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Finding Grace in Unexpected Places ... Through Breast Cancer

  • Sue Schumann Warner Contributing Writer
  • Published Oct 21, 2004
Finding Grace in Unexpected Places ... Through Breast Cancer

Editor's Note: October marks the 20th annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month—a campaign that has boosted mammograms, pushed for better treatments, and saved lives. This year, a contributing writer shares her story of God's grace during breast cancer.

Life can turn on a dime, as the saying goes-and I have found that to be true. I have also found that God's grace can appear in unexpected places-even while that dime is still spinning.


A routine mammogram in the fall of 2002 revealed a suspicious lump in my breast ...which led to a biopsy and diagnosis of breast cancer. Suddenly, I was a statistic-one of over 200,000 women that year who would discover they had invasive breast cancer.


"Welcome to the club," my husband said softly, when I told him the result of the biopsy. A cancer survivor himself, his empathy and love were a source of strength in the days and months ahead-and a steady conduit of God's grace.


I was scheduled to undergo surgery in two weeks; my treatment would include a lumpectomy followed by six weeks of daily radiation. The prognosis, my surgeon said, was good. I took heart at her words: She was a young woman, a wife and mother, who had only a few years before waged her own battle against breast cancer.


She understood my fears and carefully answered my questions. Even as I began my journey, as I sat on the examining table and listened as she described how she would remove the malignant tumor, I felt God's grace and thanked him for a caring and understanding surgeon, and for the peace that surrounded me.


In the meantime, I continued on at work, doing my best to concentrate on the tasks at hand. But cancer had become my constant companion. I remember my first day there after learning of my situation. Suddenly, I thought of myself as "The Woman Who Has Cancer" as I walked down the hall to my office, passing people who had no idea of my recent diagnosis of breast cancer. To them, I was just Sue-editor, photojournalist, mom, wife, whatever-but all I could think of was my new descriptor: cancer victim. How suddenly my life had changed.


My days, and the hours that filled them, became incredibly precious. I no longer took my life for granted: suddenly, my days were measured. I looked at my family and friends with a new appreciation; I cherished the contact, the connection. Most of all, I realized that it was God who held my life in his hands. Of course, he always did-it just took breast cancer to make it tangible.


I underwent surgery December 5. The surgery was a success: the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. After I had healed, I would start my radiation regimen-33 days of daily treatments, with weekends off. After that, I'd take Tamoxifin for five years and join the more than 2 million women living in the U.S. who have been treated for breast cancer. Quite an impressive sisterhood.


The people on the bus


Daily radiation involved a one-hour bus ride with 10-14 other radiation patients to the hospital where we received our treatments. Some of us were breast cancer patients-others suffered from a variety of cancers: prostate, liver, lung. My world became much larger as I heard what others were experiencing in their fight against cancer. I discovered that each of us carried the pain of that battle in our own way. Some were quiet, some talked. I knitted a blanket for my grandchild, due in June-the anniversary of my mother's death, just four months before my own diagnosis.


My first day on the bus was Roscoe's last day. As we each got on and went to our seats, he gave us a small polka dotted gift bag, filled with candies and snack packs. The mood was jubilant. 'Way to go, Roscoe! Congratulations!" people called out. What a mood of relief and joy. I wondered at my circumstances and pondered the thought of six weeks on the bus with this diverse group of people.


And yet, I was struck by the spirit of community and corporate support. I was joined to them by a common disease-cancer-and marveled at the way in which we were a microcosm, a unit. When one rejoiced, all rejoiced. Once again, I felt God's grace.


After we arrived at the hospital that morning, I looked at those sitting around me in the waiting room at the radiation unit. We were a broad spectrum of society-young, old, a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. One thing I was sure of: we would each give anything to be someplace-any place-other than that waiting room, sitting on blue upholstered chairs, listening to the hum of the air conditioner and straining to hear our names called for treatment.


A future and a hope


Six weeks later, my treatment was complete. My life was my own again. And yet, more than anything, it was really not my own. I had been on a journey that took six months of my life. It changed the way I looked, and it changed the way I looked at life. My body does not look the same as before my surgery-yet, I have learned that I am not defined by my body. I am aware that life is fragile. One day-one moment - can bring news that will forever change my life.


And yet, God is in control. And in that sense, nothing can change my life. Most of all, I experienced the grace that God gives each of us for life's journey, a grace revealed in unexpected places and at unplanned times.



Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundaton: www.komen.org

The National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov

American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org