just have to hear from God for yourself, as nothing else can bring you any comfort and peace . . . the kind described in Philippians 4:7 where it says:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard (garrison) your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus
One of the things that really concerned me was the fact that my oncologist had told me that 10% of people who had my type of chemo were left with permanent heart damage. She said that they didn’t know why and had no way of predicting which patients would be affected in this way. In desperation, two days before Ian was due to leave for Ghana, and four days before I was due to start chemotherapy, I shut myself in my bedroom, knelt next to my bed with my Bible open, and begged God to speak to me. My eye fell on Psalm 121:7:
The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life.
The words leapt off the page—I just knew that God was telling me that my heart would be okay and wouldn’t suffer any adverse effects from the chemotherapy! God’s comfort and peace was so real and His voice so clear, that my tears dried . . . for good.
Not ready for the change
Although I knew my heart would be okay, I was still desperately afraid of the actual chemotherapy and wondered anxiously exactly how sick I would be. I had heard such stories and was actually quite unable to look up or read anything about cancer on the internet.
People told me to read Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike, but every time I peeped nervously into it at one of the bookshops, I’d slam it shut thinking, “I’m not ready for this . . . too much information!”
I did read it a year or two later and really enjoyed it.
The night before my first chemo and the day after Ian had left for Ghana, I went into my bedroom and again asked God to speak to me and help me deal with my fear. This time my eye fell on Isaiah 41:13:
For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.
What I didn’t know that night, was that the needle used to administer the chemo would always go into the back of my right hand! This time that overwhelming feeling of fear and helplessness lifted and for the first time I felt able to cope.
God takes detailed care
I was also reminded of God’s loving care more than once during the months that followed.
On one occasion during the radiation treatment I’d been really scared by a particularly gruesome cancer story that someone in the waiting-room had thoughtlessly told me. For the first time since I’d started treatment, I felt weepy and terrified again.
While I was driving home from the hospital that day, my cell phone rang. It was my father, phoning to find out how I was. I knew he had enough on his plate worrying about my ailing mother, so as usual I told him that I was just fine.
“No, Aldyth,” he said, “I was praying for you today and I felt compelled to spend some extra time in prayer for you. Something is wrong and I want to know what it is.”
Can you believe that during all those months he should have made that phone call at that precise moment? Well, of course, I burst into tears and told him what had happened and he prayed with me right there and then—the fear lifted and I felt comforted.
My life today
It’s now 12 years since my cancer diagnosis.
My heart is fine and my health is good.
The 5+ years in Ghana were some of the happiest of my life, and I was able to really rest and recover there, in a way I wouldn’t have done if I’d still been teaching in Johannesburg.
God had known what was coming and had lovingly arranged the circumstances of my life for the good.
And the wonderful thing to remember is that there are no favourites with God—he cares about the circumstances of your life too!
*This article first appeared in the September 2010 edition of JOY! magazine.