When Cancer Comes Calling…

She called me to tell me that her cancer had returned. Truthfully, neither one of us thought it had gone anywhere, but we didn’t mention it. Instead, we just held the moment together. Paused long enough to breathe in and out a time or two and then continued in our conversation. Inwardly, I was gasping for air … careful not to fill the moment with my fret. It wouldn’t have been fair to her, to her news, her disappointment, the painful reality that was about to unfold for her … again.

More chemo. More testing. More spreading of the disease she’s fought against so valiantly in the eight months I’ve known her. I don’t really have the words to give to her. She doesn’t need empty promises or half-truths based on sentimental notions. She certainly doesn’t need false hope or a casual toss of faith-speak in her direction. No, she needs more. Something solid, real, tender, and truthful. A safe place to place her trust. A refuge in which to plant her seeds of pain. A retreat from the cruelty of blood draws, intravenous drips, and the stale taste of poison in her mouth.

She needs a friend, and she chose me. Silently, I struggle for the right words, questioning my qualifications. How can I mend this one, love this one, help this one through the struggle this go around? There are so many of us, Lord. So many cancer friends.

  • One who’s just finished her chemo.
  • Another one just getting started.
  • A mentor beautifully gracing the stage of her Stage IV.
  • Another fourth grade mom swollen with lymphedema.
  • A farmer who buried his daughter—my friend—and who now wages the cancer battle himself.
  • One of my “ancients” struggling in isolation from the rest of them, from me.
  • Several of us in a holding pattern—caught between our last year and the year to come. All of us quietly wondering if maybe the cancer’s just napping beneath our scars.

Yes, so many of us walking the ribboned road. Trying to be brave. Trying to hold the banner of hope high so that others won’t worry. Trying to be friends, be comforters, be supporters, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need to be touched by truth. It’s a weighty responsibility, yet one gladly accepted by most of us. One I willingly accepted just over a year ago.

Entrusted. Remember?

Every time I want to quit, want to pull away and pretend that I am someone without a story, I look down at my wrist and think on that word. That charge. That privilege given to me—to be trusted with so much. When I go there with my thoughts, I almost always go to my knees, and I say “yes” all over again to the story that is mine, come what may.

Cancer will always be coming for someone. Fifty percent of all men and one-third of all women will personally experience the disease at some point in their journeys. Cancer doesn’t seem in a hurry to retreat, so neither must I. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

To stay. To stand closely to cancer. To straddle the fence with one foot in the path of healing and one foot in the path of pain, with faith as the sturdy post in between. I will not leave the wounded behind. I will wait with them; walk with them; wonder with them; weep with them. It’s what I choose to do, because I believe it’s what my Father chooses to do every time his children come crawling to the threshold of heaven extending their personal pain in the direction of his heart.

God never fills those moments with his fret. Instead, he offers something solid, real, tender, and truthful in return. He offers his presence. A staying, standing-close-by promise of personal involvement. Why? Because he was the first one ever entrusted with a story. A cross. A red ribbon embedded into his brow, tied to his hands, threaded through to his side, cascading downward to his feet. A ribbon that threads through to our hearts and that pulls tightly on his every time our tears shed their witness.

When we need a safe place, a refuge, a retreat, a friend … we have one in Jesus. Every time he thinks about us … looks down at his wrists and reads the truth written behind the scars imprinted there … he goes to his knees on our behalf and says “yes” again to the story that is his. A weighty responsibility to be sure, a worthy gain for all eternity.

Oh to be like Jesus … even a little bit!

There will be no quitting today, not for me. Just more of the road in front of me and more of the ribbon behind me. If you need to, grab on friends. I’m heading in the right and good direction. I’m heading home. As always…

Peace for the journey,

39 Responses to When Cancer Comes Calling…

  1. Elaine,

    I too don't want to throw words out carelessly, I think your words say it all best… I would rather pray than to say anything more…I know someone right now who is enduring the call that the cancer has returned.

    Let me echo your words:

    "No, she needs more. Something solid, real, tender, and truthful. A safe place to place her trust. A refuge in which to plant her seeds of pain."

    THIS IS VERY TRUE ELAINE and let me also also echo this:

    "Oh to be like Jesus…a little bit!"

    Praying for your dear friend, for all the friends you listed and for YOU and all the families…

    Stand firm in the love and Lordship of Jesus!

  2. I wasn't aware of the statistics you cited, but we've all been touched one way or another by this dreadful disease. I'm so sorry your friend got this news, but I'm so thankful you are there for her. I too will pray, for her, for you, for the others. May God hold you all in the strength of His everlasting arms.

  3. There'd be little point in copying all the words and phrases that held the richness of your insight and heart. I especially appreciate the way you pictured your position as you –"straddle the fence with one foot in the path of healing and one foot in the path of pain, with faith as the sturdy post in between."

    What an incredible level of ministry the Lord has ushered you into, Elaine! He who has called you is Faithful!

  4. You are such a great example of God's faithfulness in your life! I'm just totally amazed at your absolute resolve to "hang on" to this journey God has set you on.

    Cancer does affect SO many! We have a very small church…less than 100…and we've had two women with cancer already this year. There's been so many in my own family….Mama, Daddy, two sisters, Mother-in-Law, Father-In-Law, brother-in-law and several aunts and uncles. It seems the threat is always lurking in the shadows.

    I pray that you are completely healed Elaine! Thank you for the way you have such a heart for other people. You are a strong and a gentle woman!

    God bless you!

    Marilyn…in Mississippi

  5. Elaine, my heart breaks for these dear ones. I lost my dad to colon cancer when he was 41. Makes me tender toward those who suffer, but I find myself at a loss for words sufficient for comfort.

    Your words are beautiful and hold eternal glory. Love you!



  6. You are brave. You are courageous. You are fighter. You are friend. You are faithful.

    God must surely delight in you, dear heart.

  7. Elaine, how hard it must be to get a phone call like that — you know the pain, discouragement, and the fight that the person on the other end has before them. And then to wonder if it will be you next…

    So thankful God is giving you grace and strength to face each day, whatever it may bring. So thankful you are being faithful to that to which you were entrusted. Am every praying for you!

  8. Elaine-the Light in you is an attraction. Christ draws people to Himself like moths to a light… I know that is not a beautiful analogy, but I think of how powerfully the light attracts the moths and how powerful His Light shines in you and it makes sense. My prayers will be with you as He uses you in what you have endured. Praying for you both.

  9. I have no doubt you will find the right words to comfort and strengthen your friend even though there are times you need someone to comfort and strengthen you. Cancer survivors have a difficult road to walk, but then so did Jesus. We take comfort in His love and strength. I also take comfort in yours.


  10. Elaine, such truth. Praying for you and your friend – and praying that I can be that kind of person as well.

  11. Elaine, as a fellow survivor, I love your post and pick up the cause with the cross standing with you. Blessings!

  12. I am so proud to be your friend. Seriously, you are not only a hope to those with cancer, you are a hope with those who struggle with the cancer of sin. On the road with you sister. I have to be. I want to be.
    Thank you for these amazing words.
    Much love for you,

  13. Elaine,
    How I have missed stopping by here for a visit. Your grace and beauty still shine brightly. Just the tonic I needed.

    As I said to a friend recently, "Cancer sucks!" It really does. Ever present, lurking to conquer new territory. The enemy.

    I believe that God weeps and hurts right along with us, shouting, "I am here! I am with you! I will carry you through. You are not alone."

    You hear his voice and magnify it for all of us to hear. Thank you.

    Blessings and prayers to you, my friend,

  14. As I sit back and take in your words so carefully chosen, my heart aches for those going through this season. God has many things to teach us–if we are willing to listen and to take hold of His loving arm for support. Your courage and faithfulness encourage so many of us. I love how He speaks to my heart through your words. I love you!!

  15. To read your words is know you have spent time knowing you are loved by a God who is simply amazing…and all that overflows out of you is Him! You are a radiant light Elaine and I praise God for you!

  16. These words have spoken deep into my heart. You have said it all. You have spoken for all of those who hurt, at whatever stage they are in. And you have come alongside of them as Jesus has with you.

    His example, our highest calling.

    His heart speaks through these words.

    My heart says 'thank you and I love you!'

  17. Elaine,
    As always, a beautifully written post. I will pray for your friend…she is blessed to have you in her life…just as we are all blessed by reading your words here. Your radiant faith continues to inspire me!
    Blessings to you,

  18. Praise God for your words Elaine. Believe it or not as I read your words, "I will not leave the wounded behind. I will wait with them; walk with them; wonder with them; weep with them." it struck a familiar cord in my heart; a quote from Revelation 22:17a as a matter of fact. "The spirit and bride say Come!"

    Your love, compassion, and dedication to be with the hurting is akin to the Holy Spirit waiting with us for Christ's return. The Spirit never leaves us, suffers with us, and gives us strength while we wait. Through you Christ is doing the same for those around you in need.

    Blessings sweet heart.

  19. Elaine, I'm speechless. This one hit me deep.

    I'm going to tell you a truth that I'm more than a little embarrassed to share. A long time ago, I checked out your blog, but when I found out you were battling cancer, I stayed away. I am a "cancer-phobe" – terrified of the specter of cancer. So, just reading about it had my heart pounding.

    A few months after that first encounter, I came back. I knew that you had something powerful for me to hear. I was right, you do.

    Please forgive me for being afraid to come close to you just because of my fear. And please know that I have gained more strength from you than you'll ever know. I am awed at your ability to consider cancer a calling, a task entrusted to you.

    Your words give me, as I know they do for countless others, peace for the journey…


  20. Sharon…

    I hear you, sister, and I am not put off one bit by your response. It's something I deal with all the time, I imagine other survivors do as well. Cancer is a scary word, and there are those who'd rather not engage with its reality.

    One of the greatest gifts given to me several years prior to my diagnosis was having the honor of sitting ringside to several friends who were battling cancer and who allowed me to enter into their pain. God knew back then that I would need the witness of their stories to better strengthen me for the journey that I was about to make.

    I am forever grateful for the witness of my good friends Marilyn, Maxine, Beth, Summer, and Carol. Their stories live on in me, and one day I'll join them in the great celebration of the Lamb around the throne. I think upon them often, none more so then when I'm out walking beneath the clouds. I can almost hear their heavenly whispers.


    Thanks for sharing in the journey with me. I consider it a privilege to call you all my good friends.


  21. I am so glad your friend has you in her corner. She couldn't have chosen anyone to be a more inspiring and faithful friend than you.

    This post has literally left me breathless, Elaine. It's one of the most powerful you have written.

    Love you dearly…

  22. I really have nothing to add to what you've already said. No matter what the challenge, the refuge is the same: Jesus.

  23. "I will not leave the wounded behind. I will wait with them; walk with them; wonder with them; weep with them. It’s what I choose to do, because I believe it’s what my Father chooses to do every time his children come crawling to the threshold of heaven extending their personal pain in the direction of his heart. "

    Amen. You have such a beautiful heart, Elaine. I was just reading the scripture today in Romans 12 "Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn". I think that when God allows us to embrace people who are going through, it's because he knows we can be there for them just like he is there for us. Love this blog-post and your tender heart!


  24. Oh to be like Jesus, even just a little bit…

    I love those words of yours, dear Elaine.

    This world is not our final destination, and as we go through it, may we be light and life givers… passing on a tiny spark of hope and kindness to another person in need of a touch from God.

    My heart responds with a pained hope that there is beauty – not only in the afterlife, but in the here and now. Accepting our humanity, walking and believing in the hope that joy comes in the morning of our eternity.

    This makes all our human suffering worth carrying, and yes, worth embracing.

    Thank you for the words you share… words that have much authority and credibility because you know of what you speak. Yours are not empty words. Your words have weight.

    That is what cancer has done for you. You have become a beacon in the darkness for those who are struggling and are desperate to have someone to follow after.

    Much love to you my friend,

  25. Thank God people know how to grip your hand when only such a wizened hand will do! You model the 2 Corinthians 1 comforter, having known the comforts of which you share.

    I thank God for you, Elaine!

  26. I think your words so touching to the heart. I thought I can offer my hands for prayer and holding her. sometimes it is not the words we need. Just Jesus in human skin. Beautiful as always.

  27. Oh precious friend…in tears…I'm grabbing on…hanging on…walking on…enduring on…sharing on…until I am home.

    Love you,

  28. A beautiful post as always.Not a journey of your choosing but from what you have written it looks like you are learning to embrace the path he has put you on. You are a blessing and I know you will continue to be as you let God work through you. Thank you for being that willing servant
    Praying for you

  29. All my thoughts and sentiments have been expressed in each comment above. Keep sharing, Elaine. For people like me, who can't even comprehend the emotions, the fears, only to observe in quiet contemplation from the sidelines, feeling helpless to assist, keep pouring out your soul. I know that God will give you the words for this dear one, just as He gives you the words to give to us.

  30. As always Elaine, an eloquent statement of faith, and compassion.

    As you know, with our son's disease we're involved with a variety of groups that offer support for those going through cancer and other similar diseases. While our current focus is obviously on the children dealing with these illnesses, we've dealt with cancer on a very personal level many times as well. It's a fragile, and yet powerful group of souls… conflicted, and yet triumphant in so many ways.

    We're Blessed each day by Jonathan's continued remission, but completely understand that "Sword of Damocles" that lies in the quiet. I'll pray for your friend, and for all those who struggle with this battle.

    Thank you for all that you do.

    Have a Blessed Day dear lady!

  31. wifeforthejourney:

    A wrenching, heartbreaking and very real post. It's hard for me to read without breaking down. Human suffering, knowing its "out there," is bad enough just to be aware of it. When it touches your own life there is no way to downplay suffering's consequences.

    Even for those of us who are "caregivers" to the sick, there are places in understanding that we cannot reach. People who have cancer, no matter the outcome of their treatment, no matter how optimistic their prognosis, no matter how many pep talks and support groups – nothing can uproot the ever-present reality of their mortality. Hopefully cancer survivors can avoid being consumed by the anxiety that follows their disease, but (in my opinion) Christians should tread very lightly around any effort to minimize or downplay the emotional fallout in a cancer survivor's life. Cancer is messy. Cancer is ugly. Cancer, and the pain that comes with it, lingers way longer than any of us wants.

    The best remedy for cancer is the company of someone who is ok with the messy, ugly, painful and lingering consequences of cancer. Elaine, we could all do well to follow your example and look for ways to "be there" with and for the hurting – even if it makes us uncomfortable ourselves. It is my continued hope and prayer that Christ will make Himself known, and His presence known as you keep company with the hurting.

    You are the best! Love,

    ~ Billy

  32. I was reading your current post and clicked on this one also. This post is so inspired by Jesus! You listened to the Holy Spirit and I believe you wrote here just what He wanted to say. There are so many different kinds of suffering, and for most of them the remedy is the same: A loving presence in the flesh, much like what we have in Him, though his presence is Spirit. We are called to be Jesus in the flesh…his heart, his hands, his feet. This is truth, friend. I am so grateful I read it tonight.

    Love to you. Praying for complete, forever remission. Your gentle, quiet spirit is so lovely and inspiring. And your prose so beautiful!

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