Getting Diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer: 5 Truths That Calmed My Aching Soul

by | Oct. 07, 2015

Mormon Life

This is a follow-up post to another recent post by Melodee, "5 Truths My Cancer Taught Me About Faith," talking about her recovery from her first battle with cancer.

After recently celebrating 14 months of being in remission for breast cancer, I slipped and fell, injuring my back. An MRI revealed two compression fractures along with metastatic lesions in my entire spine and in many other bones.

Then came the diagnosis: Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Along with this came the knowledge that this type of cancer has no cure—a devastating blow, to both my family and friends as well as me. But I have not lost hope.

Getting Diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer: 5 Truths That Calmed My Aching Soul

Through the pain and fear and heartache, there have been a few comforting thoughts that have helped strengthen me and have allowed me to have faith in miracles.

1. I am still a survivor.

My body is no longer cancer-free, but that does not take away the fact that I beat cancer once before. I can use that energy and that faith-building experience to fight again. I am a survivor, even though I am sick.

My enemy is attacking again, but I will not give up.

History shows that most wars are not won by fighting a single battle. The last 21 chapters of Alma (which covers about one-tenth of the entire Book of Mormon!) documents many battles. While these, on the surface, might not seem to contain great spiritual lessons, there is much we can learn from the major players within these chapters on how to live a spiritual life amidst constant attacks. The stripling warriors, Moroni, and faithful Nephites are examples of how to fight spiritual battles and overcome.

The stripling warriors were “exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength,” and “true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted” (see Alma 53:20). These young warriors did not know what dangers they might face in battle, but “their faith was strong,” and they were “strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day” (Alma 58:40).

 It is the same with us in our daily trials and temptations; we never know what we will be called to endure, but we keep the faith and hope to be as valiant as these young warriors from the Book of Mormon. The battle I am currently fighting might wound me, attempt to break me down, or even take my life, but I know that my faith and my survivor spirit will remain strong.

2. We must not allow ourselves to become hardened.

If you are ever faced with a tribulation that must be fought over a long period of time, whether it be health issues, addictions, challenging relationships, or other temptations, it might be difficult to keep faith. In Alma we learn, “Behold, because of the exceeding great length of the war . . . many had become hardened.”

A hardened heart is one of the most difficult weaknesses to overcome, for hardened people struggle to be humble. Anger and doubt can creep in and overcome their strength to endure. However, the scripture continues: “many [others] were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility” (Alma 62:41). It is possible—and vital—to remain humble while experiencing trials.

Getting Diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer: 5 Truths That Calmed My Aching Soul

As we face the conflicts of this present world, may we be like Moroni and those humble Nephites who learned righteousness from his example. We are fighting for our lives, our families, and our faith. We are survivors, and we must not become hardened by long and difficult battles or by long stretches of peace and prosperity.

3. Not one hair will be lost.

My hair just recently reached a length where I feel comfortable again. It’s just long enough to be pulled back and styled in a way that makes me feel more like me . . . and now I’m going to lose it again. Well, at least I’ve been told I have a “good head for baldness.”

As silly as it sounds, losing my hair was one of the first things I cried over when my doctors explained the side effects of chemo. I didn’t want to lose my hair. I didn’t want to lose the normal way I looked. I don’t want to do it again.

Yet all of this talk of losing hair reminds me of the reassurances we have about the restoration of all things during the resurrection. One of the exact promises made when describing this restoration is that “not one hair will be lost.” Of all the body parts that could be used when explaining this principle—that spirits will be reunited with bodies and bodies will be restored to a perfect form—the Lord uses the imagery of hairs on our heads.

He could have talked about fingers or freckles or vital organs, but He assures us that not one HAIR will be lost. The Lord knows how important even hair can be to a person, especially those that lose it, and has promised that it will be restored.

We are valued to God, so much so that even the hairs on our head are numbered (see Matt. 10:30-31). I will lose my hair again through chemo, but someday it will all be restored to its perfect form (see Alma 11:44, 40:23). 

4. Bad things happen to good people.

I’m not saying I am perfect, but I’m trying. My definition of a good person is someone who every day tries “a little harder to be a little better” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Each a Better Person,” Ensign, November, 2002). And most of us fit in that category. Why, then, do so many bad things happen to so many good people? Shouldn’t we be blessed for obedience and for all the good things we are doing? Shouldn’t we be shielded from the darkness in this world?

Getting Diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer: 5 Truths That Calmed My Aching Soul

I don’t think you could find a better answer to those questions than this quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

“Expecting a trouble-free life because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian.”

Life is difficult. Bad, hard things happen to each of us, sometimes as consequences of our own actions and sometimes as the result of choices made by others. Other times, bad things just happen, and they can’t always be explained. I have come to believe that we must experience difficult times in order to become humble, even as we gain strength. I like the way John Bytheway describes that principle:

“When the winds of adversity come, remember one thing—kites fly the very highest against the wind. Kites don’t fly in spite of opposition, kites fly high because of opposition. In fact, they couldn’t fly without opposition.”

Often those people who have the hardest trials are the ones who are trying the hardest to be good. History is full of people who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake and for trying to make the world a better place. As Elder Holland states, “If sometimes the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived” (“The Inconvenient Messiah,” Ensign, February, 1984). When you find yourself experiencing hard trials while trying to be a good person, remember that you are like a kite trying to fly against strong winds and that you are not alone in the sky.

5. We need tests and trials to prove ourselves.

If life were easy every day, there would be nothing to reach for, no struggles, and therefore no triumphs. My 8-year-old son told me the other day, “I like reading, but not the questions after we read.” I asked him if he knows why he needs to be tested after reading.

“No. Why?”
“Even if you are a good reader, you and your teacher will have no way of knowing what you know until you show that by answering the questions correctly, by passing the tests.”

In life, we will not know all of our capabilities unless each of us is faced with tests of faith. Our Savior has experienced all to know how to succor us and help and bless us through our trials. He also knows all of the answers! We know many good people have bad things happen to them in this life, but all will be restored to its proper frame in the life to come, “and then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God” (Alma 40:25, emphasis added).

Lead image from iStock.
All other images courtesy of Melodee Cooper.
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