Joanna Lee Francis
No one anticipates a diagnosis with terminal cancer at any age, a diagnosis which comes at the peak motherhood presents added challenges. Few can anticipate the emotional, physical and spiritual hardships the entire family will suffer. The costs are not simply medical. There are also mental, emotional and spiritual growths encountered through the “cancer” journey. My circumstance has driven me to realize that I must live well, not just get well. My quality of life improves when I am afforded simple, normal daily comforts and the support of family, friends and the community. In return, I have a desire to give back in the same manner of love, support and encouragement as I continue living a full life in the present.
Courage is a key word in the determination to live well. It has taken courage to open my heart and “feel.” To “feel” is to be actively “living”. The process of feeling is not without risk, because hurting can come along with that. However, that hurt can be transformed into something beautiful, full of grace through the action of loving. I have received love over the years from family, friends and the community. This love has come in many different packages: prayer walks and talks on the trail or in the neighborhood, companionship. Bottomless pits of home cooked southern meals that have helped me pack on 15 pounds, meals that my children gobbled up after long days of rowing for crew or playing endless innings of baseball. Love showed up on my door on days when my children were home sick and I didn’t feel well enough to prepare food, in the package of homemade bread and soup. Now, I prepare homemade bread and share, too! Love came in the package of a housekeeper from a friend, a utility bill paid by another, in gifts left on my front porch and groceries stocked in my pantry. The love came in a package of support at endless appointments, laughing and crying as we have driven to and from, and even in flying to Houston, Texas for a second opinion in year 2009. Throughout my experiences I noticed and engaged with patients and families through doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy treatments and radiation therapy and thought maybe some of these patients don’t have a network of people like I have had. I have seen patients there alone. I have seen families eyes hurt with pain as their loved one received treatment. I have witnessed it while watched my loved ones sitting with me.
Love also came in the package of a new friendship. One who is investing her heart into my life knowing that it may be taken one day because of cancer, willing to love me in the here and now, for any spare moments that benefit me and my family. Love also came in the package a gift of my sister and my teenaged niece willing to transplant their lives to Tallahassee to give me and my boys the time to embrace and restore family bonds. Love from each of these sources recognized that my quality of life, and my children’s, depended upon emotional reconciliation and grace. Love came in surprises, of many types, each time giving me a little more hope to keep moving, or to remind me to go outside and listen to the sounds of nature, to embrace “the moments,” and love the people around me. For that I thank all of my family, friends and friends of friends.
My greatest supporters and source of love has been from my three sons. They have watched their mother endure the challenge of this illness while enduring their own pain and grief. Along the way they have had to sacrifice some of the normal easiness of just being “kids”. Alongside my sons, I have learned to open my heart to their father and their stepmother, their half-brother and their step-siblings. I have learned to face my own fears, bitterness and anger. I am learning to allow God to heal me so I can express appreciation and acceptance towards the father of my sons with grace, forgiving myself and forgiving him for mistakes made in the past.
Would you know that I am living with terminal metastatic breast cancer with 7 bone metastasis right now if you saw me in the grocery store, a movie or a restaurant? The answer is NO. If you ask, how are you? I will reply, “I’m fine.” It is difficult to share openly that my cancer hasn’t been in remission, that for whatever reason, God hasn’t chosen, yet, to heal me. The Living Well purpose is to really define the “I am fine” answer, so that all of our hearts are open and able to read between the lines. Many questions can be answered through the foundation so we can begin to encourage each other to be ourselves with grace, dignity and shower love on others. Terminally ill cancer patients often need additional assistance in communication, working through otherwise typical, easy daily activities. There are so many ways I have been bountifully blessed. I hope this Living Well Foundation will provide a continuing well of replenishment for myself, my family, and others who are encountering a similar path.
“I am beautiful inside and out because of this journey. I go to the Living Well each day so that I may love my Creator, myself, my children, my friends and family with courage. We each have a journey to live, a heart to share love and receive love, and a voice to be heard.”
The River of Life
Traveling the river of life…it’s interesting, isn’t it? For most of my life, the journey on that river has been pretty smooth. That’s not to say that there have not been dry spots and rough waters along the way. We all have them! I have experienced the death of a parent, trying times in work situations, moving family to new ministry opportunities, sending a daughter and her family off to live half way around the world, and adjusting to the empty nest! Yet, with all these changes in my life, nothing affected me as much as being diagnosed with cancer 13 years ago. My whole world became a rushing rapids. I was absolutely traveling down a churning river feeling that I had no map, no paddle, and no direction, completely out of control! You see, I was diagnosed with colon cancer that had metastasized to my liver and the doctor gave me only a 25% survival rate! I was floored. There Eddie and I sat listening to the words but not really comprehending what was being said. It was very surreal! We were completely shocked!
How do you respond to news like that? Well, first things first….I drove home….Eddie was too dazed! We didn’t say much…what was there to say. Your life has just been turned upside down. You begin to realize that life is very short. We would not have ever thought this would happen to us. We had helped other people through news like this, but now we were on the other side. It was us that needed to be consoled, and we had to decide how we were going to respond.
As the days went by, I found myself drawn to God’s word. It was comforting to me…now more than ever. Psalm 62: 1-2 became my life verse and sustained me throughout surgery, tests, chemotherapy and many doctor’s visits over the next year. Hear these words:
“I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him,
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken.”
All the years of Bible reading, devotion times and praying was now helping me recover my footing and enabling me to be able to stand strong again. You see, I had been building a foundation of faith for times just like this. I began to see God working in my life in an amazing way. I had to come to the realization that I might be facing a battle that I would not survive. That was reality. I wanted to see my son graduate from high school and from college and see what he was going to be. I wanted to have grandchildren! I was not ready to give that all up. It didn’t seem fair. Yet through all this time of struggling with questions and not knowing the future, God was working in me to give me peace. I kept thinking about the scripture: I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. Waiting quietly was hard, but it worked…God began to calm me. He began to give me peace I could not understand. I came to the realization that He might not choose to heal me in this world, but take me to live with him. As hard as that was to bear, it brought great peace. My foundation of faith that I had built over the years, was not crumbling, but holding firm. I realized that I had no control over the situation. It was absolutely out of my hands. God was the one in control. How comforting! I was absolutely amazed over the peace that I had. It did not come from me…it was God! I kept relying on scripture and God showed me over and over that He was faithful, his mercy was new every morning.
For 13 years, the C word has hung over my head like a dark cloud. You never quite get over it. No matter how much you believe or trust…there is always that next test or that blood work that you have to have to be sure you are okay. Five years ago, I rode the rough waters of life once again with a diagnosis of breast cancer. My first thought was “I can’t do this again!” All those feelings that you have when you feel your life beginning to get out of your control came rushing back. But then, God’s quiet voice came…I am your rock…I am your fortress…you do not have to be shaken. I am with you wherever you go. I will give you rest…I have you in the palm of my hand!
My faith in God and his faithfulness to me is what got me through. I stand before you today a cancer survivor! But more important, I stand in front of you as a witness to what prayer and faith can do in the life of a person. There is never a day that goes by that I don’t think about this journey. I am so thankful to God for seeing me through it. None of us knows what the future holds, but we can be assured of who holds our future: the one who created us and cares for us and is with us all along the river of life.
I don’t like the rapids but I do know that sometimes to get to the calm water we have to go through them. I know that my life would never have been the same if I had not gone through these bouts of cancer. I am convinced that it has made me a different person. I am more intentional about what I do. I have been blessed beyond measure with a loving family…5 grandchildren and so many opportunities to touch peoples’ lives through ministry. God is good. He is good all the time…regardless of where on the river of life we find ourselves. The words of James are true, “when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. “
I can tell you from my own experience, God is with you wherever you are. You will make it. Keep holding on to him and keep your focus on him, not on the rushing waters around you. Soon you’ll be in calm waters again! He promises!
Do not be afraid; for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression you will not be burned up. The flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, Your God. You are precious to me. You are honored and I love you! Isaiah 43
this is God’s word…believe it!
Testimony for October 23, 2011