Cancer tests every fiber of an individual’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Navigating life-altering head and neck cancer surgeries, post-operative treatments, and then having to create what I call a “new normal” to move forward with life are tremendous challenges. In my personal situation, the power of hope is what kept me afloat throughout my HNC journey, and for Heidi, our current patient of the year, it’s the power of religious faith.
What is faith to you?
Heidi said, “My faith comes from my belief in God, mankind’s inherent sin nature which separates us from God, his son Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for my sins, and his resurrection. My belief in this, coupled with my confession of sins and asking Christ to save me and take me to Heaven, is what my faith is based on. It’s very important when discussing faith to explain the foundation. This is all found in the Bible, not in man’s teachings or opinions.
Faith looks like this in my daily life: A conscious decision to trust my entire self and future to God, as well as making decisions and living my daily life in such a way that others can look at me and see I am different. I strive to be like Jesus daily, even though I am imperfect and fall short constantly. Faith is living my life for the Lord and telling others about Him.
Some might say that’s tedious, foolish, or just disagree with me. And that’s okay. The benefits of walking with God (that’s another way of saying having a relationship with him) are worth it to me. I have a best friend who is the Creator of the universe. He is so big, so powerful, and so loving, and he makes time to hear me. He takes care of me in so many ways. He made me, thus he KNOWS me, and truly knows me in ways no one else can. He is safe, he is loving, he is patient with me. This relationship is worth me living my life differently than most people do, because of the love and tenderness my Heavenly Father gives me.”
How have you maintained your faith throughout your cancer journey?
Hiedi explained, “In some ways, I have maintained the habits I had prior to cancer and in other ways, I’ve created new habits. Four habits I have seen tremendous growth in have been my bible reading and my prayer time. The first two habits are Bible reading is God talking to me, and prayer is me talking to him. So it’s a two-way communication. The Bible helps me see life through God’s eyes and guides my thoughts, choices, and behavior. Prayer is my turn to praise Him, thank Him, and pour out my cares and burdens to Him. So often following this time, I am filled with a peace that the bible says “passes understanding”. And it truly does because I am prone to anxiety and worry!
The third habit I have created since my cancer diagnosis is one of deep trust. What I mean by that is: I used to pray and ask God for help or tell Him my burdens, but after prayer, I would go about my life trying to fix those same burdens. I would act as if my success in those things rested on myself, and I had to take care of it. I am a problem-solver after all! Oldest child syndrome. But since my diagnosis, I have become more conscious of actually talking to God about my burdens, and then asking Him to handle them. Then I mentally check out, basically, I ignore the urge to worry and fix it. When the problem comes to mind, I’ve made it a point to stop what I’m doing and just tell God right there that I am struggling with worry, and I need His peace instead. This was definitely a habit that had to be created! But I have come a long way in a year and a half.
The fourth habit I have created is two lists, one for God and one for me. On God’s list are all the things He has promised in scripture to take care of. On my list are the things I know I am responsible for. Anytime I start to worry, I step back and think about whose list that worry belongs on. If it’s mine, I think through my plan to solve it. If it’s God’s, I tell Him I am worrying again and leave it in His capable hands.”
When you pray, what have you been praying for?
Hiedi shared, “I have an entire list with different categories. Family, friends, church needs, work, specific prayer requests of friends, and a whole list of people who are also cancer patients. I go through them and put a small dot next to each one when I pray. Some days I make it through the whole list, other days I only do certain groups. I also have a personal list, and the very top item says “NO more cancer!!”
|How has faith played a role in your recovery process and in creating your “new normal” after HNC? |
She responded, “My recovery is still ongoing, and I have many days of discouragement and sometimes depression. I don’t often discuss this. But it is important to be transparent about suffering. Every day feels like a fight. Every week seems like I conquer one battle only to be presented with three more. Some battles are simply life-related, others are directly caused by my recovery or cancer itself. I cry often. And I talk to Jesus often. I have a recliner in my room that has been with me since the very beginning of this journey, and when I am stressed or anxious, I sit in this chair with a box of tissues and I just cry. I talk out loud to God, telling him every single feeling, thought, and idea flowing through me at that moment. In the midst of this really difficult period of my life, I have learned exactly how to bare my soul to my Creator and Redeemer. When all the tears are spent, all the words poured out, and all the emotions expended, I am left with a peace that passes understanding. Then I spend time thanking Him for listening and bearing my burdens with me. The Bible says “Come, all ye that labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30. These verses are Jesus speaking about His ability to help. The yoke He references here is what farmers once used with oxen. These were known to be heavy but necessary to get the job done. Jesus is saying that as a Christian, there are burdens He wants me to bear for Him. But He will bear my burdens for me. What He calls me to carry is not as heavy as what I had put onto myself, and He promises His aid while I bear them. If I have to deal with hardship and sorrow in this life, I would much rather do it with Jesus walking next to me, carrying most of the load. What a privilege and blessing to have my Savior helping me daily! What an example of love! He chose to create me, love me, and die for me. How can I not bear these burdens for Him when He promises to help me as I obey? As to my new normal, I am slowly figuring it out. My voice and speech are rough, and my ongoing swallow challenges add to it. I daily find ways to adapt my needs or my schedule and figure out how best to speak or feed myself. This process will probably continue for the next year or so, then I’ll have a good understanding of what my body needs. I’ve been reading Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E Cowman. There was a passage about how our faith lets God do his mighty works. It used phrases like ‘audacious trust’ and ‘holy audacity’. So I’ve been reminding myself of those phrases every time fear or frustration wants to creep into my heart. I need to have Holy Audacity! I want to have that faith and let God work in me as He desires.
What advice would you share with people who are not religious, but are in need of hope, positivity, compassion, and encouragement?
She emphasized, “I would say that I hear you, I see you, I understand you. Being seen and understood is a deep human need, especially when we are enduring a trial. I do encourage even non-religious people to pray. Write down the prayer, whisper it out loud, or shout even it. Expressing our thoughts and needs is necessary and healthy. And if you don’t believe in a God, what’s the harm in prayer? You’re just voicing your emotions in a quiet space where no one else can react to them, and it can be very freeing. And if you’re even the least bit curious, it’s okay to search for God. He is waiting for you to be interested, and He’s ready to show you His deep love.”
Thank you Heidi for sharing what you believe in and your habits for maintaining “audacious trust and holy audacity”. My hope with this blog is to remind anyone going through a trying period of time, do not to lose hope or faith because a new normal can transform and life can improve.