Shock, Despair, Peace and Hope

Carolyn and Mark, Vermont vacation a few weeks before diagnosis

Last year when my friend Carolyn took ornaments off the Christmas tree, she wondered what changes would come to her family before she unpacked them again.

Never could she have imagined what 2022 would bring.

But neither could she have foreseen what God was going to supply for one of the most difficult years of her 59-year-old life.

First, in May of last year, a freak boating accident claimed the life of her brother-in-law, a respected radiologist.

Then in July after returning from a wonderful Vermont family vacation, two weeks of random stomach pain led her to consult a doctor, who thought she had a gallstone. But a scan showed something much more ominous: advanced pancreatic cancer related to an inherited gene mutation.

“Shock, tears and wrestling to understand, ” Carolyn recalls. “My daily life–and our family’s–as we knew it was over.”

This diagnosis was her “worst nightmare” as her mother died from ovarian cancer when Carolyn was only 9.

Carolyn’s genetic BRCA mutation, (which was found through testing I did with her many years ago at my oncologist’s office) is associated primarily with increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer. She had taken great pains to lower those risks, but now found herself among the 1-to 3-percent of carriers  who develop pancreatic cancer, for which no reliable early detection exists.

Multiple complications and severe chemo toxicity early on in treatment landed Carolyn in the hospital for extended stays three times in only two months.

“One night as I lay awake in the hospital, my left leg twice the size of my right and throbbing from a blood clot, I was trying to pray… pleading with God,” Carolyn recalls.” Was He even there? Had He abandoned me?

“Then these words came into my mind: ‘Are you willing to suffer for My glory?'” Carolyn says. “I knew immediately this was the Lord speaking.”

She didn’t have to think long before whispering: “Yes, Lord, of course.”

The words “for My glory” lingered in Carolyn’s mind because as a longtime journalist (we actually met in 1988 while covering a civil trial in a Harrisburg courtroom), she always has said “my mission with my writing is to use it for God’s glory.”

“Could it be that the best story I would write to showcase God’s glory would be my own?”

Much has changed since the first oncologist didn’t seem to think treatment could help. Seven months later, Carolyn’s tumor marker has decreased by more than 90-percent, the liver lesions have shrunk, and her current oncologist gives her something crucial: Hope. This month she starts a clinical trial with that Philadelphia oncologist who specializes in BRCA-related pancreatic cancer.

“I have come a long way since last fall when I told Mark to put me on hospice,” she says. “I had lost all hope in the midst of intense physical suffering…but God broke through and I was able to feel Him and talk to Him again. I was filled with a wondrous peace that sustains me still.”

Becky, Olivia, Amy & Carolyn

Carolyn doesn’t know what her future holds, but she’s looking forward to May when oldest daughter Olivia gets married and middle daughter Becky graduates from law school.

“It’s pretty hard for a planner like me not to let my mind wander too far down the road,” she acknowledges. “But there is great relief and peace in being utterly at God’s mercy, one day at a time.

“Every day I approach the throne of grace with boldness, asking God to save my earthly life.”

She also ponders one of her favorite Oswald Chambers’ quotes:

“Are you in the dark just now in your circumstances, or in your life with God?
Then remain quiet…When you are in the dark, listen and
 God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light.”

I’m trusting that Carolyn’s words will be a “precious message” for someone today.

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As soon as I heard the song “Desert Road” by Casting Crowns, I thought of my dear friend Carolyn.

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