An older gentlemen and I were the first spectators on the bleachers, watching the 7-year-olds warm up for their soccer game. I was using the pre-game time to check my phone; he wanted to make small talk.
“I like your hat.”
“Thanks. A good friend gave it to me.”
Pleasantries obviously over, he went straight for the big question:
“Do you have cancer?”
I’m not sure what gave it away first: my rhinestone-embellished pink ribbon ball cap, the “Fight Like a Girl” t-shirt, or my hairless head and nonexistent eyebrows.
“Yes, I’m almost finished with 15 months of treatments for breast cancer.”
“But, you’re so young! It must be genetic.”
“Actually, it’s not. I guess there were lessons I needed to learn through this trial.”
“Oh,” he paused. “You must be religious.” He spat out the word as if being religious were worse than having cancer.
Not ready to end the conversation on a sour note, I responded, “Yes, I am. And I don’t know how anyone survives tough times without their faith.”
Living my religion during a vigorous battle with breast cancer taught me to rely on faith for guidance and strength. I came to learn that having faith to endure trials well is more powerful than cancer, or any other trial. Boyd K. Packer taught, “faith is a real power, not just an expression of a belief.” (“These Things I Know,” April 2013). Faith’s power unlocks blessings, helps develop patience, teaches us to endure joyfully, and brings us the peace our Savior promises (See D&C 127: 7-8 and John 14: 27). Faith in Jesus Christ is the key, and my faith unlocked great blessings during one of the most difficult trials of my life. Here are just five truths I learned while enduring the hardships of cancer.
1. God’s Timing Is Perfect
God knows us and has a plan for each of us. Neal A. Maxwell taught, “The issue for us is trusting God enough to trust also His timing. . . . Our faith needs to include faith in the Lord’s timing for us personally” (“Even As I Am” 1982, 93). My trust in God’s plan for me was strengthened a few days after I was diagnosed with cancer when I was blessed with understanding of the Lord’s hand in the timing of my life.
My plan for having children did not match up with God’s plan. My husband and I endured seven years and three miscarriages before our first son was born. Our second son’s birth did not correspond to our timing, either. He was born at the most inconvenient possible time in my husband’s schooling, when my husband was unable to work or take time off. Miraculously, a third son was born shortly after, unplanned. Again, it seemed like terrible timing, but I was blessed with an absolute testimony that this baby completed our family.
That testimony came even more into focus through the lens of my cancer diagnosis. What if we had only followed our timing for children?
I could have been pregnant at the time I was diagnosed, and my doctors may not have been able to discern between my tumor and a clogged milk duct. My cancer could have gone undetected long enough to make my survival questionable. If I had been pregnant at the time, I might have been faced with choosing between my own life and the life of my unborn child, because the tumor would have grown dramatically in response to increased hormones in my body. Worse yet, our third child might never have joined our family after the effects of chemo changed my body.
What we first thought was terrible timing ended up possibly saving my life. Looking back with faith reminded me that “all things must come to pass in their time” (D&C 64:31–32). In order to unlock the blessings the Lord has in store for us, “we must wait upon the Lord’s timing.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Timing,” Ensign, October 2003).
2. We Can Glory in Tribulations
The power of faith teaches us the ability to “glory in tribulations” (Romans 5:1-5). Our weak things can be made strong, and we can learn to be grateful for hard times (Ether 12:27). President John Taylor said, “afflictions shouldn’t overwhelm us, but we should rejoice in our challenges, for we need these experiences for our eternal well being with God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor 2001, 207).
I faced unknowns and tests of faith during my treatments for breast cancer. In the beginning, I was far from rejoicing over the diagnosis and cried until there were no more tears. Then, I was still and prayed. The Lord blessed me with peace, which allowed me to put my hope in Him. I began to look for silver linings every day. Even when it seemed like my days could not get worse or treatments were more difficult than I had expected, I was able to seek out lessons I could learn. I was reminded that “in the world [I] would have tribulation: but [I should] be of good cheer; [Christ has] overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The Lord used the power of faith to teach me “…that every sorrow, trial, and challenge…can bring with it greater faith, new witnesses, and wonderful miracles” (Giorgia Murgia, “Every Trial Can Bring Greater Faith,” Ensign, March 2015).
My peace surrounding this trial allowed me to remain optimistic, even though I had no guarantee of being cured. I began to adopt the mantra of Thomas S. Monson: “Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.” I was strengthened by his promise that “this attitude is what will pull us through whatever comes our way. It will not remove our troubles from us but rather will enable us to face our challenges, to meet them head on, and to emerge victorious.” (“Be of Good Cheer,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2009, 92). When we learn to “glory in tribulations,” each of us can use our faith in Jesus Christ to find joy on our individual journeys.