Pat’s Cancer Experience

What defines you? How important is your appearance?

I’d always been conscious of my appearance and especially my hair. That was all set to change when in 2013 I was diagnosed with stage 3 aggressive breast cancer. Surely cancer is something that happens to other people – not me! Two years previously I had precancer and treatment seemed a precaution only. However, this second time was very real and it had spread to my lymph glands. So chemotherapy was necessary. Everything changed in an instant. Would I die? What was going to happen to me? Would I lose my hair?

Telling my work colleagues was hard. They were more upset than I was. I had to convince them I wasn’t going to die. Yes, everyone knows someone whose has died from cancer but its not helpful to be reminded. Just offering to pray is enough. My hair did fall out as predicted within two weeks of starting treatment. I had already got my wig. Choosing it was fun. I could be a red head or have long flowing tresses or a neat bob – no more bad hair days!

The night before the chemo I was very anxious. Not sure what to expect. I heard God’s voice clearly say “don’t be afraid” and I felt at peace. I realized this was not a polite request or suggestion but a command. ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.’ It says that in the Bible, Joshua ch 1v 9. So why do I need to be afraid?

People told me the whole cancer experience would change me, and I didn’t want that. But inevitably it has. I discovered a strength I never thought I had, and I learned to trust God more and be thankful for the small things, like just being able the go for a walk. So many people sent me cards and texts and prayed for me. I felt very loved and supported by family, friends and my church ‘family’. And I’m not afraid of death because I know where I’m going. Seeing my granddaughters laughing and hearing them giggle is infectious. Life goes on. The joy of the Lord is my strength.

I read Christian books about cancer and one was by Helen Jones. She set up a small organisation called Firm Roots Cancer Support in 2012, after her own cancer treatment. It helped me prepare for what was about to happen to me, and challenged me to set up a Firm Roots group here in Sutton Coldfield.

With three others I set up this local group in 2015 to offer support and encouragement during and after treatment for anyone affected by cancer, whether Christian or not. All the members have a personal experience of having or supporting someone with cancer. We have been there, got the t-shirt and the wig. We know what chemo feels like and the endless waiting for test results. We have something unique to offer in a lived experience. How do you cope with the first chemo? How do you manage a two hour MRI scan when you feel claustrophobic? It enables us to pray and support intelligently. We have all asked at some time “where is God in all this?” I often text people on the day of a treatment or a scan with a word of encouragement or just to let them know we are praying. Some people say just knowing they are being prayed for is a comfort. Each of us could have just got on with our lives and forgotten how the grace of Jesus has got us through this. I don’t believe God wastes any experience we have.

The group meets on the first Wednesday of every month. We are there for anyone. You can send in a prayer request if you can’t come. Over coffee we share our experiences but more important we share a word from the Bible and pray together. We have been blessed by people who have come to the group and found encouragement and support, and then gone back to their everyday life. One person said the group was different because we were interested in her experiences. She felt she could talk openly to people who understood. We pray for everyone who makes contact whether you come or not. We also pray for and welcome carers. It is completely confidential.