Bringing in the Artillery in the Fight against Cancer

This entry is part 1 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

World War III


Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy

Killing the Giant

I have always had a vivid imagination, and my journey through cancer proved to be no exception. 

One day, as I lay outside on a rug reading my Bible, I somehow found myself reading the story of the young shepherd boy, David, and the Philistine giant he faced called Goliath[1]. I read how David killed the giant with one out of five stones catapulted from his leather sling. However that wasn’t enough. He ran and cut off Goliath’s head with a sword.

I asked the Lord to make the familiar story relevant for me. A few minutes later, when Rob brought me some tea, I shared a thought with Rob.

“I have just seen something in the Bible that ties in with cancer,” I exclaimed. “I have decided to nickname the tumor Goliath! And of course, he’s dead. But more! His head has been cut off!”

“You mean when you had your operation?”

“No. That’s when he was killed. But remember how David ran up to the dead giant and cut off his head? Well the corpse of my Goliath was sent to a laboratory and sliced into thin pieces. He is not just dead. He’s had his head cut off! He has been totally destroyed.”

Somehow I really found this exciting. Up until now I had seen the cancer as a beast, a creature, a living thing which had been removed, but somehow I hadn’t thought of it as dead. Goliath, the giant serving under the authority of the enemy of my soul, Satan, was now dead. I saw any left-over cancer cells in my body as surviving enemy soldiers, in hiding. They needed to be routed.

Bringing in the Artillery

As I continued to think about the story, I thought of the Radiation (or radiotherapy) I faced the following week. I saw the destructive Radiation Machines as the heavy tanks and machine guns we were about to bring in. They would attack the actual war-zone. They were the Artillery.

Chemical Warfare

Once we were sure the artillery had cleared the local area, we would turn our attention on any enemy soldiers in hiding throughout the “country” of my body. At this step, my oncologist would poison the water supply when he injected chemotherapy drugs intravenously.

I saw how important it was that the “citizens” of the country knew not to ingest the poison, and I saw this as part of my duty. Once I started with chemotherapy, I would use my mind and concentrate on directing my own cells to keep away from the drugs. I planned to visualize the medication that was seeking and destroying the enemy snipers.

This all sounds highly imaginative, and yes, that is exactly what it was. I used my imagination to promote healing, instead of death. The more positive thoughts I cultivated, the less time was left for negative ones. [2]

Somewhere I read of an acrostic for fear: “False Expectations Appearing Real”. I determined to take up the shield of faith against all these negative thoughts and imaginations, and instead fill my mind with positive, happy, victorious concepts[3] .

FEAR is an acrostic for False Expectations Appearing Real. Please RT. #cancer Click To Tweet

Forward into Battle

Suddenly the whole nightmare ahead of me took on a more positive picture. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. War is never easy. But I could do this. Goliath was already dead. His brothers and support soldiers had been killed. Now it was time to bring in the artillery. I looked forward to getting those beastly cowards hiding behind the scar tissue in my breast and under my arm.

How about you?

What are you afraid of? How can you use your imagination to overcome that fear? Share you suggestions in the comment section below.

These events occurred between 19 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.


This book is an inspirational message by Max Lucado, one of my favorite authors. Click on the image to see it on Amazon.


[1] 1 Samuel chapter 17
[2] ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.’ Philippians 4:8
[3] ‘…His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.’ Psalm 92:4-6

Mammogram: Yes or No?

This entry is part 2 in the series Victory in the Valley
Gynaecologist refers me to Surgeon

Image courtesy of stockimages at

“Cancer!” I stared in disbelief at the angry radiologist who had just pronounced the death sentence on me. “You have Cancer and I don’t think they’ll be able to get it all out!”

The diagnosis no one wants

The need to tell a patient that he or she has a life threatening disease is never a pleasant task. But what happened to care and empathy?

“You’re a registered nurse. You’re fifty-three. You should know of the need to have an annual mammogram, yet you haven’t had one! What’s the matter with you?” read more

The Diagnosis No-one Ever Wants to Hear

This entry is part 3 in the series Victory in the Valley


—Victory in the Valley – Chapter Two—

Start at the Beginning of the Story

ultrasound scanner

Ultrasound Machine (Credit: The Facey Family) via Flickr

Now read on to chapter two:

About two weeks after my appointment with Dr. Prinsloo, I presented myself at the x-ray department for my mammogram. (I have heard this aptly described as an attempt to turn a bra ‘cup’ into a ‘saucer’.)

I waited to hear when I could leave the room. The radiographer came in to collect an x-ray plate and turned to leave.

“I’m afraid you can’t get dressed yet,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “Doctor wants an ultrasound.”

“Oh yes I know,” I replied cheerily. “Dr. Prinsloo ordered it, because this is my first mammogram.”

“No, that’s not why. . .” she said vaguely and left the room.

First glimmer of fear

What does she mean – that’s not why? Why else could it be? It couldn’t be – no of course not. 

I knew they wouldn’t have found anything sinister. And yet, for the first time I felt a twinge of fear. I attempted to push it from my mind. This isn’t happening to me! That girl doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Dr. Prinsloo said he wanted an ultrasound purely as a baseline.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a matter of minutes, the young woman returned, and led me into the cubicle where I was confronted by the angry radiologist. Why is he angry? This isn’t my fault. Then I saw it from his point of view. Because of my apparent neglect and failure to have a mammogram, the tumor now appeared to be out of control. His words rang in my ears.

“You have cancer and I don’t think they’ll be able to get it all out.” I chose not to believe him. He wasn’t a surgeon. And he didn’t know me. My surgeon said I was fine. He should know. This man was talking nonsense.

Looking at the ultrasound

Following my request that he explain the ultrasound to me, the radiologist moved the transducer (a small probe) over the area of concern. I could clearly make out a ‘beast’ far from the position of the lump that had bothered me. It lurked deep within my left breast, buried among dense tissue.

“This tumor,” explained the radiologist gravely, “has been growing for about two years. If we had done a mammogram two years ago we would have found it when it was still tiny. Now. . .” His voice petered out as he shook his head.

“So what do I do?” I was astonished at my calm voice. “You say you don’t know if they’ll be able to get it out?”

“Well they’ve obviously got to try!” he exclaimed. “You’ll have to get back to Dr. Prinsloo as quickly as possible, and he’ll have to see what he can do!” As he fiddled with the dials on the scanner he said flatly, “You’re going to need the best surgeon, an excellent oncologist, and a lot of faith to get you through this.”

The last statement surprised me. He hadn’t struck me as a man who believed in the importance of faith.

“I have plenty faith,” I said stoically. “My husband and I are in the ministry. I know the Lord is with me.”

Don’t leave me!

As he turned to sweep from the cubicle I suddenly felt panic. He mustn’t leave me. He had been so rude, almost cruel. Yet deep down I sensed concern; and right at that point he was the only person in the world, apart from me, that knew I had cancer.

“Doctor,” I called uncertainly. “Please can I ask you something?”

“Yes, what?” He looked annoyed at the delay.

“Well, I know this is not an ethical question. But it’s important to me, and there’s no one else I can ask. If I were your wife, would you allow Dr. Prinsloo to operate? I need to know if I should go for a second opinion.”

He glowered at me for a moment, then his features softened as he replied slowly, “If you were my wife, I wouldn’t allow anyone other than Dr. Prinsloo to operate.”

An hour later my knuckles hesitated in mid-air before tapping out a quick tattoo on the metal and glass door to the X-ray department. I requested to speak to the radiologist once more. He came out of the room, obviously irked by the interruption.

Time delay

“Doctor, I’m sorry. I have tried to get an appointment with Dr. Prinsloo. The receptionist won’t give me one for several weeks, and they won’t allow me to talk to the doctor himself on the phone. What do I do now?”

He looked exasperated as he turned on his heel and marched into the room full of staff.

“As if this is my problem!” I heard him mutter to his colleagues as he reached for the telephone. Several pairs of eyes stared at me. He stabbed at some numbers, and within minutes was speaking in rapid Afrikaans. He put the telephone down and returned to me.

“You have an appointment for two o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Make sure you take all your x-rays with you.” As I thanked him and turned to leave, his eyes caught mine.

“Good luck!” he said softly as he turned away. “Good luck!”

Was it luck?

I knew it would take more than luck to get me through a cancer diagnosis. Click To Tweet

I had never faced a challenge like this. I had nursed plenty cancer patients. I had even nursed terminal cases for hospice. But this was different. This was me. Cancer happened to other people.

“Lord?” I asked, as I headed back to the pathology laboratory where I worked. “How did this happen?” I still hoped there was a mistake. They would soon realize they were wrong. Yet, I had seen the beast for myself. Deep down, I knew it was real.

I slipped into the laboratory through a back door. Mariette, my colleague and friend, glanced up as the door swung noiselessly closed behind me. Her busy fingers abruptly ceased to dial; the telephone receiver thudded down on its cradle.

“Shirl! What’s wrong?”

Life-changing Words

For the first time, I said the words that would change my life forever. “I have cancer!”

She paled—then came around the counter, put her arms around me and held me tightly. “Oh Shirl—this can’t be true!”

I felt myself starting to tremble, as she supported me. I stammered out the bare facts of the past few hours. She stood there, holding me, massaging my shoulders as I spoke. After I stopped she started to speak, slowly, but urgently.

“Shirl, listen to me. This guy had no right to speak to you in that manner. You know that too. But in any case, he has nothing to do with your future. In fact, nor does Jannie Prinsloo.

The medical staff are only instruments in your fight against cancer. Click To Tweet

Only Instruments

She shook me slightly as she spoke. “Your life is not in their hands Shirl! Before you were even born God knew how many days He was giving you.[1] And I don’t believe they are finished yet!”

She held me at arms’ length as she studied my face. “Listen, my friend! You are going to fight this thing! We are going to fight it! We’re in this together. Somehow we’ll fight it and we’ll win!” She turned to put on the kettle. “Come, while we’re waiting for the kettle to boil, let’s pray.”

[1] Psalm 139:16

Read on: Chapter 3:   No Easy Way to Share

These events occurred between the years 1997 and 2000. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances, I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.


No Easy Way to Share the News

This entry is part 4 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter Three—

Start at the beginning of the story

mug of coffee

Now read on . . .

After prayer with my colleague, Mariette, and a cup of hot coffee, I went out into the fresh air, and headed for my car. Overhead tiny cloud wisps, as fine as a puff of dandelion seed, drifted across the bright blue African sky. The sight brought peace to my heart.

What a beautiful world this is, and the God of all creation is still in His Heaven. Click To Tweet

“I know this is in your hands, Lord,” I spoke aloud as I eased my car into the traffic. “You’ve never let me down yet, and I know you won’t let me down this time either.” I took a deep breath as I felt my faith start to grow. “I’ll be just fine Lord! I know I will!” It would take more than cancer to keep me down.

Breaking the News

All way home I prayed. I don’t remember ever praying the cancer would go away. Nor do I remember praying that the surgeon would get it all out. I instinctively knew I had to focus on one step at a time. And the first step was sharing the news with my unsuspecting family. read more

An Unhappy Misunderstanding

This entry is part 5 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 4—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . . 

woman praying

I hung up the phone after speaking to my mother. I looked at Rob. “I guess we’d better phone the medical aid for authorization for the operation. Do you have the number?

Phoning the Medical Aid

In South Africa, we pay a considerable monthly fee to belong to a medical aid. If we are hospitalized, they pay all expenses. For out of hospital requirements, they will pay out of what they call the M.S.A. (Medical Savings Account) which runs out all too soon. Unless we are hospitalized in an emergency we are required to phone in advance for their authorization which guarantees their full payment.

Rob rummaged through his drawer for his Medical Aid card. 

“Do you need to do this, or can I?” Again I felt a need to do things for myself.

Again I felt a need to do things for myself. Click To Tweet read more

Getting Out the News

This entry is part 6 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 5—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . . 

Plane against beautiful sky

Image courtesy of khunaspix at

The time had come to let my adult children know.

Reaction from elder son

“Steve…” I gripped the telephone receiver tightly. My quiet elder son, so like his father, lived away from home for work reasons, although we saw him most weekends. “Steve, I went for those tests today.” There was an ominous silence at the other end of the phone. “I would have preferred to tell you this to your face Steve, but you need to know. I have Cancer.” The silence continued while I wondered what he was thinking. There’s no easy way to break this news!

“So what now?”

“I have to have surgery. But the radiologist said he doesn’t think they’ll get it all out.” I don’t know how this mysterious “they” crept into the conversation. Over the months to follow this became a regular expression. They recommended certain treatment. They said when I could mix with people or if I had to stay home. They threatened to rule our lives. read more

Preparing for War

This entry is part 7 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 6—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Hospital bedOn Sunday morning, during an open time of prayer in the church service, one of the few people who knew about my cancer diagnosis, prayed aloud for me. She didn’t use the word “cancer” but prayed that the Lord would undertake for me as I faced surgery the next morning. Only the leadership knew why.

Asking questions without listening for the answer

At the door of the Church after the service, a few wished me well with my coming operation without asking about it. Only one person asked me. I have never forgotten her response.

“Sorry to hear about your surgery,” she said. “I hope it’s nothing serious?” 

“Yes, it actually is!” I replied with forced cheerfulness.

“Oh I’m so glad!” she replied as she made her way through the front door to join her friends.

The four of us spent the rest of Sunday at home. Laughing, talking, sharing, trying to forget. Later in the afternoon, I received an email from Debbie and Craig. A short message. A difficult message. There is no easy way! They loved me. They were praying. I knew it was right I had told them—yet how I hated adding to the pressure they already faced as they adjusted to life in the Amazon jungle.

Was this our last meal together?

That night Rob and I went out to a restaurant for dinner. I chose something light, yet even then, it took an effort to empty my plate. My mind kept trying to feed me negative thoughts. Is this the last time we’ll go out together like this?  We drove away from the shopping center in silence. Is this the last time I’ll be here with Rob? 

We went quietly to bed and curled in each other’s arms as we prayed for peace and strength. Will we ever lie and pray like this again?  Amazingly, the Lord’s peace came over us both. We slept. We slept soundly. Too soundly. Morning came quickly.

Before leaving for the hospital, we spent a few minutes in prayer together with David who was going to write the last of his final examinations at the University of Johannesburg (then called the Wits Technikon.) His initial reaction had been, “I’m not going to write the exam.  I need to be at the hospital with Dad.” Although touched that he felt this way, we would not hear of it. Nor would the I’m-in-charge Stephen, who had already arranged to take time off work.

“David,” I said, “I want you to forget that you even have a mother for the morning. There will be plenty of time to come alongside us in the days ahead. For now, you need to pass this examination.” I kissed him goodbye and assured him he didn’t need to worry, I’d be fine.

I got into the car and Rob drove us to the hospital which was going to change my life.

Preparing for war

“Isn’t it strange?” I said as we walked up the paved pathway to the hospital entrance in the early dawn light. “I feel quite cheerful. My mind doesn’t seem to grasp that next time I walk on this path my life will have changed, and I’ll be in pain. “

“Yes, it feels unreal.”

I knew that many patients who face a life-threatening disease go through a phase of denial. Were we in denial? Not the way I understood the term. But I wasn’t afraid.

Many were praying, “Please don’t let it be cancer”. Somehow that never occurred to us as a family. We knew this was the real thing. By the day of my surgery, I felt as if the ordeal ahead would be nothing other than a nuisance. Maybe this was where the denial crept in. The night before, I’d fought down waves of fear. By the day of the surgery, I experienced a calm, if numb, confidence. Sure, there would be some pain for a day or two, but then I’d be fine. Other people died from cancer. Shirleys didn’t.

I was insured of a never-ending supply of visiting colleagues by the fact that the pathology laboratory where I worked serviced this particular hospital. It was also reassuring to know that I would be in the busy surgical ward where the nurse in charge (known in South Africa as the Charge Sister) was my good friend and nursing colleague, Ria.

Arriving in the ward

When I arrived in the ward, the night staff showed me to a bed in the corner of a six-bedded room. I could see nothing but four walls, the other beds, and the toilet door. It felt claustrophobic. Instinctively I knew that I had to see life; to be as optimistic and positive as possible.

I also sensed a growing need to be in charge of my own body and treatment wherever possible. I wanted to understand what people were doing to my body, and why. I did not understand this, but some weeks later I was encouraged when I read, in the excellent book by Bernie S. Siegel, Love, Medicine & Miracles, about what he calls The Exceptional Patient, or The Survivor. In his introduction he states, Exceptional patients manifest the will to live in its more potent form. They take charge of their lives even if they were never able to before, and they work hard to achieve health and peace of mind. They do not rely on doctors to take the initiative but rather use them as members of a team, demanding the utmost in technique, resourcefulness, concern, and open-mindedness.

Acting like a survivor

Without knowing that I was behaving like A Survivor, I wanted to take charge of where I would lie for the next week, and I didn’t like the position of my allocated bed. I decided to speak to Ria when she came on duty.

I didn’t need to ask. As soon as she came on duty she moved me to another bed. On my right, the pretty dusky-pink curtains framed a view across the town of Krugersdorp. Looking left, I could see as far as the ward door, able to watch the comings and goings of this busy surgical ward. As cheerful a room as a hospital ward ever is. The Lord understood my need to see life. 

I unpacked my night clothes and wash-bag into the locker and filled the drawer with an assortment of crafts and books to keep me busy. I introduced myself to my new neighbors who were also getting ready to go for surgery later in the day. Although my surgery was first on the slate, it was very early, so I believed I had plenty of time.

hospital corridorSuddenly a cheerful porter pushing a wheelchair rushed into the ward. He had come to take me to X-rays.

Where to now?

“Why do I need to go to X-rays?” I asked, puzzled. Surely they had all the X-rays they needed? No one could tell me why. One nurse said something about needing to locate the tumor.

“What nonsense!” I grumbled to Rob as he strode next to the wheelchair along cold, smooth, polished corridors. “Why do they need to locate the tumor? They know very well where it is!”

I attempted an uncertain smile at Rob as I was speedily moved into the same small, curtained cubicle where I had received the bombshell of my diagnosis. Was it really less than a week ago?

I climbed up onto the hard table-like bed and greeted the Radiologist cheerfully, glad to see a different man to last time. I was determined to stay on top of my emotions and not allow fear to get hold of me. He confirmed pleasantly that he had to locate the tumor. This still didn’t make sense to me, but I determined to co-operate to the full.

As I lay on my back, stripped to the waist, he put the cold steel of the scanner onto my left breast. Immediately, the ugly black beast that I remembered appeared on the monitor. I lay back, arms above my head as instructed, and glared at the beast.

“He can count his minutes!” I muttered to the radiologist who gave me a sideways look. “Not long now and he’ll get what he deserves.”

Little did I know what the next few minutes would bring.

Shortcut to next chapter

These events occurred between the years 1997 and 2000. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Battle Commences

This entry is part 8 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 7—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

I lay back on the hard bed, still bewildered. Why was I here? Suddenly, everything seemed to speed up. A voice called urgently across the curtain.

“They are waiting for Mrs. Corder now in the operating theater!”

The Radiologist’s young assistant moved into position above my head, and asked, “Local?”

No time for a local anesthetic.

“No time!” muttered the Radiologist, lifting a long, very fine, silver wire from a nearby trolley. “Now just hold nice and still Dear—this won’t take long.” read more

Love, Flowers and Squiffles

This entry is part 9 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 8—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .


The First Day

The rest of the day passed in a blur. I slept most of the day. To my distress, I could not pass urine, and ended up having to be catheterized by one of the nurses who had been a student under me some years before. She used too big a catheter and added to my trauma.

That night I faced the same problem, and, near to tears, I whispered to the night nurse, “Last time it hurt so much”.

“Well it shouldn’t have!” she retorted. “I won’t hurt you.” And she didn’t. Praise God that was the last time I needed this degrading and uncomfortable procedure.

Visiting Time

Visiting time that evening I was cheerful if somewhat drugged. My breast was tender, but not all that bad considering it was only a matter of hours since surgery. Thanks to an injection for pain some time ago, I managed to push the throbbing ache into the background. Rob arrived first with David, opening the cork on a stream of visitors. One by one they came, bringing flowers to pile onto the cardiac (overbed) table, at the foot of my bed. They brought cards, chocolates, and candies to smother my bedside locker.

Pink roses morgue

Image courtesy of pippalou at

Stephen walked in with his girlfriend. He carried the biggest arrangement of pink roses that I had ever seen. Bless him. Such an impractical gift for a hospital ward—but one which I will never forget. Quickly a second cardiac table was brought into action and placed under the window. My corner of the ward began to look more like a garden nursery than a hospital room.

Stephen also brought me a very strange gift. It was a small beanbag stuffed lion. He explained that when he’d gone to buy a card to put with my roses, the lion was sitting on the counter and “he begged me to buy him for you.” Strange, as I wasn’t a person who ever went for teddy bears or stuffed toys. My son left it lying on the top of my locker.

A very special visitor came in slowly, hand-in-hand with my brother. My seventy-eight-year-old mother, who was so afraid of any type of illness, had insisted she needed to see me after surgery. She came over to my bed and took my hand, leaned over and kissed me. “We’re going to beat this, Shirley!” she whispered.

I had so many visitors, they stood three deep around the bed talking to one another. Click To Tweet I did what all post-surgical patients are allowed to do and fell fast asleep. When I awoke the visitors had gone. To my sorrow, so were my family.

Night Time

The night staff moved swiftly around the seven-bedded ward taking the usual night observations of temperatures, pulse counts and blood pressure readings. They emptied our drains and urine bags and tried to make us comfortable. I had waited too long before asking for another injection for pain. I wished I hadn’t waited so long. As they put out the main lights with a cheerful, “Night night ladies! Sleep tight!” I eased myself gingerly onto my right side with my back to the door and closed my eyes.

If I moved, my head swam with pain. The sling strapped my arm firmly to my body, preventing me from getting comfortable. I heard groans and cries of other patients in neighboring wards. Bells rang. Why are they so loud? One nurse wore clogs. Why isn’t it compulsory for them to wear soft shoes on night duty? Click To TweetPhones rang. Voices answered. Everywhere, people spoke. I felt so tired and drugged, yet wide-awake. How I longed for the oblivion of sleep.

Words on the rampage

The events of the day raced through my mind. Cancer. Could it really be? “Aggressive” . . .”glandular involvement” . . . “chemotherapy.” Those were some of the words I vaguely remembered hearing. Dr. Prinsloo’s visit earlier in the evening was clouded with anesthesia.

I remembered hearing, through a haze, his repeated question, “Do you understand?”

Squinting at his blurred image, I heard myself slurring drunkenly, “Yes I understand.”

Of course, I don’t understand! I’m doped stupid! My eyes won’t stay open. I wondered why I needed to hear this so urgently. The operation’s over. Surely the bad things you found can wait until tomorrow? It’s not as if I’m going to die tonight. . . . Am I?

Suddenly, my thoughts changed direction.

I wasn’t old enough to die. What about my family? What about my little grandchildren far away on the mission field? Would I ever see them again? Other people got cancer. Other people died. Shirleys don’t die!

I knew that, as a Christian, when I died I would go to be with the Lord. So why was I afraid? No, I wasn’t afraid. Just stunned—but I didn’t want to die.

A Strange Gift

I glanced at my bedside locker in the half-light and noticed a glass eye staring at me. What on earth had possessed Stephen to bring me such a silly present? And what would I do with it?

I hadn’t owned a teddy bear or soft toy since I was a little girl. Now here I was, a granny, and he had brought me a small stuffed lion. The roses were wonderful. People would admire those. But this . . . this thing? I would have to hide him from view.

I noticed that although his one eye looked directly at me, the other one stared past me. So not only was it a toy lion—it had a squint. His nose wasn’t quite straight either. In fact, his whole face was decidedly skew.

He looked uncomfortable and forlorn lying there alone. I maneuvered my right arm complete with its intravenous drip, painfully toward the locker. Stretching as far as I could, I managed to grip him and pull him onto my bed. There was something very cute and cuddly about this little fellow. Funny, never once did it occur to me that he could be a she

In the dark, I gave a watery smile. Mature, sensible, level-headed and in control Shirley was cuddling a stuffed lion. Somehow I felt he understood.

My husband, Rob, loved me dearly—but he was probably in bed by now, struggling to process the information he too had received that day. My two sons were both at home, struggling to come to terms with the knowledge that their mother had cancer. Far overseas my daughter wept at the knowledge that she could not fly home to be with me, knowing that when she had said goodbye to me a few months previously, that might have been our last physical contact. Over at the other side of Johannesburg my mother lay, afraid, but praying.

They all loved me. Yet they’re not here!

Squiffles, a Strange Source of Comfort

I cuddled the little lion closer. Slowly I began to feel less alone. This funny little furry creature was here with me. I eventually fell into a deep, drugged sleep, with little Squiffles, as he had just become, cuddled against my damp cheek.

Thus started a most unusual relationship. As the days went by, I tended to be the life and soul of the ward, yet under my blankets lay Squiffles. Throughout the day, well away from view, my fingers caressed him. I seemed to gain strength from the knowledge that he was there. If I had to leave my bed, he hid under the blankets until my return. When they came to make my bed, he spent a short time in my drawer. No one knew about him, except for my family who presumed I had packed him away somewhere out of sight.

Shortcut to next chapter in the series

These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Visitors Galore

This entry is part 10 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 9—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

NoticeVisitor from Reach for Recovery

Shortly after breakfast the next day, Beulah, a lady from Reach for Recovery,came to visit. This group is associated with the National Cancer Association, and their goal is to help breast cancer patients.

Reach for Recovery in South Africa is a wonderful resource for women with breast cancer. Click To Tweet

Beula brought me several unusual gifts. Two patterned cotton bags with long handles enclosed the bottles from my drains. When I got out of bed, I could easily carry my “shopping bags”, as the staff referred to my drains. Beula also brought a small square of sponge rubber. She encouraged me to keep it in my left hand at all times and pump it regularly.

“The reason for this is two-fold.” She squeezed the sponge as a demonstration. “Firstly, it will give your arm muscles a little exercise. Secondly, it acts as a stress reliever.” read more