My husband’s cancer leaves then returns. How I find brighter light in deepening dark

Silhouette of Couple Holding Hands With Milky Way Galaxy Night Stars and Headlamp
The little lights, like stars, that friends create, can be a visible reminder of God's love for us.
JP Danko/Stocksy - stock.adobe.com

“Why are the stars so much brighter in Wyoming?” my daughter Violet asked as we drove down a stretch of deserted highway. It was a clear, moonless night, and stars seemed to fill every inch of the velvet-black sky. The same stars that were usually dulled by ambient light in our city were now visible, vibrant, and dazzling. “The stars aren’t different, Vi,” I answered. “The dark is just deeper here.”

I soaked in the view on the late drive back to our hotel. I used to feel uneasy with darkness. The planner side of my personality relished mapping a future for my family that I could anticipate and understand. It felt real and safe to me. In our early years, I could envision the happiness that would flow as my husband and I passed each plotted checkpoint, like a pair of runners dashing past mile markers on their way to the finish line. I wasn’t naive. I knew it would be hard, but I could see the path I had charted clearly and felt confident we could make it. 

Then, seven years ago, our course took an abrupt, abrasive turn when my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

Now, as I look back on these years of metaphorical running, I see that much of the joy I found was not in the sunny, predicted stretches but in the winding detours through the dark. I wish I could tell you I found a way to transcend worry and run fearlessly through the night. Unfortunately, my pulse still races and my stomach flips every time hard news comes, but I am not paralyzed in those moments. 

I have learned that inky skies create a rich seedbed for stars.

Letting in the Light

To be honest, I struggled to see anything in the darkness at first. I would often feel blindsided by the sudden shifts in my husband’s health and the heaviness of my caretaker role. There was so little that was in my control. New symptoms and side effects bubbled to the surface daily—most of which I could not ease. 

Meanwhile, I ran myself ragged trying to juggle the needs of my big family and the expectations of a community that believed in miracles. 

I can remember hearing the doorbell ring on a particular afternoon and darting to my office to hide. I was tired of running in the dark and didn’t want to hear any more comforting platitudes from well-meaning neighbors. 

I lay on the floor, trusting that if I stayed still enough, they would give up and go home. I underestimated them. This sweet family put on work gloves and set to work pulling all the weeds from our pitifully neglected flower beds. I didn’t have the guts to stand up and face them through the window, so I stayed on the floor and listened to them work. 

At first, I was resentful. Didn’t they know I had things to do? I couldn’t waste time hiding on the floor! After 20 minutes of listening to others working to lighten my load, my stoic heart started to soften. I felt a gentle reprimand from the Spirit to be still and receive relief. My friends couldn’t push back the darkness of our circumstances, but they could add a glimmer of light. 

The time on the floor helped me catch a glimpse of something I had missed in my weeks of worry. I had been so fixated on the rapidly advancing night that I hadn’t noticed the faint appearance of stars on the horizon. They didn’t fill the sky, but the little lights my friends created were a visible reminder of God’s love for me.

In his October 2023 talk, “Hallmarks of Happiness,” Elder Gary B. Sabin taught, “We are surrounded by innumerable blessings that we can easily take for granted if we are not mindful. Conversely, when nothing is expected and everything is appreciated, life becomes magical.”

Actively seeking and receiving the blessings God hoped to give me helped me find happiness and peace over long stretches. With the Lord’s help, I found the strength to stop mourning the bright, cancer-free life of my past and start letting my eyes adjust to running in the dark. 

I opened up to my family about our needs. I accepted meals from friends and neighbors. I embraced group fasts and eagerly accepted the prayers of strangers. I let things drop, trusting that the Lord could make all things—even my mistakes—work together for my good. 

The change was remarkable. I honed my skills at spiritual stargazing by watching for His hand in everyday moments. When I spotted a star, I rejoiced and shared it so others could see it too. The process of actively seeking and expecting help bolstered me for future struggles. My husband’s cancer left and returned many times like an unruly tide, but it could not overtake me. I learned that the vulnerability I felt in those moments was an open invitation to yoke in with the Savior and let Him lead. 

Covenant Connections

Over time, I learned that my husband’s cancer wasn’t a detour from the original plan. It was the natural, necessary backdrop that allowed Christ’s divine light to be gloriously visible. When I chose to let that light guide me, my darkness became navigable—even joyful at times. 

Elder Sabin taught, “In reality, the greatest happiness and blessing of mortality will be found in who we have become through God’s grace as we make and keep sacred covenants with Him. Our Savior will polish and refine us through the merits of His atoning sacrifice and has said of those who willingly follow Him, ‘They shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels’ [Doctrine and Covenants 101:3].’”

To willingly follow the Lord means to submit ourselves to seasons of sun and seasons of shadow. Thankfully, He does not intend for us to traverse either season alone. Our covenants tether us to a divine source of help and strength. When we choose to trust in His promises and accept the mortal hands He sends to help, our path is illuminated. 

I have seen many moments of sun and shadow over the last seven years. I can testify that the God who controls the heavens will find a way to brighten your days and pepper your darkest nights with an abundance of stars. 

Abinadi testified, “He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened” (Mosiah 16:9). Like the stars that fill the Wyoming sky, the scriptures promise the steady light of Jesus Christ can pierce all darkness. It will not flood our view in this messy, mortal world, but it will create bright, clear points to navigate by. 

We can take courage from that light and face our adversities “with a sense of purpose and peace,” as Elder Sabin stated, knowing that ultimately, the dawn will break for each of us. Jesus Christ is the light that will banish all shadows.

Until that bright, millennial day comes, I am determined to “be of good cheer, and do not fear” (Doctrine and Covenants 68:6) and seek Him in the stars.

Hear more from Maria on the Magnify podcast.

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