I knew her as “The Horse Lady” long before I ever knew her name was Nicola.
And if I was writing a brochure about amazing things cancer patients have done while undergoing treatment, the Horse Lady would be my cover photo.
She got her nickname from Dr. Marc Hirsh, who initially had trouble remembering her name, but had no trouble bragging about her exploits to me even before I worked in his office. His favorite story was about how she loaded up one of her prized thoroughbred horses in her horse trailer, hitched it to her pickup, and drove all the way from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. After delivering the horse to its new owner, she continued to drive herself to Mexico for a vacation.
“Drove the truck herself with her oxygen tank right beside her on the front seat!” Marc said with a satisfied smile. “She’s amazing!”
I’ve met a lot of amazing cancer patients.
I know a man who earned his green belt for karate while being treated for lung cancer. I know a woman who went to dance class wearing a belt pump that released a continuous infusion of chemotherapy into her while she danced. I know another man who won a racquetball tournament a couple days after his treatment for widespread colon cancer.
My friend Leanna started running 5K races after her diagnosis of Stage 4 melanoma. She’s not super-fast, but at age sixty-eight, she’s usually quick enough to win her age category!
“I thought I’d give it a try to see if it would help me get better,” says Leanna, a grandmother of eleven who still works part-time babysitting neighborhood children and is in complete remission from the cancer. She’s even convinced her husband Larry, seventy, to compete in an upcoming race with her.
“He was going to enter in the ‘Clydesdale’ category for men who weigh over 200 pounds,” she says, “but I told him he might have a better chance of winning the ‘70+’ category in case there’s a young guy who weighs over 200 and is really fast!”
Our oncology office even had our own version of Lance Armstrong with a patient named Eric, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1987 at the age of thirty-one. Like Lance, Eric had Stage 4 disease, which had spread to his liver, lung, and groin in 1988. Now twenty-nine years after his diagnosis, Eric remains cancer-free and is enjoying life with his wife and three grown children.
You’ve probably seen the little plastic yellow “Live Strong” bracelets from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. They’re a neat way to remind cancer patients and their caregivers that a little ol’ thing like cancer couldn’t stop Lance from winning seven consecutive Tour de France cycling races. (No matter what controversy surrounds him, there’s no doubt he’s an incredible athlete and an amazing cancer survivor.)
I was sad, though, when I read in his first book, It’s Not about the Bike, that he doesn’t believe in God, but rather only in himself and in his ability to be “essentially a good person.” He gives God absolutely zero credit for his recovery from cancer or his athletic accomplishments.
Personally, I think God supplies supernatural strength to us many times when we don’t even realize it and that the reason our bodies have an amazing ability to heal is because He created us that way!
So while I agree with Lance that cancer patients and their caregivers need to live strong, I like even better the admonition adopted by my friends Barry and Barbara when she was facing pancreatic cancer: “By His Strength.”
Barb’s younger brother Tommy even bought silver bracelets for all the family members with the letters “BHS” engraved on the front. The bracelets were partly a Christian response to the “Live Strong” bracelets. But mostly they were a reminder that this family intended to live strong by God’s strength—even if they always didn’t have the fortitude within themselves. The initials BHS always reminded Barb’s family of their heavenly Father and of their earthly family: Barbara Hall Streeter and Barry Howard Streeter.
Perhaps you feel 100-percent confident in your own abilities to face and conquer cancer, but there must be a little room for concern or you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.
Isn’t it good to know that you don’t always have to have it completely together, you don’t always have to just tough it out and you don’t always have to conjure up your own courage? Instead, at those times when you feel inadequate—or even hopeless—you can live By His Strength.
I love how The Message paraphrase Bible describes Abraham’s response when God told him He was going to make him the “father of many nations” even though Abraham and his wife Sarah were way past childbearing ages:
\When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do,
but on what God said he would do. Romans 4:17
Don’t be discouraged by whatever you—or doctors or medicine—can’t do, but live on the basis of what God says He will do.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. Psalm 146:5
Lord, I do want to live strong and I want to do it by Your strength. I’m so grateful that You have what I need to get through each day. In Jesus Name, I pray, Amen.