She championed the cause of cancer, raising millions of pounds for research. She became affectionately known as ‘Bowel Babe’ and stole a place in many hearts. The nation followed her journey and she became a hero of her own life story as she helped others while suffering herself. Sadly she lost her fight against the horrible disease last month.
It was back in May 2008 that I, too, heard those dreaded words “I’m sorry, it’s malignant”. It was a surreal moment that will be clearly etched on my memory forever.
I was a thirty-five-year-old mum to two girls, aged ten years and five years. The youngest had extreme medical complexities and was completely dependent on me. My days and nights were taken up with caring for her. Life was full on, tiring and challenging, but had reached the stage of being fairly consistent. I had become used to this way of life. Cancer was a diagnosis that I wasn’t expecting, a diagnosis that I really didn’t need in my already tumultuous life. I needed to be well to care for my daughter.
Having been unwell for sometime, I finally had the answer but it wasn’t what I’d been looking for. It certainly wasn’t what I had ever imagined or expected. I was diagnosed with stage 3c colorectal cancer. I felt a whirlwind of emotions as I tried to process the news. My consultant sympathetically told me “I’m so sorry, but I can’t give you any hope or assurances.” Reality kicked in.
Very quickly I was projected into the rollercoaster cancer journey . . . an unexpected journey that nothing can prepare you for. Appointment after appointment, scans, surgery, hospital stays and then the dreaded course of chemotherapy. Life yet again had changed in a dramatic way and my new normal was so different from what I would have anticipated or planned: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV).
God was so good to me during yet another trial. My experience of His faithfulness in the past gave me the strength and confidence that He would continue to be faithful.
It is humbling, yet reassuring and comforting, to know that people pray for you, and that prayer is real. Through prayer comes an inexplicable peace that only God can bring. As a family we have had the great privilege of experiencing this peace at various difficult points. God knows our every thought, need and worry, and understands the concerns we can’t put into words. He knows what each day of our lives will bring, having already gone before us. He can do far beyond what we ask or even think. That’s the greatness of our God.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV).
Dame Deborah’s motto was “Rebellious Hope”. The slogan appeared on clothing and merchandise, and became widely recognised. Hope to me has always been an amazing resource. Hope is often the last fine thread that we can cling onto when all seems to be falling apart. It’s that tiny glimmer of light peeking through in the darkest of times. Hope gives us the strength to carry on when we have exhausted all our resources, and all seems lost.
My hope is “Real Hope”. . . a hope that is beyond the hopeless: “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him’” (Lamentations 3:24 ESV).
As a Christian I have a hope that extends beyond the dark and difficult moments of this life, a hope that will never run out. I’ve a firm and solid hope. My hope is in Christ, who daily sustains and gives strength. He gives grace for each moment. My hope is in heaven, knowing that when my life here is ended, I’ll be at home with my dear Lord, who died for me.
“We have this [hope in God’s promises] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19 ESV).
God sent His one and only Son to die on the cross at Calvary for all the wrongs we’ve done, to make a way for us to know Him and ultimately to be in heaven with Him: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).
Trusting in Christ gives me the knowledge that my sins are forgiven and that He will be with me through every challenge I face in this life. Trusting in Him gives hope and assurance for eternity and strength and peace for each day: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).
The comfort of prayer and Scripture combined has brought me through those inconceivably difficult times. The Lord gave me strength and grace to face the unthinkable. The peace that is beyond understanding that the Apostle Paul writes about was truly mine: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns for each and every one of us but Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He is faithful to us even when we are not faithful to Him. Each day brings new challenges but also new possibilities, and for the latter I’m ever thankful.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).
He truly is a faithful God.
Even when (perhaps, especially when) we are living close to the Lord, life may take us through experiences we would never have imagined to times we would have wished to avoid and situations we would want to run from, but through it all God has a plan for us, as He did and still does for His ancient people, the Jews: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV).
There is a purpose for our pain, a healing in our hurt and understanding and empathy produced from each eventful moment. If we submit ourselves to God, we become who He means us to be in these moments. During the difficult times, we are being changed not just for our own greater good but also for the glory of God. His ultimate goal, which He will not fail to accomplish, is to make us like His Son, and His desire is that the trials and troubles we experience will make us progressively more like Him during our lives here.
Life may be unpredictable but God certainly is not. His love is steadfast and sure and He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In amongst what seems like a truly imperfect life, God knows what is best for us. His way is perfect, we just need to trust Him.
“As for God, His way is perfect: The word of the Lord is proven: He is a shield to all who trust in Him” (Psalm 18:30).
“My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.”
– Edward Mote
Image source: @nci