By Rosemarie Wilson
I have cancer. I may be dying, but I’m not resigning from life. I will celebrate life and my life with God every day that I have remaining.
Last summer I was privileged to go on an ocean cruise with two of my daughters-in-law and thirteen other ladies from around the state. Fifteen of the ladies were Christians. We spent a lot of time discussing the Bible, singing hymns and praying – it was just one of those special times that we hated to see end. On the last night out, one in our group made the statement to our waiter that our cruise was just about over. His reply expressed a lot to me. He said, “Don’t think of your cruise as over until you get off the ship. If you think of it as over tonight it will be, and you will miss several hours of fun.” So it is with life. It is folly not to prepare for life and death at any “stage of the game” and it is sheer ignorance when you are aware that you have a disease that is potentially fatal. I’m reminded of Isaiah 3:1-22, where it states Hezekiah was “sick unto death.” Yet there were things that he needed to set in order. What a great opportunity was given to this king, whom we have come to refer to as “good” King Hezekiah. I also feel I have been given a marvelous opportunity – the blessing of time in which I may “set my house in order.” What is life under the sun? How am I to live this life if I have a day, a month or many years remaining?
Yes, I have cancer. Just yesterday, December 29, 1986, 1 was told the disease has now spread to my brain so each day is most assuredly a blessing from God. What am I going to do with each of these 24 hour periods of time? My crowning attribute and that of any human character is love for God. It is a supreme attainment of man to be one with God in feeling, thought and purpose. For me to realize God is most difficult. I am able to intellectually acknowledge this belief in God but to fully receive Him is another matter. I must involve my emotions, my thoughts and my desires and direct them toward God. To do this I must take “self” out of the way! Many go through life and never think of God, I’m afraid. And it seems many think of Him only in times of severe distress or need. And others can’t think of Him without a painful sense of disharmony between what is in their lives and what God would have them to be. I don’t want to be in any of these situations! In order for me to realize God I must exercise strict discipline over my mind into the “way of life” that will make me constantly aware of His abiding presence. The realization of God should engulf me like the atmosphere I breathe or the sunlight in which I walk.
How can I walk in such harmony with God? Is it some theological esoteric virtue? No, it is something available to all! God has given each human being the potential to become; however, there is effort to be put forth and time to be spent in pursuit of this harmonious feeling. Some suggestions are:
I laboriously seek it (Matt. 5:6; 7:7).
I study God’s thoughts and His purposes revealed in His Word. I continue to strive to bring my thoughts and purposes in line with His (Lk. 6:46; Phil. 2:5).
I find constant delight, excitement and comfort in His Word (Psa. 119:47,97,105,140,160,166,167).
I have cultivated the habit of frequent and fervent prayer (1 Thess. 5:7; Lk. 22:44; 6:12; Jas. 5:16).
By following these four elementary things in my daily life there are some very positive and natural outgrowths that manifest themselves in my life:
This gives me faith and fearlessness to do His work. I see myself simply as an instrument of God as I carry out His will. And, I do no longer feel personally oppressed or offended by those who would oppose what I believe in or do (Psa. 54:4).
Through these endeavors I will be a pattern of meekness and submission by bringing my life into harmony with God’s Word.
All this is the secret, if indeed there is a secret of peace and majestic calmness which allows me to face the most trying hours of my life. Jesus left me this peace (Jn. 14:27).
Most of our lives are easily explained. We are simply products of circumstances, with habits of the country, city and home of which we are a part. We are mere copies of fads and fashions around us. We have some prejudices of class, traditions of elders or the family, and opinions of our schools. Our convictions are often fixed from without rather than grounded from within. Our peace and happiness blows to us on the wind. Our existence is so shallow that our whole life, our reason for existing, is blown to despair by physical illness, financial reversals or fear of death. This manifested attitude causes me concern. It really scares me! When I view life and contemplate death, of what do I think? Is there something I can say that would make others realize the fragility of life and the certainty of death? Probably no more than passages like Luke 16:3 1. But I still have to try! Where do I fit in God’s scheme of things? How grounded am I? Visualize with me that you are making preparations for death and in so doing life will have more meaning and more direction; perhaps you will have a better sense of priorities.
I must be right with God. I am reading His Word with a view to “getting to know God and Jesus” on a personal basis. How did Jesus face suffering and death? I do not want to be separated from Their presence. I want to walk daily, hand in hand, with Them!
As Hezekiah, I must set my house in order. There are matters that need my attention in the physical realm:
(1) Financial matters must be discussed with spouse or family. The attitude of openness should be employed here so there will be no surprises. I have made a will and all concerned have been made aware of it.
(2) On a much more personal note I have written a directive to my physicians stating my desires regarding applications of life-saving systems that would serve only to prolong death. My family and attorney also have copies of the document. (A sample copy of such a document is available on request.)
(3) I have even made my wishes known regarding a service after my death. I do not want a “conventional” funeral. I will be cremated. I would like a memorial service only, and this only if the family desires it. I want congregational singing led by my dear friends and brothers Duane Garton and Jim Spivey. I want happy songs sung which depict Heaven with all its beauty. I want my brothers-in-law, Don and Clyde Wilson, and a dear friend Jim Puterbaugh to do the service and Ken Sterling to lead a prayer. This may seem “too detailed” but it is my desire to leave my family free of decisions that might be difficult for them.
(4) I have made known in writing how I want my personal items (jewelry, painting, china, silver, etc.) distributed. This is to make the disposal of such things “less of a hassle.” “Things” have become so unimportant to me that this almost seems superfluous. When I first was diagnosed as having cancer, I wished all my children and grandchildren had a piece of china I had painted; now I want them to remember me not by some object, but rather as a woman who was devoted to God, who studied her Bible every day and prayed to God often. I love the passage in Mark 14:8 where Jesus makes the statement about the woman who has done what she could.” How beautiful!
All of these things can only be done as tolerated, because it is so draining emotionally and physically. It may sound like I have it all figured out, well-articulated and documented, but I haven’t. There have been and continue to be many tearful moments and even days. I feel fortunate in so many ways to have this “warning,” this period of time in which I can come to grips with both life and death. I am in no way anxiously awaiting the end. It is my understanding of the Scriptures that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and as such it is not that for which I am seeking. It has been my philosophy from the first to do everything possible to defeat the disease. I have and will continue to comply with everything modern medicine has to offer and if it (the cancer) overtakes me it will not be without a toughly fought battle. I am not resigning! My plan for living must be as stated in Romans 14:8: “if we live, we live unto the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” No, I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m not resigning.
There have been and continue to be times when I have to “call” in all the forces of strength to carry on. When I was told I had metastatic breast cancer it was a devastating blow. Cancer is a most dreaded diagnosis. When a patient goes to a physician for a special complaint or a routine examination, what is feared most is hearing the word “cancer.” Anyone who has heard the words “You have cancer!” probably remembers in detail, as I do, the feeling of desperate despair.
To briefly state my history beginning in July 1982 (in fact Saturday, July 10, 1982), 1 worked in my courtyard wearing a stretchable tank top. When I went in to shower and removed my clothes, I was in front of the mirror and just happened to notice the left nipple was inverted. I took a mental note, thinking it was a result of the “slightly” tight top I have been wearing. The next morning I again took note and the appearance was the same. I was working for an internal medicine specialist at the time, so when I got to the office on Monday I ordered a mammogram for myself, which was scheduled for Tuesday, my doctor’s day off. I have worked as a certified medical assistance for 20 years and have seen girls (employees) come in to a medical office to work and subsequently “get” every ailment or disease that comes along, so I have always guarded against this type of behavior and disassociated my body from contracting anything. At this point I have told no one of any suspicion I had. I was of the mind that “this would not happen to me.” How foolish I was to be of that attitude and now am of the persuasion that every woman should have regular check-ups by a professional. I arrived at the office on Wednesday morning and the phone was ringing. The radiologist said it was urgent that he speak with the doctor. She had not arrived so I offered to take a message for her. No! He would reach her through the medical exchange.
When the doctor arrived she came to the front desk where I was reviewing the charts of the patients scheduled for the day. She quite sharply told me she wanted to see me in her office. My first thought was, “What have I done? It must be some terrible infraction.” When I walked into her office she was sitting behind her desk crying. I was completely bewildered – still not making any connection – inverted nipple, mammography, urgent call from the radiologist. She said “Rose, you have metastatic breast cancer in an advanced stage. You have to have a mastectomy as soon as possible and then at least a year of chemotherapy.” All this was given to me through her tears and my chagrin. In shock I thought, “What have I done; no one knows anything! ” I collected what thoughts I could and set about putting things in motion. I called the surgeon and made an appointment for 11:00 a.m. The surgery was scheduled for the next day. I then had the task of informing my husband and family. After this was done my husband drove me to the doctor and then to the hospital. The surgery was a snap. I had a modified radical mastectomy. My arm-pit felt like a “war zone” for a few days but nothing like an abdominal surgery.
Many questions have been asked about how I emotionally and psychologically dealt with the loss of a breast. I really didn’t think much about it. It was not an elective thing if I wanted any chance for life. To me it was something that needed to be faced and taken care of – so it was! I didn’t feel at any time that I would lose my femininity or sexuality – it really never occurred to me, until some ladies (who are Christians) told me how bad it was to lose a breast. I have never been “hung up” on my physical body. If you know me, you know why. Others questions have been how my husband felt about my having a mastectomy. There again, I really did not think of that aspect. When I was visited by a representative of the Cancer Society she told me that I might not want my husband to “see” me for a while. I said, “Well, I blew that one already!” His expressed feeling and behavior toward me was and continues to be one of concern for recovery with as little distress and pain as possible. He did not in any way ever intimate that this would adversely affect our relationship, sexually or otherwise. In fact, the trauma of the whole ordeal has drawn us closer together. I can understand how some feel and how this would be a big problem, but if our self-esteem is healthly and we understand that we are more than this fragile body, and if our relationship with our mate has been cultivated to the “oneness” God desires, we will be able to see trials of this nature through together.
Three weeks of post-op rehabilitation went well and I started chemotherapy. This consisted of weekly intravenous injections and oral medication. Three weeks into chemotherapy, I became very ill and was readmitted to the hospital due to a severe imbalance of body chemicals and for pain control, which was all due to the chemotherapy. It was at this point that my hair came out. It was absolutely shocking to see myself bald.
I was thankful for wigs and turbans. My hair started to grow back in about six months. After two more hospitalizations, blood transfusions and various other complications from the chemotherapy I began to feel better and gradually recovered to some semblance of normalcy.
I had three and a half years of cancer-free existence which was great! I appreciated every day. In February, 1986, 1 had a recurrence; this time in the bone. I was started on a hormone therapy drug which I took for seven months. In November, 1986, the cancer became active again, spreading at a more rapid rate. I am presently on chemotherapy again and on radiation therapy for the brain cancer.
I have been asked how I deal with this on an on-going basis. What has been most difficult? What are some of the things that make it easier? It is hard to deal with answers in any sort of comprehensive way, due to the fact that situations change constantly. Some of my thoughts I will relay to you with the sincere hope you never have to employ them.
Dealing with people, actions and reactions has been difficult at times. But I’ve had to stop and think that they don’t know what to say or do and this puts them in an awkward position. People as a whole want to help and yet feel so helpless. They want to say the right thing, yet words escape them. I understand this and endeavor to put people at ease. It is not hard for me to talk of my illness if they want to know. Some other things I have had to deal with have been a bit hard.
First, I got and continue to receive so much advice – tea from South America, coffee enemas from Mexico, drugs from various places, diets in abundance on and on I could go. Whether it be my involvement in the medical field or whatever, I haven’t subscribed to any of the non-conventional treatments solely. I have established for myself a food supplement program and use it together with the prescribed medical regime. I do appreciate peoples’ concern and take the advice under consideration, however briefly.
Secondly, I felt over-protected – I can truly say I know what an over-protected child feels like. I’ve been told when to sit, when to stand, when to lay down, when to go to bed, when to eat, what and how much! All has been done out of concern and I realize that and have tried to comply, but sometimes I just want to say, “Leave me alone, please!” I know the cancer is either in remission or is growing; whether I am resting or not makes no difference. Maybe patience is a by-product of cancer!
Thirdly, some people are simply uncomfortable being around sick people, therefore they choose to disassociate themselves from the situation, more than from the person I believe. This was hard for me to accept, since I felt that now was when I needed them so much. I had to do a lot of praying about it. I felt shunned and even betrayed at first. I could no longer “keep up” physically; the medical bills were enormous, so I could not do things that involved money; my hair was out; and I was “fat” from taking steroids. The Lord helped me to see that it was not me but rather their own inability to face the situation and that in fact these people needed my prayers. At a time of prolonged illness is when one needs all the support from friends that they can get. My husband has been my shoulder to cry on and my strength to stand on. My sons have continued to be my joy and laughter. So many of my days have been brightened by a thoughtful card or a friendly telephone call. Many call long distance just to say, “Hi, I love you and am praying for you! ” A dear lady drove her motor home from Southern California to take me shopping! She parked it at a mall where I could rest often. Another very special lady came in and cleaned my house – not asking what she could do, she just did it! Others continue to help in many ways – food, laundry, etc. Compassion was a constant, abiding characteristic of my Savior and I’m sure of my friends until the end. Thank God for such people.
Since my recurrence, death has been more real to me. I am so thankful for each day and when I stop to think of how I cope on an ongoing basis the key seems to be “one day at a time.” Each day is so precious. Now that I feel I am “winding down” the urgency to accomplish certain things has increased to a driving force. There are so many things I want to do, and one of them is to write this story. Perhaps it will give someone else the impetus they need to face the trials of life. Material things and desires to do “exciting things” have diminished and in most cases vanished. I find contentment wherever I am, just knowing that being is a blessing. Pleasure does. not have to be “away” in some exotic place or some place where opulence abounds. In fact, I wish I could throw away, eradicate, obliterate and erase some of the images and impressions I may have left with people, especially my children, that it is circumstances and “things” that provide happiness and contentment. It is not! Happiness and contentment are products from within. Paul knew this (Phil. 4:11). :’Things” are so transitory, temporary and damning.
‘Things” split families, produce envy, self-sufficiency, self-righteousness and pseudo-contentment. I have seen cases where “things” (cars, money, trips, etc.) have been used as motivators for “doing” God’s Will. This is perfunctory to the very core. Such “faith” will not sustain through the trials of fire that life sometimes has to offer. Such breeds dependency on and confidence in the giver of such earthly goods rather than the Giver of Life Abundant. Friends and loved ones, this “ain’t” where it is!
We, as a family, have faced physical catastrophes through the years, but we did not resign from life. Each situation has been faced as a problem with a solution that will produce the desired result. Through all the trials, there is one thread of thought – “if God be for us who can be against us?” God’s grace will sustain. Yes, I have cancer, which is a terrible disease, but there is a worse disease that is of epidemic proportions in our society. The disease is sin. Like cancer, it knows no economic or social boundaries. The disease of sin is much more deadly than cancer. However, for this disease there is a cure. There is a “Great Physician” to whom we can go. We can affect a cure in our lives. He, the Great Physician, give us the maintenance program, the Bible, to follow, so that a disease free life can be maintained. The bill has all ready been paid. Jesus came to this earth and through the life He lived, the suffering and death on the cross, paid for my sins and yours. The disease of sin has far worse consequences than cancer. Death will release the faithful whose physical bodies are ravaged with cancer. Death to those in sin is no release, but rather a beginning of never-ending pain. Each individual -me, my husband, my sons, my daughters-in-law, my precious, precious grandchildren, and all our loved ones and friends – have to take advantage of this “grace” in order to affect the cure. Please do not be “derailed” by physical trials but thank God for them, count them all joy, knowing that they prove your faith.
“I have not resigned” from life just because I have cancer. I choose rather to celebrate life as a Christian each day that I live. I pray for the mental faculty to keep growing by feasting on God’s Word and teaching when I have the opportunity. There is so much strength to be gained by such Scriptures as Isaiah 40:31, “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Or, Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are everlasting arms.”
Dear God, the Creator of all, through Your matchless love in giving Your Son to redeem sinful man, grant unto me Your mercy by forgiving my sins. Sustain me by faith to celebrate life every day. Hold my hand through death and by Your grace receive me into Your Heaven . . . Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
(Rosemade Wilson and her husband, C.L. “Vern, P’ have been married 34 years and live in Oakdale, California, where “Vern ” has served as an elder and preached for many years. They have four adult sons who are all busy Christians. Rose was a physician’s assistant for over 20 years; a volunteer for the American Red Cross as an instructor in CPR, multi-media First Aid and an emergency rescuer; and was county medical coordinator for the Arthritis Foundation until her illness. She writes material for and teaches ladies Bible classes throughout the area. Her hobbies include porcelain painting and interior decorating.)
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 8, pp. 240-244
April 16, 1987