Christmas had always meant only one thing for our family – a time to be together. This meant the lead up was always a time of great excitement and delicious anticipation as we made our annual pilgrimage to my parents. However, this year carried a sharp poignancy because it would be our first Christmas without our beloved father, who had passed away three months earlier. Still reeling from our profound loss, our only thought was to come together to grieve privately as we faced our first Christmas without him. These thoughts preyed on my mind as I made my way to a medical appointment.
A few weeks earlier I’d discovered a lump, which had led to a rapid succession of tests culminating in an appointment, four days before Christmas. Although I was apprehensive about the results, I was a born optimist and believed all was well. Consequently, nothing prepared me for the shock of the cancer diagnosis. From that point on, the holiday season was peppered with scans and biopsies as my consultant built a picture of the extent of the disease and finally shared his conclusion on a miserable January day. He explained my condition was incurable, but that I didn’t need treatment at that time. Apparently (other than the diagnosis), I was fit and healthy and was advised to return home and live a normal life, until the situation changed. I would be kept under active surveillance and was told there was a fifty per cent likelihood I would need treatment at some point in my life.
As I listened to the consultant explain the nature of the disease, I struggled to understand the enormity of the situation. Eventually, I asked what had caused the diagnosis and was met with a benevolent shrug followed by a kindly remark about asking the “Almighty”. I should note my consultant was not a cruel or insensitive man. To the contrary, he was a considerate and compassionate doctor and was simply providing his medical opinion, that despite his thirty years of experience, he had no idea what had caused the cancer.
I was bewildered and unable to understand, how despite being diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t need treatment, but was being advised to return home and live a normal life. After all, it was by living a normal life that I had become unwell. I wanted to take action and questioned why treatment wasn’t an option, only to be told it would do more harm than good. I was determined to mitigate any possibility of the condition worsening, but other than having a flu jab, I was told there was nothing more I could do. My spirits sank deeper as I realised that I faced the frightening prospect of the sudden appearance of symptoms, without any ability to manage triggers. This meant living the rest of my life in fear, which I was not prepared to do.
I left the consultant’s office in quiet despair. I knew the human body didn’t suddenly malfunction without good reason and needed to understand the cause of the diagnosis, so I could take necessary steps to prevent deterioration. I wanted to avoid the need for treatment (if at all possible), but knew I had to make changes if I were to remain healthy. The medical profession had done its best for me, but it couldn’t provide the answers I needed and so I turned to someone who could – God. If my consultant could give me a fifty per cent likelihood of never needing treatment, I knew God could give me a hundred.
I had been raised to believe that all things were possible with God. I believed there was nothing God could not turn around, whether it related to a difficulty in a relationship, the loss of a job or even terminal illness. Nothing was beyond God. This belief was not a sentimental keepsake from my childhood, but the foundation upon which I lived my life. Consequently, before I returned to work, I arranged a brief stay at a convent, where I knew I would have the perfect opportunity for solitude and reflection. I knew that despite the love and support of my family, no one could lift the fear rooted in me, and only God could bring the peace and perspective I needed, to adjust to this life-changing event.
However, just before I set off for the convent, I was riddled with doubts. Still in despair and feeling lost, I questioned why I was making this journey, when I could remain within the sanctuary of my home. After all, God would meet me anywhere. Nonetheless, I persevered but remained detached until the taxi turned into the tree-lined drive of the convent and I felt my spirits suddenly lift. I noticed the grey January weather had given way to a brilliant blue sky and the sun was glittering through the naked trees as ponies grazed in a nearby field. The precipitous change in my emotions jolted me back to life and I quickly dispensed with the formalities of my arrival, before rushing back to the drive, to recapture the bliss which had greeted me.
As I took a seat on the bench overlooking the ponies and drank in the breathtaking beauty of nature, I realised the darkness which had haunted me since the diagnosis, had suddenly disappeared. Now, the diagnosis felt like nothing more than a bad dream and I was incredulous, but delighted at my newfound euphoria. I looked up at the sky bursting with excitement and said to God “let’s confound the medics”, meaning let this illness disappear. At that moment, I felt there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and as I gazed at the sky in adulation, I felt God say “there is nothing wrong with you”. I was mesmerised by this outpouring of divine love which was tangible as I sat basking in the setting sun and only ventured back inside, when it turned too cold to remain outside. As I entered the foyer, I marvelled at the most extraordinary experience I’d just had as I’d never before encountered such joy and happiness at a time of unprecedented darkness.
Once inside, I made my way to the library, which was glowing in the dusk of the setting sun, lending it an ethereal presence. I was immediately drawn to the window where I stood drinking in the view and as I did so, I noticed a tattered paperback lying in the corner of the windowsill. I picked it up and read the title – Miracles do Happen (by Sister Briege McKenna). It was a book about the power of prayer in healing sickness and I knew God had left it for me.
I took it to my room and read it before falling into the first peaceful night’s sleep I’d had since the diagnosis. For the entire period I remained at the convent, I was wrapped in a blanket of bliss and even avoided the nuns because I feared their presence might interrupt my communion with God. However, when my visit came to an end and I returned home, the euphoria disappeared and I once again plummeted into despair. The experience at the convent seemed to have been an illusion, but I knew better and held onto it as a beacon of hope, in the difficult months ahead.
After that celestial encounter in the convent, God used other mediums to help me. I’d been studying A Course in Miracles before the diagnosis and immediately contacted my tutor for guidance on critical illness. My tutor introduced me to a wonderful lady in Wisconsin, USA and we began weekly calls, through which I was able to identify the root cause of my diagnosis. In those early days when fear was my constant companion, those calls proved remarkable in their ability to strengthen me through hope and perspective.
I consulted a naturopath who developed a plan to help with good nutrition and boost my immune system. She also recommended books (e.g. The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton), which reinforced my belief that my mind was the most powerful tool in propelling my body towards good health.
I also made a conscious decision not to read any of the medical literature my consultant had provided, because I knew it would only terrify me and interfere with my progress. Instead, I did my own research and read about people who had healed themselves without medical intervention. I was familiar with Louise Hay, but came across others and was particularly encouraged by a brilliant book called Love, Medicine and Miracles by Bernie Siegel, a cancer surgeon.
Unsurprisingly, my sleep was disturbed for months. I didn’t sleep through the night because my mind continued to churn the same terrifying thought: I have cancer. I became so desperate for a night of uninterrupted sleep that I tried sleeping pills (to the horror of my family). However, after one dose, I was worried about becoming addicted and quickly discarded them, opting for herbal remedies. I maintained my daily prayer sessions and stayed close to God, becoming mentally stronger and eventually my mind settled and sleep returned unaided.
Three months later, I had my first check-up and all went well. Soon afterwards, the quarterly appointments progressed to six-monthly intervals, until eventually they became annual. Today, I rarely think about the diagnosis and to date, haven’t needed treatment. I recently read about a man who had the same condition, describe it as living under a death sentence. However, that hasn’t been my experience because of my relationship with God. If I had left things as advised by the medical profession, I too would have felt I was living under a death sentence. However, through God’s guidance, I was able to take responsibility for my condition and identify the root cause so I could make necessary changes and feel empowered about my future.
I now view the diagnosis as a gift, because it triggered a transformation, which led me to live a healthier life. However, the best part of all, is how it demonstrated the depth of God’s colossal love for me and the way it deepened my faith beyond measure.