The professor asked 10 women to stand up in front of our medical school class of 150 students. I stood in the lineup not knowing what to expect. “One of you will get breast cancer in your lifetime,” he said. One in ten. It was a sobering statement about the prevalence of breast cancer among women. But I shrugged it off: “That will never be me.”
At age 23, I was invincible. But by age 50, I was rolling into the operating room to treat my invasive breast cancer.
This was not in my plan – cancer was not supposed to be part of my story! My life was suddenly overtaken by trying to figure out what I did wrong, what caused this, and who I could blame. I lived for the results of the next lab test. Self-preservation became ultimate because I didn’t grasp that a better Author than me was writing my life story.
In the following years, as God gently revealed Himself to me, I was able to see cancer as only one thread in the tapestry God was weaving in my life and the life of the world. My small story of self-preservation was inadequate to contain all that God wanted to do. I viewed cancer as a damaging, destroying, devastating event that was taking away the life I wanted. But God transformed it into something that actually added to who He had made me to be and how He wanted me to contribute to the world. Cancer became a gift.
Once God introduced me to all the complexity and intrigue and mystery of His Story, He drew me in. But the beauty of that Tapestry also showed me other ways I was still clinging to my small story, centered on myself. God opened my eyes to see where I had been blind to a bigger narrative. When the blindness of the past became evident, it increased my desire to be more attentive to the blindness of the present. I learned – and am still learning – to surrender the places where I am preserving myself rather than clinging to Him.
The big story of my cancer is not about me. It’s only a brief interlude in the glorious Story that God is writing in the life of the world. So in a way, my 23-year-old sense of invincibility remains. Cancer can’t ultimately destroy me, and it doesn’t define me. Because even if I don’t yet know the end of my story, I know the end of God’s.
When have you experienced glimpses of a story bigger than yourself? In what difficult life circumstance could God be transforming pain into an experience that enriches you and enlivens your relationship with Him?