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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Cancer Isn’t the Last Word

By Peggy Horn
Feb. 26, 2012

I have clung to a promise I have considered my life verse for many years. It has strengthened me in trials great and small. Even cancer is no match for 1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV): “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Just knowing you can do that — cast your burdens on the loving Lord of the universe — should be enough to alleviate any spirit of fear. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

In 2008, while doing a self-exam (a key to early detection that every woman should do), I felt something unusual in my breast. I mentioned it to my regular doctor, but she dismissed it and advised me to wait for my regular yearly mammogram. Months later, in December of that year, I had the mammogram.

There is breast cancer in my family — a lot of it. Almost every woman in my extended family has faced it. Up till then, I had been one of the fortunate ones.

Many women in families that are prone to the disease live in fear. Will I get it? Is this the year it gets me?

When I was 13, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time a radical mastectomy was the only solution offered to her, along with more extensive surgery than would be necessary today. I vividly recall her long recuperation, the bandages, and the exercises to restore strength in her arm. It was a long road back to recovery, and she experienced lifelong problems from the less-refined surgical methods and their consequences.

Although I never expected the worst or feared getting the results of my routine mammograms, I do confess it was always a relief to hear them say, “See you next year.” But this time was different. They called me back into the X-ray room to take additional pictures.

It was the next day, right before Christmas, when I got the call. They couldn’t say what it was regarding, just that I needed to bring my husband.

The very next day, Ken and I walked into the center. A nurse sat us down and told me I had stage 3 cancer. Then she asked me if I knew of a cancer surgeon I would like to do my surgery! Oh sure, let me just look that up here in my book. Like that’s something we all keep on hand!

Ken and I prayed and did our homework before making any decisions. Making a decision about what to do when you’ve been told you have cancer requires both researching your options and taking time to seek God’s will.

Armed with information and the name of a top surgeon, I was scheduled for surgery just a few short weeks after my diagnosis.

Despite my refusal to have a spirit of fear, I remember lying in bed, praying and wondering, Is this real? Am I going to make it? I have cancer!

Everything hits you so fast. The decisions you have to make in such a short time are monumental — and people seem to think you should have the answers! Though I had been through this with others, now it was me. “God, what in the world do we do next?”

I honestly don’t know what people do who don’t have faith in a loving God. He was the strength my husband and I needed.

There were options. We sought the opinions of two doctors — they disagreed. After much prayer and consideration, I settled on surgery (a partial mastectomy) followed by radiation. Everyone needs to be comfortable with her choice; I felt this was right for me.

The day of the surgery we were up before the sun rose on a cold, wintry Ozarks morning. Though we arrived at the hospital very early, it was hours before the actual surgery, making the preparatory time more difficult than the actual surgery for me.

Even though we had sought God’s will, I had questions right up to the time they wheeled me into surgery. Was this the right decision? Did I choose the right doctor? So many nagging thoughts.

The surgery was successful, but not definitive enough to eliminate the need for an aggressive program of chemotherapy.

The unknown is chemo’s dominant fear factor. Every first is a challenge. I had to have another surgery to implant a port, intended to make the numerous chemo injections easier.

There’s a preparatory routine prior to each appointment, after which they sit you in a comfy chair, hook you up to the IV and pump chemicals into your body to kill any cancer cells that may have been missed in your surgery.

Ken was my support through all of these treatments except one — when he was overseas and a precious friend filled in. He watched over me, held my hand and supported me when I needed it. I had treatments on Wednesdays, and by Friday I would feel the effects. I was on an accelerated program with maximum treatments every two weeks; so by the time the sickness and fatigue began to fade, it was time for another round.

My hair started falling out the second week. This was scary. Our hair is such an important thing to us. As mine started to fall out, my courage began to weaken. I decided that I wasn’t going to slowly let it get me down, and I shaved my head. I bought a nice wig, and many people didn’t even know that I had lost my hair; it was a good investment. The only bad part of that was I didn’t get as much sympathy!

Thirty-two radiation treatments completed the process.

Experiencing cancer makes you think about what matters most in life. I knew I wanted most to serve God, make a difference, enjoy life, and be with friends. Life is precious, and only God knows the number of your days. You can’t afford to waste time. Don’t wait to speak to that friend or loved one you’ve been meaning to talk to about Jesus. Live every minute, enjoy every person in your life, grab every God-given opportunity.

And don’t sweat the small stuff.

I am now three years out from my diagnosis of cancer. I am cancer-free and still choosing to not let fear of its return invade my life — even though regular tests are reminders and instigators of prayer. Every “all clear” is a relief and a blessing.

Today I relish opportunities to help other women navigate the muddy waters of this dreaded disease. When you have had cancer, you have been initiated into an exclusive club where you have both support and responsibility.

I have survived, and I want my experience to help others who will face the same battle (Romans 8:28). God has done so much for me; I am convinced He does not want me to keep it to myself.

That’s why I want those who face it to know: God has the strength you need. Cancer is not the last word.

PEGGY HORN is the women’s health services coordinator for Convoy of Hope, serving as liaison to the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the National Women’s Department of the Assemblies of God. The three organizations are partnering to provide breast cancer early detection services to underserved women across America.

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