My battle against cancer

Joni Eareckson Tada shares what she is learning from her latest battle

As you may know, last year I underwent surgery for stage III breast cancer.  Less than a week after I discovered the lump in my breast, I was at the doctor's for a needle biopsy.  As soon as the results were in, I was in the hospital for a mastectomy. Then, after several long, uncomfortable weeks of recovery, I was finally able to begin treatment for the cancer – five months of chemotherapy.  It all happened so fast, I hardly had time to process what was going on!

I remember my first round of chemotherapy.  The night before I read Jesus' words in John 21:18, ". . . someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."  Yes, that day my husband had to dress me and take me where I “did not want to go” – a dreary chemo clinic.

At times I felt absolutely overwhelmed.  After all, I'm a quadriplegic.  Plus, I deal with chronic pain.  I often thought, Lord, this feels like way too much for me to handle.  Are you sure you know what you’re doing?  Where you’re leading me?  Yet sitting there, hooked up to an IV with a steady drip-drip of poison being infused into my veins, I knew the answer:  Who have I in heaven but you, Lord?  There is nothing on earth that I desire above you; where would I go?  Where else would I turn?  You are the one with the words of life; without you, I can do nothing.  You’re the Bread of Heaven and the Living Water. 

Whenever I’ve prayed that way, the most extraordinary peace would wash over me.  And so, during the three-hour chemo infusion, I would spend my time reading my Bible or praying through my intercession list.  Often I would jot notes of encouragement to others.  Once the infusion was over, I never tried to rush back to work; I was just too exhausted to do much more than head home for an early night. 

My battle against cancer has definitely caused me to slow down. And given Galatians 5:25 which says "keep in step with the Spirit," it's obvious the Holy Spirit wants me to take life right now in very small steps. It happens to anyone who suffers. Everything is a little more basic, more simple. 

I get up in the morning and pray, "What will please you today, Lord?" Seeing you eat 45g of protein before lunch, I hear him say.  "And what will please you this afternoon?" Back away from your computer and enjoy my hummingbirds at your feeder.  "And this evening?"  Give the Food Network a rest and pray.

And now that the most arduous part of cancer treatment is behind me, I wonder, what will the future hold?  I know one thing: more than ever I realise how brief, fleeting, and frail our lives are.  We are but blips on the eternal screen; wisps of smoke, here one moment, and gone the next. That means what we do in the here and now counts. This is what I must remember on mornings when I feel like “I can’t take anymore.” Every day we either nudge our souls closer to heaven, or away from it – there’s never middle ground.

And in a way, the pain and discomfort connected with this battle against cancer has opened my eyes to a tiny glimpse of what my Saviour endured to purchase my redemption.  I have every reason to believe that, at least at this point, cancer is not my “ticket to heaven”.  But if that ever happens, I know that when I see him, I’ll be able to appreciate so much more the scars in his hands – and he will know that my gratitude is sincere and from the heart, for he will recognise me from the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. 

Yes, it’s been hard.  Jesus hung on the cross so that we wouldn't have to suffer hell, but not so that we wouldn't have to suffer here on earth – but this battle I’ve been fighting against cancer means something. So if you are dealing with a bad medical report – maybe even cancer - hang in there, friend.  God may just want you to live your life in very small steps, too.  But take heart!  For all the struggle, remember that your suffering is giving you something eternally precious in common with Christ!

•    Joni Eareckson Tada is an advocate for disabled people and partners with the UK organisation Through the Roof