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The Sheep Who Survived the Wolf: A Cancer Survival Story




  As a shepherd looks for his sheep on the day he is among his scattered flock, so I will look for my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and total darkness.

Ezekiel 34:11-12

 

            Can sheep get cancer? I’ve heard of dogs being diagnosed, but sheep? Do shepherds really care about them that much or are they like cattle who are just found lying in the pasture or sagebrush, bleached from the sun or half eaten by vultures or coyotes, dead? Sheep are good for mutton chops or possibly a good wool blanket and I suppose sheep could be kept as pets. Every once in a while, you see a story about a cow being raised from a calf to dwell in a family’s home and sleep with the family dog, no matter that he is the size of a Mini-Cooper, but I haven’t seen a story about a sheep living cuddled up to the youngest child while he naps in the cold afternoon. But that doesn’t mean sheep aren’t important. They are essential to their shepherd for more reasons than we probably know, and I am sure they are watched over with well-meaning hearts and cared for until it’s time for their final outcome. I would like to believe, for some, their shepherds worry about them if they are ill or dying and take their assignment of shepherding very seriously especially when the wolf is stalking.

I would like to tell you my sheep story. Susan, who found a Shepherd who cared how I was feeling. It is a story of how He watched over me when I was lost, cold, full of cancer, and wandering alone. It tells of a time when I was looking for this Shephard. Waiting for Him to lead me to comfort. To bring me to peace. To hold me tight, heal my pain and set me free.

            This sheep met a wolf while running on a treadmill. I reached up to touch some annoyance under my left collar bone and was met with a lump the size of a quarter. At that very moment the Shephard showed up, as well, with His staff in hand to fight back the wolf who was threatening to take my life. As the next few weeks progressed, the wolf circled and the Shepherd stayed ever diligent in His watch. The weeks were filled with doctor’s appointments, biopsies, and phone calls. Then came tears, conversations, hugs, and treatment plans. All the while the Shephard stood next to me, waiting for the chance to come in with His crook to lead me to His conversation, to His embraces, His schedule of events. He stood strong, holding me up and allowing me to cry my tears into His robe.

            Being diagnosed with triple hormone negative cancer can be frightening. Going through the process of getting rid of it can be even more horrifying. I found it was not possible to make my way through weeks and weeks of chemotherapy while still working as an educator, having a family and continuing with a “regular” life while trying to do it alone. So, instead, I turned to El Raah, my Shepherd. He hadn’t always been my go-to, though. I had known Jesus for years, but I never asked, or possibly even allowed, Him to really shepherd me. He was my savior, I proclaimed Him, but I did not shout Him to the world. Cancer changed it all. Now, as I sat for hours in a cancer center receiving treatment, I spoke to Him and He was there. I could tell because I had a peace I had never felt before. It felt like softness in a warm blanket. It felt like sweetness on my tongue even though the drugs made my mouth taste strange. I cried physical tears and screamed in my head and He answered by giving me every reason to believe I would come through this better than before. And, without a doubt I believed, even beyond seeing any evidence. Each time I left the treatment center and began days of laying on the couch so my body could recuperate, He stood by me.  I could almost open my eyes and see Him in the room, He was so present. I could feel His hand on my bones as they ached from the shot meant to boost my white blood cells to regenerate. In this gentle touch He soothed my pain. Each day, I felt the pain begin to subside. This was the feel of the Shepherd’s hand as He strengthened me (Ezekiel 34:16).

The Shepherd didn’t just come to me during this time, He also showed up for my sweet, yet frightened husband, giving him courage to walk with me. The Shepherd promises to feed His sheep in good pasture (Ezekial 34:14), so He gave my husband bravery to bring me Dairy Queen Blizzards and make hot grits. He encouraged this sweet man to smile and remain positive as he shaved my head right down the middle. The Shepherd filled us with glee as we laughed with delight at how silly I looked without hair. He helped by providing knowledgeable doctors who researched the best and most current forms of chemotherapy. He facilitated the work I did on a daily basis at school so students and teachers were able to maintain normalcy in my absence. The Shepherd provided support to my son who was just leaving for college, by sending positive people to support him and a courage to continue his life without my hovering.

When Jesus came to us in human form, He promised us we could access Him directly, so I had to learn to listen to Him, which I didn’t always do. El Raah promised me He would be with me. He promised me a confidence in my circumstance and told me, I didn’t have to fear the future. I quickly learned that with God as my Shepherd He would always be with me to bring me hope. When the Shepherd called this queasy, pale, nauseous sheep, full of cancer, into His presence He let me know I mean everything to Him. He let me know that He loves me, Susan! He let me know that life is hard when I try to do things on my own without relying on His grace. He led me through this year long stretch of disease and brought me out strong, reliant on Him and ready to share His grace and mercy.

When the wolf prowled around my yard for the second time and sank his teeth into me again the Shepherd’s promise became even more discernible. Now, with my second cancer diagnosis, a short two years later, I was able to turn directly to the Shepherd and trust, completely. This time, I immediately knew the Shepherd was in it with me to enable me to do what I could not do alone. I recalled God promises to be present with me and He quickly brought to mind Genesis 28:1 where He revealed, “Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.”  

I sobbed, though, oh how I sobbed. How could this possibly be happening again? I called out to God and asked Him to take this away from me and He simply reminded me of a quote I once read by Brother Lawrence, “Think often on God by day, by night… He is always near you and with you; Leave Him not alone.” The Shepherd was always bringing to mind all the evidence of His presence in all my situations. I recalled Ezekiel 34:12 when the Lord God says, “…so I will seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.” (KJV)

            As the Shepherd led me through this second diagnosis, chemotherapy, major surgery and reconstruction, I knew He wasn’t just going to take care of the big stuff. He handed over the wolf to me by bringing me comfort through every treatment. He ensured me that even though I am as counted as a sheep to be slaughtered, in all these things I am more than a conqueror because He loved me. The sickness still came, the recovery was still slow, and the physical scars will never go away. But I came nearer to God than I had ever been before and He met me there as He promised. I knew I had to pursue the good Sheperd’s peace and refuse to live without it. I could not sit around passively and wait or allow my heart to be fearful. Cancer causes fear, immediately. But through a life with Christ, knowing that He can and will provide a way through it, I was able to overcome for a second time. The leading of my Shepherd into a pasture of peace, safety, and calm, took me to a place of healing in my body and soul.

            Now, because the Shepherd looked for me and brought back this sheep who was driven away, I have been able to shepherd others who have been trapped by the wolf known as cancer. I can tell story after story of acquaintances, close friends, family members, who have been diagnosed and how my story of the Shepherd has helped them endure. Life is so, so hard, but straying into unknown fields alone will not make it easier. Following the Shepherd into green pastures, listening to His voice as He tells you the way to go, and taking from Him all that He offers for salvation is the only way we can overcome the hardships of this world, including cancer. There is not a place in this world sweeter and more delightful than in the pasture with the Shepherd.

 

 

 

 

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