Life Defining Experience
On the path that is our journey, many people can describe a life defining experience – something that shaped part of their identity or helped them characterize their moral belief system. Sometimes these events or challenges become the very thing prompting them toward faith in their Creator, God. Unfortunately, but occasionally, these same occurrences can cause some people to abandon their faith altogether.
We never know when an encounter in life is going to cause us to seek a deeper faith. There’s an old saying:
“God’s will is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.”
Shari’s life is one that prompted her to nurture and rely upon her faith in God not once, but time and time again.
Early in 2015 she was a cancer survivor happily counting her blessings. She had won her battle with osteosarcoma becoming a stronger mother to Sarah who had grown to be a lovely young lady with a giving heart and her own faith in a loving God.
One day Shari noticed a small lump in her right breast. Initially one of her doctors told her it was nothing to worry about which she wanted to believe with all of her heart. Certainly God would not allow her to face another form of cancer potentially claiming her life.
But by the fall of that year, the small lump grew larger causing her to consult with another physician. She urged her doctor to obtain a mammogram. The first scan was suspicious for cancer but any doubts were lessened by a second mammogram. Finally, a biopsy confirmed that she had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.
It was November 2, 2015 when she got the call. Indeed, Shari would need all of her arsenal to battle, once again, against a cancer that could see her meeting an early demise. And once again she was facing the prospect of possibly leaving her husband and daughter to survive without her.
It’s just not fair, she thought. After everything I’ve been through, how can I be staring cancer in the face again?
Arsenal of Defense
But, “Why me?” Was just one of many questions that she refused to bother asking. Her undying faith allowed her to face the enemy with a smile knowing she had the love and support of family and friends. Shari held fast to the three best weapons in her arsenal.
Her doctor referred her back to her old stomping grounds – the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. The breast cancer was graded at stage III with involvement of the right axillary nodes. Doctors initiated a treatment plan that would include 12 trips from Orlando to Tampa between December and May. There were okay days and many worse. But, she suffered through the dreaded chemo treatments with all of their associated side effects like a champ. This would be followed by surgery to remove the breast and right axillary nodes.
Although Shari had no family history of breast cancer, there remained a significant chance of contracting the disease in the left breast too. For this reason, she chose to have both breasts removed by a double mastectomy.
Survival x Three
As with any woman, body image concerns are significant issues following mastectomy. But for Shari, reconstructive surgery took a backseat to surviving her third brush with death. She wanted peace of mind knowing bilateral mastectomy would eliminate any further risk of breast cancer. The surgery was scheduled for mid-June 2016.
Long Time Fan of BYE
Interestingly, Shari and her daughter had become huge and devoted fans of my sons’ band Before You Exit. In fact, Sarah never missed a chance to see them live. She would spend hours fabricating signs or symbols, passing them out to fans for display during the performance of associated songs. Naturally they were present at the hometown show that I wrote about in a previous blog.
While fleeing the shooter, exiting the building that night, Shari fell, sustaining a rib fracture. Then five days later, in the wake of the tragic event, she underwent her major breast surgery. Following the operation, she survived a six-week course of postoperative radiation between August and mid-September.
Shari had defeated a potentially fatal cancer once again, battling for her life. Her three weapons of mass destruction: faith, positivity, and support structure helped her to win the war.
On September 14, Shari had a postoperative surveillance MRI scan of her whole body. She sensed a somewhat sheepish mood from the radiology technician who was reticent, leaving detailed explanations up to the doctor.
Regardless, on her way out of the clinic Shari “rang the success bell” signifying the completion of her radiation treatments.
One More Time
On the drive back to Orlando from Tampa, Shari was quietly reserved but also prayerful. Her cell phone rang and on the other end was her radiation oncologist. She wanted to call personally to report that a metastatic lesion was found in the MRI of the brain. Shari’s earlier suspicions were confirmed.
It seemed the battles would never cease in this war that threatened to end her life once and for all.
How can I not feel abandoned by God? Or worse, how could this be part of his plan? How many times can one be expected to confront adversity without feeling bitterness and resentment?
Despite everything, she remained faithful. She would confront adversity as many times as she needed to. Moreover, she knew that God would remain right by her side fortifying her with everything she’d need.
Her pain and suffering, she was certain, were never part of God’s plan. But her recovery was. She also knew the difficult toils in her journey, despite the destiny of her path, were part of living in a fallen world. And she smiled knowing God would place her where, and how, he saw fit.
Winning the War
The next day Shari met with her neurosurgeon. And then, just five days later, she underwent resection of the cancerous brain tumor. The good news received upon awakening was that her doctor was confident that it was completely evacuated. There was no bad news! After another screening MRI she’d receive a final 5 rounds of radiation. But she knew that one day soon she’d triumphantly ring that bell again! Thereafter she’d only need periodic follow-ups.
Today Shari continues to heal on her life-long journey. She is living testament to the fruits of faith and perseverance. Her character reflects the “Fruits of the Spirit” despite the twists and turns of the road she walks.
She knows God never said he wouldn’t give her more than she can handle despite the beliefs of some. She knows that whatever he gives her, she can survive…with his help.
Do you know of someone who personifies perseverance through countless battles? How many times has your faith been tested through life’s journey?
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