Strong in the Broken: When Cancer and Life Collide
I’m a couple days late with this post. I blame it all on doing multi-state college tours with twin 17-year olds. It was awesome.
Today’s Strong in the Broken post is by Nicole Baldonado, a story of cancer and weakness and learning to rest.
“God, we can’t do it anymore.”
That was me, whispering in the shower, hoping the steaming water would burn away the headache that comes with crying all day.
My husband, Josh, had just told me he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Shock. God, how can this be happening? He’s thirty years old. We have a three-year old and a baby boy. Fears paraded endlessly through my mind.
People told us, “This is the cancer to get.” It’s one of the easiest to treat. They caught it early on, and the doctors are hopeful that Josh will be fine after treatment.
It still scared me to death. In the past few years, we’ve learned by experience that things don’t always “turn out ok” in the end. Or rather, “ok in the end” doesn’t always mean that someone is healed. Bad things do happen. And they happen to all of us.
This post is an act of transparency. I’m not complaining or venting, and I can think of so many people who have it way harder than me. I’m telling you I understand life can be awful, painful, maddening. I’m honestly admitting that I get angry, become fearful, wallow in grief…but my God is gracious. And I’ll tell you how I know it…
We moved to Ukraine two and a half years ago. Within two months, we lost a baby to miscarriage. In addition to the grieving that comes with losing a baby, taking care of the medical needs was confusing, embarrassing, and fairly matter of fact. It made healing all the more difficult.
That same week, a dear friend in the States passed away unexpectedly. It was heartbreaking not to be with loved ones to grieve alongside them.
For the next six months, I was treated for chronic health problems and told that we should not try to get pregnant yet. Nothing seemed to work. The due date of our baby came and went, and we were still waiting. Any mom who has lost a baby knows that Baby’s due date is a sort of monument in your mind. That day was sad and full of questions without answers.
Eventually, we were overjoyed to get pregnant again!
At five weeks, I started bleeding. I will never forget laying on my living room floor, tears streaming and everything in me crying out, “Why, God?!” My doctor said it was a hemorrhage and gently informed us that the chance of Baby surviving was extremely small.
I was on complete bed rest for a week in the hospital and then for another month at home. No one knew if Baby was alive or not. We tried to make sense of conflicting recommendations from Ukrainian and American doctors. At the end of that month, the doctors told us it was a miracle Baby had made it, that only God had kept him alive. Medically, he should have died.
The pregnancy was stressful and painful, due to complications, but about eight months later, our precious Titus came along. I can’t express the joy and thankfulness we feel, looking at our little miracle.
When Titus was a week old, I woke up in the middle of the night with a high fever and violent chills. I was diagnosed with mastitis, a severe breast infection and told that I may have to quit nursing and have surgery. For the next month and a half, I battled mastitis three times, was misdiagnosed with thrush (another nursing-related infection), and had severe dermatitis.
Once the health problems were resolved, we were relieved to “get on with life as normal.” But as the weeks passed, “normal” didn’t seem quite right. I struggled with exhaustion and insomnia, woke up feeling like I was in a deep, dark hole, cried at stupid things throughout the day, battled with impatience and irritability. It wasn’t a bad day or even a bad week. I looked at my life – wonderful husband, healthy children, all our needs provided for – there was nothing to say I should be feeling the way I did. When Titus was ten months old, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression.
Around that time, we found out that my husband’s remote job, which had been our primary income, was being moved back to the States.
And then Josh went in for a routine physical. And they found cancer.
Thirty years old. A three-year old and almost one-year old. Married for six years. Cancer.
“God, we can’t do it anymore.”
Throughout all this craziness, my responses have not always been…well…ideal. I’ve gotten angry and questioned why God would allow things to happen. I’ve whined and complained and had little pity parties. I’ve given in to crippling fear and wanted to do nothing but lay in bed and hide from the world. I’ve wanted to quit…whatever that means.
On the other hand, I’ve also tried to do all the right things. Read my Bible, pray, go to church, have faith in God. Exercise, try to rest, eat well.
I grew up hearing about God’s grace, how we can’t do anything to deserve His love. But, still, throughout all these challenges, I’ve often thought, “God, You must be trying to teach me something. I’ll get it. I’ll read my Bible more. I’ll pray. I’ll have a good attitude…Then things will be ok.”
And then Josh said to me, “It’s cancer.”
And after a long day of impossible fears, I laid my head against the shower wall and whispered, “God, there’s not an ounce of strength left in me to believe. I can no longer “be strong and of good courage.” I’m tapped.
The next morning, I sat down with my Bible and devotional and actually thought: “Let the bartering begin.” “God, if I read my Bible enough, will you heal Josh? If I have enough faith, will everything be ok?”
And I began to read:
How great is the temptation at this point! How the soul sinks, the heart grows sick, and the faith staggers under the keen trials and testings which come into our lives in times of special bereavement and suffering.
“I cannot bear up any longer, I am fainting under this providence. What shall I do? God tells me not to faint. But what can one do when he is fainting?”
What do you do when you are about to faint physically? You cannot do anything. You cease from your own doings. In your faintness, you fall upon the shoulder of some strong loved one. You lean hard. You rest. You lie still and trust.
It is so when we are tempted to faint under affliction. God’s message to us is not, “Be strong and of good courage,” for He knows our strength and courage have fled away. But it is that sweet word, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Selection, Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings– May 10
Nothing had changed. Every circumstance was the same. Josh still had cancer. We still had no idea what would happen. But, it was like a tangible sense of sweet relief passed over me – in all my fear, all my exhaustion, all my anger, I didn’t have to be strong. God says, “Just rest.”
I’m not going to lie and say from that moment I stopped being fearful or sad or even angry at times. I’ve had my rants and freak-outs and burst into tears in the most public, embarrassing places.
But that’s the point. It’s not about us being strong or being a “good Christian” (whatever that is!). It’s not even that we don’t have to do those things…we literally can’t. There’s a blessing in that, because we know the One who can be strong – who is strength personified. The One who gave His very life so that we – in these moments of desperation – could hear Him say, “Be still. Know that I am God. Just rest.”
Nicole Baldonado is a social worker in L’viv, Ukraine with her husband and two kids. They’re part of a church plant and serve in pastoral support, community building, and discipleship. Nicole also has experience in human trafficking response work. She loves travel and is always on the hunt for a new cultural experience. Having grown up abroad, she’s now fulfilling a lifelong dream of raising her own kids inter-culturally. Nicole writes weekly about life at jnbmission.com and can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/jnbaldonado.