When You Pass Through the Waters
Hearing the words “you” and “cancer” in the same sentence is never easy. It doesn’t get any easier when it’s directed towards someone you love. After a series of tests the doctors confirmed that my husband had a malignant and hard to treat brain cancer. The diagnosis was his, but cancer was something we both had to face.
In the midst of the fear and the tests and hospitals I had so many questions. What would the future hold for my husband? For our family? Weren’t we supposed to grow old together? I never imagined that I would be a young widow or a single mother. I suppose no one ever does.
Hands to the plough
The first 10 weeks following my husband’s diagnosis left me busier than I could have imagined. Ross, a lifelong farmer, was in the hospital or dealing with cancer treatments from early August to the middle of October. The grain harvest, our livelihood for the year, became my responsibility. I am so thankful for the friends and neighbors who came with their equipment to get the grain in that Fall.
When a crisis hits it seems like the world should feel the force of it. Everything should stand still. But it doesn’t. There are bills to pay and kids to feed. It’s not enough that I had to keep breathing, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Somehow I was supposed to keep on with my life, even as my husband was fighting for his.
Over the course of the next four years, life settled into a predictable pattern. The treatments put his cancer into remission. My role as caregiver transitioned to that of assistant. I continued to play a significant role in the day to day operations of our farm.
The treatments left Ross partially paralyzed and I became his ‘hired man’. I worked hard to assist him with the jobs that he could no longer do alone. “Death” seemed further away. I started to let myself dream again. Had our future been handed back to us? Would my husband see old age after all?
Facing a new future
That time of predictability soon came to an end. New physical symptoms indicated the tumor was no longer dormant. Once again cancer was at the forefront of everything. Before long we realized that Ross’ time on Earth was going to be severely shortened. We took steps to prepare for that eventuality.
We sold the family farm and moved into the city. I enrolled in the local University studying towards a degree so that I would be better prepared to provide for the family. We set up my husband’s estate so that it would transfer to me with as little hassle as possible.
If I thought my life was busy when Ross was first diagnosed, it was even worse now. The demands of university classes, three dependent children and a now terminally ill husband pushed me to new levels physically, emotionally and spiritually. I learned how to make good use of every waking moment. I read University texts while I waited for the children at their activities. I read while supper was cooking. I worked on assignments whenever and wherever. God gave me super human abilities so that I could keep up to the demands.
God provided what was needed when it was needed. When I felt desperately alone in my circumstances, God sent me Edith. She and I walked together through the shared journey of our husbands’ battles with terminal brain cancer. As an added bonus, Edith and her husband were strong Christians and we were able to encourage one another in our journeys.
Later on, just as it got to the place where Ross could no longer be left home alone, I was able to put him in an adult daycare. At first he was reluctant to go but by the end of the second week, he was begging to go as much as possible. I was able to continue with my university studies.
As the winter semester of my third year of studies was coming to a close, Ross’ condition worsened. He could no longer go to daycare and he could not stay alone. With less than 10 days of classes to go in that semester, I was forced to miss two days of classes in order to care for him at home.
Finding a new strength
In spite of this downturn, I was so blessed. Knowing what was going on in my home life, all four of my professors approached me asking if I would like an extension for the last of my assignments. The teacher and students from one class all signed a “thinking of you” card and presented it to me on my first day back. I was pleasantly surprised with this show of support from such an unexpected source.
Ross’ doctor admitted him to the hospital in order to treat his symptoms. For some time, nothing had been done to hinder growth of the tumor but every reasonable step was being taken to keep him comfortable as the end drew near. His doctor decided to keep him in hospital a few extra days so that I could finish my classes. Again, I was touched by his care.
Those next few days saw significant deterioration in Ross’ condition. In less than a week we realized he could not come home but would require full time care at a nursing home. Again, the doctor considered what was best for me and he suggested that we could wait those few days while I finished off my semester before we started the process of finding a nursing home.
Once more plans changed. My husband’s condition was going downhill so fast that within a week he needed hospital level care. At the end of 6 weeks in hospital, Ross entered into the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, fully healed of all disease and totally free of the cares of this life.
God showed me in so many ways that He is all I will ever need. He repeatedly proved the truth of Isaiah 42:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (NIV)
Throughout this process, my greatest assets were my personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and my relationships with other people. The prayers of my church family carried me while my friendships with healthy, positive people at church and university maintained my sanity in the madness that my personal life had become.
In spite of all that I lost, received so many gifts from God during those years. By far the greatest was my salvation and that of my husband. It took the threat of his illness to cause me to turn to God. Before my husband got sick he had no desire whatsoever to seek God. The cancer diagnosis caused him to seek the Lord and eventually he accepted salvation. Thank You Jesus!
An unexpected miracle
Thanks to God’s loving grace, Ross was relatively healthy for most of the nine years that he lived following the initial diagnosis. He suffered with pain and illness for no more than the final five months of his life. After his death, an autopsy showed that the tumor had spread extensively through his brain. His doctor was amazed by this medical miracle. I gave God the glory for directing the growth of that tumor so that it created as little havoc as possible.
Ultimately though, during this time I learned that I can depend wholly on God. He showed himself faithful time after time. There was no other way I could ever have gotten through those years. He became my strength when I had none, which was most of the time. He made a way when I could not see where I was going. He carried me when I needed it and He taught me to walk independently while leaning on His strong arms. He enabled me to do all that I was called on to accomplish each day.
God gave me hope and joy in the worst of the storm. Following my husband’s premature death, I had an unbelievable joy in the middle of the sadness of loss. I found hope in the promise that our separation was only temporary. My friends and family stood by me. Ultimately though, I learned that God was all I needed.
If you have more on your plate than you think you can handle, be encouraged that God does not ask you to do this alone. Invite Him into your circumstances and ask His Holy Spirit to guide and direct you. You can pray a prayer like this one:
Thank you that my circumstances are not hidden from you. Over and over again you tell me in your word that You love me. I choose to believe that today. What I am facing seems more than I can bear. I need your strength to walk this path today. Thank you for your promise that I will never walk alone.