Strength in Despair
The day I was diagnosed with cancer was the most terrifying day of my life. The diagnosis was devastating: I was filled with cancer. Cancer had spread from my gallbladder and invaded my liver, colon, groin, neck, and abdomen. It was wrapped around my bile duct, hepatic artery, and portal vein. I was given three months to live.
Like the prophet Habakkuk, my legs gave way, and I shook in terror. But I knew that if I wanted to live, I could not give in to despair. I immediately drew on the strength I’d learned from my parents.
I was raised on a cotton farm in rural Oklahoma. Life is always hard on a farm—and especially so during drought years. As my parents faced a long drought, Mama and Daddy knew better than to lose their faith or their trust in God, to become bitter, or turn to drinking in order to cope. So Daddy worked a little harder and Mama used a little less.
As a family we accepted and adjusted. We prayed and patiently waited for a good year with spring rain and a bountiful harvest. We knew the rain would come; it always did, and it always will. In both good times and bad, we relied on God to provide.
Like Habakkuk—and like Paul in prison—my parents were able to rejoice in the Lord, despite difficult times. Their example sustained me.
It’s been many years since I was given only three months to live, and I don’t feel worthy of the extended life God has graced upon me. But I do know that, through almost one million milligrams of chemo and four major surgeries, my faith that God was by my side kept my spirit alive even as my body was battered and broken.
In our darkest times, we discover in a deeper way that God is the source of light and life. When everything else is stripped away, we can truly see that God is there to walk that lonesome valley with us.
Edie Littlefield Sundby is the author of The Mission Walker. Despite less than one percent odds of survival when she was diagnosed with stage-four gallbladder cancer in 2007, she went on to walk the 1,600-mile California Mission Trail from Loreto, Mexico, to Sonoma, California.