I literally have known thousands of people diagnosed with cancer, but there has only ever been one whose diagnosis made me smile.
I think you’ll understand why after reading this story of how God touched two hearts to bring hope to hundreds of hurting people.
I met Karen Wineholt in 1983 at a meeting for breastfeeding moms when she was pregnant with her first child and I was nursing my third. She and her husband Jerry began attending the church my husband pastored and soon he had the joy of baptizing them. The four of us laughed together at marriage retreats, cried together when life took difficult turns, and together shared God’s love with our community.
And we even shared Karen’s 30th birthday when they visited me in the hospital following my colon cancer surgery in 1990. By the time Karen got a cancer diagnosis in 2013, we already had been friends for 30 years–joking that we had enough embarrassing stories to easily “blackmail” one another.
Now we shared an oncologist, too.
Karen’s stage 1B tumor was found on a routine mammogram and considered highly curable with surgery, radiation and hormone pills. I tried not to be excited about her diagnosis, but I wanted to retire from my job offering emotional and spiritual support in Dr. Marc Hirsh’s office so that my husband and I could move closer to our daughters and grandchildren. I kept praying God would show me when I could leave. When I heard Karen’s “bad” news, I knew God was preparing her to continue my treasured ministry.
Now I also knew enough not to tell her how happy I was about her diagnosis. Finally, more than a year later, I couldn’t contain my excitement and invited her to lunch.
Karen remembers me saying: “I believe God could be calling you to be a patient advocate and if I’m right, He will tell you, too.”
Little did I know that the year before, while sitting in her car before radiation therapy, that exact thought “just popped” into her head.
“Because I knew you were retiring, I thought ‘maybe I could replace Lynn,’ ” Karen recalls. “And then just as quickly another thought popped in: ‘there’s no way you’re qualified’.”
But I knew Karen well enough to recognize she did have what it took to be a patient advocate. And besides, God would supply whatever she lacked–just as He had done for me for 20 years.
The rest is history.
Marc offered her a job when I retired in the spring of 2015 and she worked for him until his own cancer diagnosis forced the closing of his practice in 2020.
“I really enjoyed helping people walk through their diagnosis, loving them, and showing them the Lord,” Karen recalls. “Meeting people in their deepest, darkest times and celebrating their victories as well.
“I thought when I lost my job that I was done being a patient advocate, but I’m not,” explains Karen, who has voluntarily continued leading the cancer and grief prayer support groups I started, as well as co-leading a new cancer support group for women.
I cannot begin to tell you what a joy it has been to watch my dear friend pour love on and encouragement into friends whom I also love.
In recent years Karen and I discovered something about one another that despite more than three decades of friendship we never knew: Out of more than 31,000 Bible verses, we have the same favorite.
Ephesians 3:20: Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine
by his power at work within us…
And now you know why one patient’s cancer diagnosis made me smile. I hope her story makes you smile too.
Be sure to open your browser to hear the song “Sovereign” by Chris Tomlin, which describes God’s amazing power to work everything for His good.