Jump directly to the content
Culture Making Amid Cancer: The Choices That Suffering Makes Possible

Culture Making Amid Cancer: The Choices That Suffering Makes Possible

Without getting breast cancer at age 27, would I have reached out to that Somali family on the subway?

I was 27 and had just earned a master's degree in medicine from Yale, and was halfway through earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia, on my way to becoming a famous health-care reporter in Manhattan.

And then I went to my doctor because something didn't seem right, and a week later I got the confirmation: I had breast cancer. My pastor showed up that day, while I was sitting in my surgeon's office, waiting to schedule my bilateral mastectomy.

He sat with me in a silence that he occasionally punctuated with a sentence or two. "We all think the world of you, you know," he said.

I nodded.

A few minutes later he added, "Cancer's a gift that God only gives to special people."

I thought, I'm not so sure.

In spite of the mastectomy, my cancer came back and I had four more surgeries and year of chemo and radiation. During that year, my boyfriend broke up with me, I spent most of my savings on medical bills, and I had to drop out of Columbia because I was too weak to go to class. After losing everything but my life, I sold my belongings and bought a one-way ticket from New York to Portland, Oregon, where I landed with nothing but a suitcase of clothes and a broken heart. And I started over.

I thought about my story as I watched This Is Our City project's new documentary film about Kim Newlen, a woman who started a post-mastectomy fashion line for women with breast cancer. When Newlen was going through the battle herself—which, as she said, felt more like a war most days—she realized how difficult it was to wear normal clothes after the deforming surgery. And in the middle of chemo and radiation, "Ms. Matchy-Match" decided to take the risk of starting her Look Better Than You Feel business.

When I heard about Newlen's adventure, I remembered how God had used my cancer as well to do something beautiful on behalf of others—how I met a Somali refugee family on the train in Portland, and I started writing vignettes about helping them get settled in America. And then the vignettes turned into a blog, and this year the blog turned into a book deal with one of the largest publishers in the world. (The proceeds will go to start a college fund for the Somali children.)


Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

When I learned that kids in my city couldn't swim, I started to rethink how much I'd invested in overseas missions.
Furniture Fit for the Kingdom

Furniture Fit for the Kingdom

For Harrison Higgins, building beautiful furniture is not simply a steady job but a sacrament unto God.
Faith in a Fallen Empire

Faith in a Fallen Empire

Detroit's list of maladies is long. But some Christians' commitment to its renewal is longer.
'Daddy, Why Do People Steal from Us?'

'Daddy, Why Do People Steal from Us?'

How I answered the question would prove crucial to addressing racial divides in our D.C. neighborhood.

Comments Are Closed

Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments


July 17, 2012  11:42am

There's something about writing that is birthed from pain. It dares to defy rhymes and poetic effects. Also have a look at Christian blogs from http://www.weddinganthem.co.za/index.php/blog-devotions.


July 17, 2012  11:37am

Similar to you, I'm almost 27, a Master's student, I experienced "shedding" and my boyfriend left me. I was also a journalist at some point in my life. What I can relate to - although not to your degree - was change and starting fresh. "As Kim and I and many saints before us have discovered, sometimes it takes a catastrophe to strip away our assumptions and our sense of security. Sometimes having nothing left to lose gives us an incredible freedom to take a risk we were too afraid or too comfortable to take before" (Sarah Thebarge). In my catastrophe and stripping, I found that when all is peeled off, Jesus remains. I have learned to appreciate God! To praise Him in advance! I praise Him with the broken heart. I praise Him in my tears. I praise Him when I am scared and timid. I worship Him when I catch myself crying on my own. Let us trust Him for He is worthy to be lifted up! He has (in faith) put us together again! Let us praise Him!


May 30, 2012  1:16pm

Being a cancer survivor and now a minister, I do not feel that such a disease can be looked upon as a "gift from God." After much thought I can and do see God's grace in cancer; a cancer diagnosis forces one to think about death and thus to think of eternity. This thought compels one to seek God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. God's gift in disease is His grace, love and comfort, which many patients would not have sought separate from the disease. The Spirit guided me through these troubled times and words can not express what I felt. I would not have chosen to have cancer, but I would not trade what I felt during this time for anything either.


May 24, 2012  1:54am

Hi Sarah. I am a 7 year survivor of breast cancer. I was 47 when is was discovered. It gives me greater joy in the Lord for me to understand that my cancer was a gift. God knew exactly what I needed in order for me to give Him my full attention so that He could give me all the gifts He wanted me to have. Finding Him to be faithful in the midst of surgeries and chemo just as He had always said He is would be had a radical impact on my life. When the time was right, my husband and I sold our house and land and moved to the Czech Republic as full time missionaries. I would not be the same person had I not been gifted with an illness that brought me to the end of myself so that I could then see my Savior for all He has always said He would be to me. It was the severe mercy I needed. Thank you for sharing your story. I am thankful for where He has you, the ways your story shapes you and the fruit it is and will bear.


May 22, 2012  9:56am

Sorry for your illness. I don't think cancer is something God gives to us. I think sometimes stuff happens. Cancer is a way fo hiin o liv ou testimony. Just my opinion.


Make a contribution to help support the This Is Our City project and the nonprofit ministry Christianity Today.Learn more ...


RT @MissionYear: A great collection of articles from @ct_city @CTmagazine http://t.co/OLmjHvUIfr

In honor of Kim Newlen, a friend of @ct_city who died Saturday, we share our story of her battle with cancer: http://t.co/S3FGKhVDuo

RT @CTmagazine: After three years, hundreds of stories, thousands of readers, our tribute to This Is Our City: http://t.co/Gz35NhAdqc @ct_c2026

The top 10 stories of @editor @KatelynBeaty picks her favorites and reflects on lessons learned in 3 years: http://t.co/BQxYdaoyD9

"As a community we have to do a better job of rescuing these young people." The newest (and last) City video: http://t.co/vZL0cRKO7H #RVA