[Note: I sent a version of this message out in March of last year. It highlights some thoughts by my youngest daughter.]
In the spring of 2013, our family was in the middle of a terrible trial. Our youngest child – our 12 year old daughter, Kaylee – was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. During that difficult season, I wrote several messages about our experience. Some were a little raw and painful. In one message I was struggling with the passage in James:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
How could we possibly consider the trial of cancer as a joy? In the message I concluded with:
“The day may come when our family will look back on all this and be thankful, even joyful, for this segment of our journey. As many of you have done, we may consider this the most significant part of our spiritual and emotional growth. But we are not there yet. My heart aches for our daughter, for my wife, for my other children, for the many families we have met thus far, and for many of you who are going through your own hardships at this very moment. Right now there is no joy in this particular event. However, I am thankful for the endurance of my daughter, how she continues to mature, and how our family is working together during this hardship.”
Well, the journey continues. Kaylee is now 18 and in her second year of college. Last year she wrote some of her thoughts about her experience with cancer. I believe she is actually considering her trial as a joy. I honestly can’t read this with dry eyes but I pray you will see how God has used a terrible trial for something beautiful.
The following is by Kaylee Troxel
Cancer. For most of my life, that word didn’t mean much. My name and cancer were never used in the same sentence. Then, one day, it came to consume me. Cancer devoured my life. It chewed me up and spit me back out. It brought me lower than I had ever been and ever hope to be again. This disease wrecked me. How is it that four years later, I can say with the utmost sincerity that I am thankful for it?
My parents always like to remind me that I had a very pleasant childhood. They are right. My pre-teenage years were spent living on a miniature farm in east Texas with my parents, older sister, and a variety of interesting animals to amuse me. I had the type of childhood you read about in books. On January 24th, 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian cancer. This is the day my childhood ended, and a different part of my life began.
It started out with chocolate cake and teddy bears. “The perks,” we called it. My sister and I made jokes about all the attention I was getting. Cancer didn’t seem so bad after all. Then, the day before my surgery, my tumor ruptured. I spent that night throwing up in the hotel toilet.
What followed in those next several months is not something I enjoy remembering. I was in and out of the hospital many times for rounds of chemotherapy. Those visits were agony. For five days I remained trapped, poison pumping persistently in my veins. I wasn’t allowed outside the hospital unless I had special permission. I desperately yearned for the sun with a desire I didn’t even know existed. On the morning of my thirteenth birthday, my hair was falling out in clumps, and I finally had to shave my head. I spent the remainder of that day lying in a hospital bed, staring at the shiny neon letters spelling “Happy Birthday,” which were draped halfheartedly across the room.
And then it all stopped. The cancer was gone, and I was free. No more visits to the hospital, no more pain medication, no more uncomfortable stares. I was free to move on. I was free to forget. I could stuff it all down deep inside and never think about it again.
We soon moved to Tennessee, and I started a new life there. I had already healed physically, but I was beginning to heal emotionally. I convinced my classmates that my short hair was a fashion statement. I hid my scars and ignored the questions that were asked about them. I buried everything inside and secured it with a key. I had things under control. What I didn’t account for was my parents.
I realized too late that my parents didn’t hold the same conservative opinion I did about sharing our painful story. Imagine my horror when one Sunday morning, my Dad stood up before our entire church congregation and spoke about how thankful he was God had helped his family through this traumatic experience. How humiliating!, my thirteen-year-old self thought. As hard as I tried to make this part of my life disappear, it wouldn’t budge.
Over time, I was beginning to see the positive effects this sickness had had on my life. I was maturing and had a better understanding of the experiences around me. The darkness I had been through during cancer brought me to God when nothing else could give me strength. I wanted to do more with my life now. Sometimes, I would share my story with others, but only on very rare occasions with shaking hands and a rushing heart.
Three years later, we met with representatives from the Make-A-Wish program. For a short time, I had considered using my Wish to go on a cruise. That idea was quickly disposed of once I was asked why I wanted that as my Wish. I realized that an amazing opportunity was being placed in front of me. I had the chance to do something good, which could have a lasting impact not only on my life but others’ lives too. This is how the Wish to visit the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre, Malawi was born. We planned to visit the pediatric oncology ward of the hospital and hopefully interview some doctors and nurses in order to learn more about cancer in a third world country. The goal was to collect information and raise awareness about their needs.
We accomplished everything we hoped to and more. I met little girls who had the same cancer I did and was able to bring them encouragement and hope. My family and I were able to connect on a personal level with people who lived on a different continent, were from a different culture, and spoke a different language. There are so many reasons why this trip was amazing, but one thing the head oncology doctor said to me on the last day sticks in my mind: “Your pain and sad experience has been used to help other people.” This blows my mind, but I can see it so clearly. This trip would never have happened if I hadn’t had cancer. God used the pain I went through and has given me the opportunity to bring good to other people. This terrible thing that happened to me can now be used to help others.
Why should I be ashamed of a beautiful thing? Over the summer, I worked at a Christian summer camp, and one night, I shared my story with a group of about 100 people. It was the first time I had ever told that many people what I had been through. Many people came up to me afterwards, and they all said the same thing: “Your story is powerful.”
Yes, my story is powerful. Cancer is the spark that ignited a fire in my life. It drives me to live my days fully. It helps me to appreciate my breath and my ability to run and learn and feel the sun on my skin. Cancer drives me to study medicine so that some day I can help people like me. Cancer allows me to connect with people and give them hope in their darkness.
After four years, I can finally say that I am not ashamed of cancer. It changed my life in a powerful way, and despite its pain and darkness and wickedness, I am thankful. Cancer isn’t a weight that holds me down; it’s my super power.
Have a Christ Centered Day!
God’s Daily Word Ministries
**** Reading Plan ****
Nov 14 Ezekiel 29:1-30:26; Hebrews 11:32-12:13; Psalm 112:1-10; Proverbs 27:17