Looking at Statistics about Cancer?

This entry is part 21 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Why did I get cancer? The question rumbled round and round in my mind.

Image by Anita Peppers at Morgue File

  • I had three children before the age of thirty
  • ate a healthy diet with vegetables or fruit at most meals
  • I didn’t smoke
  • or drink alcohol
  • nor was I really overweight.

I learned that these were some of the factors which are supposed to have contributed to my chance of getting Breast Cancer. read more

What Is Cancer?

This entry is part 23 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

So what exactly is cancer?

I now found myself desperate to know more. I started to consume every book I could find on the subject: the Cancer Association articles, the books about breast cancer from Beulah, some which Rob found for me in the library and others brought to me by visitors. As soon as I was strong enough, Rob took me to the local bookshop and to the nearest Christian bookstore.

“This is so frustrating,” I grumbled. “Most of these books do not refer to the spiritual side at all. Those that do, almost always lean toward a belief system I can’t accept.” 

Books about breast cancer

I sensed that there was more to this disease than the physical. Surely there were things I could do on an emotional level, which would not offend my Christian faith.

Almost all the books about breast cancer I read encouraged practices which I knew to be wrong, allowing outside forces to take over my mind and body. They encouraged me to make my mind a blank, to go into a trance, to allow myself to be hypnotized. I didn’t believe I should allow any of these practices. Yet I knew I should be able to involve my mind in the healing process.

We continued to hunt for Christian books about breast cancer, especially real-life stories. I soon learned the importance—for me anyway—of checking the back page before bringing the book home. If the last page contained an obituary I put the book right back on the shelf. I needed to be positive. There were people out there who had survived, and those were the people whose books I needed to read.

So few books met my requirements. I resolved that when I was well again, I would write the book that I needed right then. Meantime I had to find ways to use my mind and emotions. But how?

I put this to one side temporarily, and returned to more pressing issues. What had caused my cancer?

I already knew that cancer was caused by the reproduction of deformed cells. It encouraged me to think of them as weak and confused. This was the opposite to the usual picture of cancer as the “Almighty Destroyer.” But what had caused these cells to become deformed in the first place?

Why had I developed cancer?

I learned that Breast Cancer is one of the few cancers which can occur in families. I was the first one in my family, and I prayed that I would be the last. My siblings were at high risk. Seeing I only had one brother and no sisters, I thought we were in the clear.


I discovered that what is generally thought of as a women’s problem is actually on the increase in men. An American survey states that for every 100 women, one man is diagnosed with breast cancer.

A man in America tried to enter a promotional race for survivors of Breast Cancer, but was turned away, as it was only for women. He contested this, but I can’t remember if he won his case. I hope he did.

As far as I knew, none of my ancestors had suffered from breast cancer. But my children all have to be diligent in checking their breasts regularly, my sons as well as my daughter, and my grandchildren as they grow up.

Speed of Growth

Once cancer cells start to multiply, they do so at an alarming rate. Some of them, if not arrested in time, spread to adjacent tissue, or they may even travel via the blood-stream or lymph vessels to distant organs. There they set up camp and form a secondary tumor,known as metastases.

However the incredible speed with which they reproduce is also part of their downfall.

The incredible speed with which cancer cells reproduce is also part of their downfall. See more . . . Click To Tweet

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy both rely upon this accelerated growth for their effectiveness. In each of these treatments, the machines or chemicals target rapidly growing cells. So the fast proliferation of the cancer cells actually blows their cover.

“Just as well!” I remarked to Rob as I shared these facts with him. “Symptoms only start to show up when the tumor has grown large enough to cause problems. How important it is to check our health regularly.”

I hadn’t realized, until then, that there are different types of breast cancer, as well as several stages. My tumor was Stage Two and had already started to spread from the breast. The oncologist explained that it was very fast growing, and the pathology report described it as “poorly defined.” This meant it was difficult to remove.

“According to statistics,” I read to Rob, “One out of every eleven women have breast cancer. And here I thought I was one of the elite few.” 

The statistics also said that three out of every four “Stage Two” breast cancer patients will live to be grandparents! That fact is not widely publicized.

Three out of every four Stage Two breast cancer patients will live to be grandparents! Read more here. Click To Tweet

I deliberately started to cultivate a scornful disregard for statistics. After all, there are no statistics for how long Shirleys live after contracting cancer. I am not a statistic. There is only one me.

What of the future?

Some years ago, if I survived five years after my operation, doctors would regard me as being cured. Medical experts today know this is false. Today, if there is no sign of a recurrence, medical experts will say it is “in remission.” The breast cancer cell can regenerate, so it can always come back.

Having said that, every day that passed after the surgery my chances of survival increased.

I didn’t want to know how long medical science thought I had to live. How could a mere doctor tell me that?

In the Bible I read All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139 verse 16). God knew how long my life would be before I was even born. My diagnosis hadn’t blown His plans! I certainly didn’t want to live according to a man-made measure, watching as my earthly time got shorter each day. What would I do if I ran out of days?


Over to you

How do you think you would react if you were told by medical professionals that you had 7 months to live? What would you do with that information? How would it affect your decision-making?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you.

These events occurred over 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.

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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

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.


Double Mastectomy instead of a Vacation

kim-harmsMy name is Kim Harms. I turned 40 on December 20, 2015 and was diagnosed with breast cancer on January 20, 2016. My husband and I were hoping for a tropical vacation to celebrate entering our 40s, but instead took a trip to Iowa Methodist Hospital for major surgery.

I underwent a bilateral mastectomy on February 25 and am still in the process of reconstruction. Earlier this spring, I was told I may need chemo, but received test results a couple weeks ago that showed it would not be necessary! Hallelujah!

I will be starting on a 10-year prescription of Tamoxifen next week, and will have surgery in July to complete my reconstruction. Beyond that point, I will just have regular check-ups with my oncologist to make sure there aren’t any rogue cancers cells growing again in my body.
read more

U-Turn Ahead!

3D-Women-UturnAn unexpected  life change

One beautiful, sunny African afternoon, my life changed forever.

For two years, I had asked my gynaecologist for a mammogram. For two years, he had told me it wasn’t necessary.

Finally another specialist sent me for a “routine mammogram and ultrasound” which turned out to not be as routine as I’d hoped.

I had breast cancer. And because it hadn’t been discovered earlier, it had already spread to the glands and beyond.

How can I describe the experience?

It was like when you are tearing along the road, enjoying the scenery and eager to arrive at your destination, and all of a sudden the road turns back on itself. You jam on brakes and grip the steering wheel in an effort to keep the car under control as you attempt to navigate the U-turn you hadn’t seen coming.

It was just like that.

I jammed on brakes, gripped my steering wheel, and sped into battle against what turned out to be an aggressive form of cancer. With the use of a skilled surgeon, an unconventional and courageous oncologist, a supportive family, and a team of praying friends, God pulled me through that dreadful year of treatment.

A change of direction

Not only did I survive the U-turn, I found myself traveling, as you do with a U-turn, in a different direction.

I went from being a nursing sister (RN) to being a published author. God promises in His Word that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). It took me a while to see it. But I eventually realised how many invaluable lessons God taught me during my “cancer year” and beyond. And it wasn’t long before He prompted me to share these lessons with others in the form of meditations.

A key verse:

One verse that followed me throughout the whole cancer experience: “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles” Isaiah 40:31.

I wanted so badly to have my strength renewed, but how do you wait on anyone, even the Lord, when you are told you have cancer?

The Lord was ready and willing to teach me. Sometimes I got it right, and sometimes I didn’t. But gradually and patiently He led me through many bumpy experiences, and I emerged from the journey closer to Him than ever before.

In Strength Renewed you can read about 90 of these times, and it is my prayer that you will be be blessed and helped as you navigate the U-turn in your life–hopefully with more control over the steering wheel than I often had.

Strength Renewed, Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer!

Read more about this book here.  

Or you can preview or even purchase this book by clicking on the relevant tab below the following image.