When Motherhood Meets Cancer

In October 2010, my husband and I sat on the floor in our boys’ bedroom as they ran around us in a pre-bedtime frenzy. Surrounded by bunk beds, toys, and trains, we told our young sons I had cancer.

When the doctor called earlier that afternoon, I expected him to say the lump in my breast was breast cancer or not breast cancer. Instead, I heard a strange new word: angiosarcoma. When I typed it into Google, I quickly understood why the doctor’s tone had been so serious.

Angiosarcoma has a five-year survival rate of 30%. My boys were six and four, and their little sister was 18 months old. I closed my tear-filled eyes and started begging the Lord to give us those five years. I wasn’t bold enough to ask for more. 

Over the next several months, I endured seven rounds of chemotherapy, most of which involved a clinical trial at a Cancer Center, 600 miles from home. Chemo was followed by five weeks of radiation and then surgery, all out of town. I spent a total of fourteen weeks away from my family, sacrificing months with the hope of gaining years.

I wrestled through many questions during my cancer battle and the tenuous years that followed.

Could I trust the Lord to care for my children even if losing me was part of their story?

Would he meet their needs when I could not?

And at the end of this, would they be emotionally scarred or would they be spiritually stronger?

The Lord met me in that questioning place with the truth of his word. The questions never vanished, but he taught me to cling to his promises as the uncertainty raged around me.

Trust His Plans

My cancer diagnosis shattered my illusion of having control over mine or my children’s lives. I knew my children would face suffering, but I assumed I would be the one to comfort them, pray for them, and guide them through the hardships. I didn’t want my child’s story to include, “My mom died of cancer when I was five years old.” I couldn’t imagine not being there as they grieved.

I revisited the familiar promises of God’s word, seeing them through the new lens of a cancer diagnosis. Did I believe that God loved my children with an everlasting love and would continue his faithfulness to them?[1] Did I have confidence that he would work all things together for good, even if his plans involved suffering and heartache?[2]

It all comes down to this: Is God enough? Or do I need God plus good health? Do my kids need God and their mom beside them? My heart cries out, “Yes! Good health, long life, children having their mom—these are all good things!” And they are. That’s the way things should be. The Lord gently reminds me that in the absence of these good things, in life after the fall, he will always be enough.

I still struggle to pray, “Thy will be done.” I’m thankful that I can plead the righteousness of the One who prayed those words with perfect trust. As he grows my faith, I am able to more wholeheartedly believe he is truly sufficient.

See Him Provide

When I started treatment, 600 miles from home, I was devastated to be away from my kids. I wasn’t the one wiping their noses and bottoms. I couldn’t hold them when they missed their mommy. I wasn’t there to kiss them good-night or greet them with a hug in the morning. It broke my heart to not be able to care for my family, especially when I didn’t know how much time I had left with them.

And yet, I saw the Lord provide abundantly for my children. Their Heavenly Father has given them an earthly father who loves them deeply and did the best he could to be both mommy and daddy during that time. And the Lord surrounded us with a church family and loving community who sacrificially served and supported us. He used the body of Christ to care for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

No one person could provide for us—it was a lengthy battle with many challenges. But we saw God take the small acts of service by many brothers and sisters in Christ and weave them into a beautiful tapestry to meet all our needs.

One friend organized an army of volunteers to bring us more than 100 meals over 8 months. Friends picked up my kids for field trips, made gingerbread houses with them at Christmas, surprised them on their birthdays, and sent me photos of their smiling faces. My daughter’s Sunday school teachers fixed her hair when she arrived with a brush and bow in hand. Our local church, friends, and family cared for our needs—big and small—and carried us through that difficult time.

We were surprised by the diagnosis and the medical necessity of so many weeks in treatment, far from home. But the Lord ordained those days for us long beforehand.[3] He knew exactly how he would meet each one of our needs. As I look back at his provision, I’m encouraged to trust him with the future. The Lord is our Shepherd. No matter what comes, we shall not want.[4]

Rest in His Presence

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Six months into my cancer battle, I woke up in my home-away-from-home, rubbed my bleary eyes, and reached for my phone. When I saw the email from my son’s first grade teacher, the familiar tears began to flow. She had selected him for Christ-like character award at the upcoming awards assembly. I wept with gratitude for the Lord’s work in my child. And I wept with disappointment, knowing that I wouldn’t see the joy in my child’s face when he bounded up to the stage to receive the award.

Mothering through cancer was never easy. I hated missing school programs, awards ceremonies, tee-ball games, birthdays, and holidays. I hated letting others care for my family while I fought for my life in another state. I hated the harshness of our present circumstances and the uncertainty in our future.

But God was always at work. I learned to rest in his presence with us through the hard times. When I wasn’t able to trust his plans, he poured out his peace. When our needs were extreme, so was his provision through the body of Christ. When I wondered how my children would be impacted, he showed us how he was filling them with his strength.

Those little boys have traded bunk beds, toys, and trains for guitars, driving permits, and math textbooks. I’ve watched my daughter grow and marveled at the abundance of time God has given us. My prayers have grown bolder as I ask the Lord to let me hold my grandbabies someday. But if not, all his promises are still true. Our Heavenly Father will always provide, and he will always be with us.

[1] Jer. 31:3

[2] Rom. 8:28

[3] Ps. 139:16

[4] Ps. 23:1


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Marissa Henley, author of Loving Your Friend through Cancer, is a writer, speaker, and cancer survivor who lives Northwest Arkansas. Most days, you’ll find her drinking a latte while shuttling her three kids around town, wondering if the dog will ever learn to stay and if she’ll ever love cooking as much as her husband loves eating. She would love to connect with you on social media or at www.marissahenley.com. Find her on facebook, instagram, and twitter