A woman suffering from cancer shares what Psalm 23 means to her.
We all go through the dark valleys. I hope my story can help prepare you for that day when you or someone you love goes through the valley of the shadow of death.
My entrance into the valley
A concerning event occurs within your body. You worry and are in pain. You seek medical attention, and one thing leads to another. Eventually a doctor comes in the room and tells you that all tests are pointing to stage 4 cancer.
Disbelief comes over you. How could this be? Then you think, This really can’t be that bad. I’m a healthy person. I will be okay. Not me! You are concerned though and pray with your husband.
The biopsy results come back. The mass in your body is indeed cancer. It is in another organ, stage 4, and terminal.
Thoughts come over you:
- God must not think I’m a good mom.
- I didn’t appreciate my life enough.
- I didn’t appreciate my husband and kids enough, so God is going to take them away from me.
Even though you know heaven is waiting and is a much better place, these thoughts still haunt you for a long while.
The conversation then turns to treatment options. You are told there have been many advances in cancer therapy and many people are now living full lives. Little do you know what is actually coming.
While waiting for treatment, friends and family start responding to your situation, but few truly understand the road ahead. The conversations are disheartening. You feel alone.
Then it’s time to tell the kids. It’s a very difficult conversation. They are in disbelief and cry. You pray together, remind them that during hard times Jesus holds you even closer, and assure them that your family will grow closer too. Your heart breaks for them.
Your husband tries to be there for you, but you feel a sense of disconnect even in your conversations with him. He is not ready for this, to suddenly be a caregiver. The constant needs, the unglamorous, gross side effects of this disease and treatments. The instant end of intimacy. Our future together, over. We ask, “Why is God torturing us like this!” More sadness and loneliness set in.
Soon you are ready to start treatment. You have two rounds with much hope in sight, only to find out your body does not tolerate it. Instead, it causes life-threatening side effects. You know this is not good. This was your hope for an easier journey through this.
Instead you have to start regular chemo. “My hair! It will be gone.” Your hair has always been a source of joy. You feel a sense that part of your identity will be gone. “Why is God taking this away from me?”
Another new treatment starts. You begin to lose your hair. You pray hard each day and put full trust in your Savior, but the treatment stops working after four rounds. The tumors are getting bigger and spreading.
A different treatment begins and four rounds later, again bad news: it’s not working. You have little energy.
You have lost a lot of weight. None of your clothes fit anymore. Another source of sadness for you. Fashion is your passion. Now God is taking this away from you too.
You feel it’s time to start letting close family know your wishes after you’re gone. You ask your sister, “Please watch over the kids and be their second mom, especially for special occasions. And please check in with my husband regularly. Offer him support and encouragement.” There are more thoughts that will come in the future, but this is enough for now. It weighs very heavy on you.
You have to quit the job that you love because you no longer have the energy and enough days where you feel halfway decent to do your work. You’ve given the best years of your life to the Lord, diligently working in your own small way to share the gospel. God is taking this away from you too. Your heart breaks.
Two more treatment options are possible, but all these stop working after a few rounds. You are told that you have the option to stop all treatment at this point and live out your life as long as you can. But you don’t give up. You start a new round of therapy. There is no way you are giving up.
This is my walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
My comfort on my walk
I cling to words of encouragement from Psalm 23:4: “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (KJV).
Through this journey, so many prayers have gone out for us from family and friends. Kind gestures of bringing meals and gifts and cards. I feel like these prayers and kind gestures help me stay positive each day and keep me focused on the main thing—my heavenly home and the love God has for me.
My faith has always given meaning to my life; it is my all in all. It’s everything to me.
However, going through this takes things to a whole new level. I know my true source of all hope and healing comes from God. He is in charge. Period. Nothing else matters. He has stripped a lot of my previous joys away—even coffee—but God is the only thing I truly need.
My upbringing in a Christian home and Lutheran grade school and high school were definitely part of building up my faith before diagnosis and especially now. I start to think about what familiar passages really mean and search the Bible for answers.
- Does God really love me? Yes, he does.
- Am I really forgiven for the sins that I do, even the ones where I know better? Yes, I am.
- Am I really going to heaven? Yes, I am. (This one haunted me for a while.)
My faith has become everything to me as well as making sure my kids know how important their faith is and how to take care of it.
I soak up any spiritual comfort that comes my way. Church online, private communion, sermons online, Time of Grace videos, Christian songs that make me cry, prayer books, and words of encouragement from the Bible from family and friends are huge. Christian cards have a whole new meaning. I soak up every word and save them to read later.
I realize God is truly with me. There is no way I could get through this without knowing that.
I’ve been blessed to work with Christian friends. They have been a great comfort to me too—helping me to fear no evil. Brothers and sisters, forming relationships at church is important. Seek out people with mature faith who can remind you of the Savior.
I realize God is truly with me. There is no way I could get through this without knowing that. I rejoice as I see how many people respond positively to our “faith talk,” which now just comes out naturally.
Knowing all this really does allow me to lie in bed with a true sense of peace. Everything is going to be okay.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Christine Trettin died May 14, 2021, after a 15-month battle with cancer. She was 46. Christine wrote this article in April 2021 when her pastor asked her to offer her thoughts on Psalm 23:4 for his upcoming sermon. After hearing her story, musician Mike Westendorf wrote this song, While There’s Breath In My Lungs.
Author: Christine Trettin
Volume 108, Number 8
Issue: August 2021