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.
3. Opportunities to Serve Others Often Bless Us
I was called to serve with the young women of our ward the same week I was diagnosed with cancer. In light of this diagnosis, my bishop offered to put my calling on hold, but I felt strongly that I needed an opportunity to serve. I put my faith in the words of our prophet, when he promised “Spiritual strength frequently comes through selfless service.” (“Preparation Brings Blessings,” General Conference, April 2010). If there was any point in my life when I needed strength, it was in fighting cancer.
Serving with the Young Women allowed me to review the Personal Progress program, and I made a goal to receive my award with the girls. This study of values, especially faith, gave me focus to stand fast and endure the pain and difficult times. I was able to “forget [myself] and go to work.” (Mike Cannon, “Missionary Theme Was Pervasive during Visit of President Hinckley,” Church News, Sept. 9, 1995, 4).
Service helped me step out of my darkness and feel the light and love of the Lord as I did His work. Even when I was too sick to attend church or weekly activities, I felt blessed in my efforts. My small sacrifice truly brought forth the blessings of heaven (See “Praise to the Man,” Hymns, 1985, no. 25). I learned firsthand that great blessings flow from faithful service in the church (see D&C 106: 6-8).
4. There Is Power in Prayer
The Savior taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7-8). There is mighty power in the faith that we can communicate with our Father in Heaven and He will answer.
Prayer sustained me, protected me, and helped me overcome. The Lord placed doctors in my path who also believed in the power of prayer. Although none of them were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, they all believed to the core that faith was the bridge between medicine and the miracle of healing. My breast surgeon expressed the importance of faith and prayer in our initial consultation. Her surgical nurse also spoke about God and shared that "Dr. P prays before every surgery. If you don't want her to pray with you, she prays anyway for herself." My oncologist mentioned praying over her patients and the importance of “positive thoughts” in the treatment. Even the first meeting with my plastic surgeon focused on being spiritual. He shared his testimony that God has a way of using challenges to build us up and make us stronger. He believed in the power of prayer and of having faith to see miracles.
Family members, ward members, and friends all prayed on my behalf while I fought to survive cancer, and I felt the power in that. However, something about having my doctors—strangers and people not of my faith—hold my hands and pray before each procedure unlocked a powerful testimony: Prayer was as essential as medicine in helping me through my cancer journey.
5. Personal Revelation Is Real
We pray to communicate with God, and He answers in our minds and in our hearts (D&C 8: 2). He causes our bosom to burn within us, allowing us to feel when something is right (D&C 9:8). Boyd K. Packer taught, “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being” (“Personal Revelation: The Gift, The Test, and The Promise,” Oct. 1994). Through this “warm light,” God enlightens our minds and fills our souls with joy.
One of the most poignant moments of personal revelation in my life came during a low point in my treatments. The Sunday School lesson that week focused on the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to gain eternal life (See Matthew 19:16-30). This faithful saint had a testimony. He kept the commandments from his youth. Like many of us, he believed he was quite close to doing all he could to be like the Savior. Sadly, when Jesus' answer seemed too challenging, the young man turned away.
When I was listening to that story, I was suddenly overcome with that “warm light shining within my being,” which unlocked a personal meaning. I am not rich, so giving up all I have monetarily would probably not be my stumbling block. However, I could picture Jesus instructing me, "If you want to be perfect, go and give up your stubborn control and trust completely in my will. Quit complaining about your trials. Have faith in me.”
This revelation was a tender mercy from the Lord (See 1 Nephi 1:20), which whispered that He was aware of me and would not leave me comfortless (John 14:18). I was reminded that, “in the midst of our afflictions, reassurances will come to us from the Lord” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Be of Good Cheer,” Ensign, November 1982). I had been struggling with my testimony and prayed to the Lord for guidance. The answer blessed me to remain strong and not turn away from my faith in response to a difficult trial. I had the strength to continue to “strive for perfection, bear up under [my] problems and sorrows, remain faithful to the end, and not shrink” (Royden G. Derrick, “The Way to Perfection,” Ensign, April 1989).
Now that I am on the other side of my cancer battle, I wish I could have another conversation with the man on the soccer bleachers. I would echo the words of Barbara Thompson: “It is our testimony, combined with our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…which helps to get us through times of trial and hardship” (“Personal Revelation and Testimony,” Ensign, November 2011). Perhaps I could inspire him to become “religious” and find faith in Christ.
I know faith is the key to overcoming trials. I saw signs of the Lord’s love for me throughout my journey. Being able to understand God’s timing, looking for silver linings, serve others, pray often, and receive personal revelation were only a few examples of how my faith helped unlock blessings from heaven and allowed me to be among the ones counted “happy which endure” (James 5: 11).