Stories of Hope: Debi Loofburrow2
January 14, 2013
Stories of Hope: Debi Loofburrow
Occasionally on our blog and in Hope Weekly we feature stories of hope from individuals in our congregation. These are people’s “God stories,” testimonies of their walks with God. This week Debi Loofburrow gives us an honest window into her struggles with God and cancer. It’s a raw, honest, hope-filled story that I believe will inspire us all. If you have a story you’d like to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Are YOU listening?
No one ever thinks they will get cancer. I didn’t think I would. And I certainly didn’t think I’d be a two-time cancer survivor especially not after being ten years cancer free. And yet, here I am. After my 2nd diagnosis, a friend said to me, “Cool -- you have a history of beating cancer.” I like that. But I was not nearly as good a sport getting the news the 2nd time around as I had been the 1st time.
In September 2001 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having had a complete hysterectomy to ward off such a diagnosis since my sister had passed away of ovarian cancer, I was surprised to be getting this news. It’s no small coincidence that I was a “newly saved Christian.” I was baptized the evening of August 12, 2001 in our small Woodinville Washington church. It was remarkably hot for Washington but I was absolutely compelled to be baptized THAT day and I paid no mind to the sweat pouring from the pastor’s brow. He guided me up from the baptismal water and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” A tremendous sense of relief engulfed me! I had had SINS. Big sins! Ten Commandment breaking sins. And now they were forgiven! All of them – wiped away with the blood of Jesus. The enormity of that overwhelms me still. I recall the sensation of floating a foot off the ground the rest of that day. And I just couldn’t stop smiling. The relief of it all. The intense and wondrous freedom!
September 9th 2001 I flew to Massachusetts to visit family. It was the 1 year anniversary of my sister’s death and I wanted to be with my mom. She was elated that I had been baptized and she told everyone as we entered the church her father had helped build. As usual, the sermon was excellent but this particular Sunday there was a skit that took place on an airplane. One passenger was mocking a young man for reading his bible. It progressed until finally the young man said, “If this plane crashes, I know I’m saved. How about you?” Two days later I sat in my brother’s living room and watched the tragedy of 9/11 unfold and I recalled that skit. I realized just how present God was in my decision to be saved that hot August evening.
Leaving the doctor’s office, I looked heavenward and whispered, “Ok God, you obviously want me to have cancer. Please let me meet people I never would have met if I hadn’t gotten this disease.” Isaiah 6:8: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
I met amazing warriors - remarkable women and families who had already fought the fight and most had won! And I met those for whom cancer had taken a loved one. Being in the moment, I felt more able to empathize and be whatever they needed me to be. I also knew that I was not alone. God was there beside me EVERY step of the way. As a new Christian, I was a good listener when God spoke. He saw those warriors, He knew what was needed and He put me in their path. Jim was there too and he provided love, compassion, and humor to help me heal both body and spirit.
Flash ahead – 10 years. “You have breast cancer again. I’m so sorry.” I sat in the doctor’s office, stunned at this news. WAIT! I had just celebrated being cancer free. 10 years and 4 days to be exact! This time I was not a good sport at all. What the heck? Hadn’t I done everything God intended me to do the 1st time? I certainly thought so. I went through the motions of daily living as though nothing had changed but inwardly I was seething. Frankly, I didn’t want to talk to God. I didn’t want to hear anything He had to say to me about this.
So I clung tightly to my resentment. All through Christmas and the New Year I held onto my rage like a security blanket, not wanting to tell anyone how angry I really was. After all, everyone thinks I’m a good sport; a person who always sees the glass half full, someone who is even inspirational at times. I wanted family and friends to think of me as strong; one of those warriors. Why was I so angry with God? What was different this time? I questioned everything about my diagnosis. I second-guessed my food choices and made drastic changes in what I ate and drank. I wanted to know why, how could I have gotten cancer again? Then I realized that I had never asked Him why I was so fortunate in my pre and post cancer life. I suspect I just took that for granted. So how could I ask Him ‘why’ now?
My job took me to Las Vegas in mid-January. While I was there, my oncologist left a message to call him. Each time I was able to call, there was no one to answer. It was a frustrating day of ‘phone tag’. When we finally connected, he told me that although surgery had removed all the cancer, one of my tests came back positive for a cancer-creating enzyme. Regrettably, this meant that I was going to need chemo again. For a year. But wait – he had told me I wouldn’t need chemo this time! My disappointment and anger just escalated. Still I didn’t want to talk to God.
One afternoon in early April, I walked to the bank. I had been in chemo for 4 months by then. I was having yet another conversation with myself about this cancer thing (and I was answering myself too – doesn’t everyone?). Unexpectedly mid-step, I felt His presence. It was as if God was right there in front of me, holding my shoulders. I just stood there while God’s amazing, healing, loving, wondrous hands rested gently but firmly on my shoulders. Then I heard it as clearly as could be. He was talking to me. “THIS is the journey you are supposed to be on. This is where I need you to be. You are on this path for a reason.” And then in a fleeting moment, the feeling was gone. I was shaken. Never had I experienced such intensely mixed emotions. The sensation of immense and overwhelming love all around me still lingered yet I found myself struggling with the feeling as if unable to relinquish control of my life. I recalled Jeremiah 29:11:
Jeremiah 29:11 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
As I slowly walked the rest of the way home, I got it. I got some of it anyway. During my 1st cancer experience, I was a new, excited Christian who devoured God’s word and heard Him at every turn. I was listening for Him. This time, I had forgotten. I had forgotten that I don’t control my life and that even a milestone such as being 10 years cancer-free is a blink of an eye in this world. But mostly, I had forgotten to listen for Him. I was so busy talking to and answering myself without waiting for His answer, that I hadn’t heard Him at all.
My year of chemo just finished up. I’m blessed that God’s grace shook me out of myself that spring day in April. And I’m grateful that I paused to stop, listen and really hear Him. My “God-radar” is getting better. It’s a process but nowadays when I start to feel my anger resurface over being a two-time cancer survivor, I remember that sensation of His Presence and Love enveloping me and I remind myself to focus more on the “Survivor” than on the “Cancer”.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill