God’s Gifts Through My Journey with Breast Cancer

by Cindy S. George • Dean of Academics

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

As we continue our celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I pray that the lessons learned through my personal journey with breast cancer will comfort and encourage those who may be in the midst of the fight, and even those who have yet to fight.

I will never forget the day my life took a drastic turn, a turn that would literally change me forever.  Being told that you have CANCER is not an easy thing.  It’s overwhelming, devastating, and just plain hard to comprehend.  Your mind is suddenly swarmed with millions of questions with the most pertinent being, “Am I going to die?”  After you’ve had time to somewhat absorb the horrific news, you immediately focus on the fight.  Your level of determination to beat the disease far exceeds anything you could ever imagine.  The treatments, which are often worse than the disease itself, consume your entire life.  The sickness from the side effects, the weakness of your body, and the hair loss become totally unbearable.  Many times, you simply want to give up, but you know deep inside you must continue the fight for God has a purpose for all things.

My journey began in November of 2003 as I pulled out of the school parking lot late one night in total exhaustion.  I pulled over to the side of the road and prayed for God to slow my life down and to give me some type of test that would show me the importance of my life.  Little did I know of the journey that would lie ahead.  About a week later, I received a registered letter from my doctor’s office informing me that I had not gone in for a follow-up mammogram.  In my mind at the time, I was just too busy to schedule an appointment.  Honestly, I would have dismissed the letter had it not been registered.  So, I scheduled a mammogram and was told that I needed to have a biopsy.  The biopsy showed precancerous cells, but my news grew progressively worse.  After several months of testing at Piedmont Atlanta, I was diagnosed with aggressive Stage III breast cancer that had metastasized to my right arm.  I was then scheduled for a bilateral mastectomy with a right arm dissection followed by aggressive chemotherapy and radiation.  The next year of my life was consumed with chemo treatments, fatigue, nausea, extreme pain and a fear that one can only imagine.

My journaling each day brought great perspective to my life and my personal walk with the Lord.  Through my darkest moments, He taught me about the mighty power of prayer, true Christian love, and the importance of Christian ministry.  I truly witnessed the hands and feet of Jesus time and time again.  For that, I will be forever grateful!  Every October, I pull out my journal as reminder of the many gifts God gave me through my journey.

God gave me the gift of courage …

  • Courage to hear the results of my tests and the treatment plans I would have to endure.
  • Courage to face all the surgeries that left massive scars as a reminder of this debilitating disease.
  • Courage to walk into a treatment room and sit down to face a 12” tube of “red devil” being injected through a port into my already weakened body.
  • Courage to face painful shots in my stomach to boost my blood cells.
  • Courage to allow others to see my bald head, and courage to stand before my colleagues with a wig on and tubes coming out of my sunken chest.
  • Courage, to this day, in facing continuous doctor appointments (not knowing if you will hear one day that the cancer is back).

God gave me the gift of strength …

  • Strength to mask my fear as I comforted my daughters.
  • Strength, against all odds, to get out of bed each day and go to school.
  • Strength to know that maybe the next day there would be no more nausea.
  • Strength to focus on the fight.
  • Strength to know that God is walking beside me and keeping me focused on the good in my life.  My journal entry on July 28, 2004 makes me weep even as I read it fifteen years later.  It reads …

Last Chemo Treatment

            “I can’t believe this day has finally arrived.  I have prayed earnestly for this day for some time now.  It is bittersweet.  I can’t believe I am saying this, but I am going to miss this place!  The treatment room is such a unique place.  It is a big room lined with two rows of recliners.  Each recliner has its own IV pole, blanket, and medicine tray.  The nurses are scurrying around mixing the chemo drugs for each patient.  You can see, and certainly sense, the anxiety of the people filling the treatment chairs as they await their drugs and the resulting nausea, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue.  One thing I realize is that cancer does not discriminate.  The treatment chairs are filled with the young, old, rich, poor, Asians, African Americans, Caucasians, males, females, and even a cancer doctor himself.  As I see the bags of drugs coming my way, a bit of depression sets in; however, across the room sits a 16-year-old young lady who has already had 13 brain surgeries.  Boy, does this room quickly put your life into perspective.  I clearly see that I am one of the lucky ones.  I have survived dose dense chemotherapy through the pure grace of God.  It is so difficult to explain the emotions I feel right now.  I am excited to get this treatment behind me but saddened that I will no longer have this most humbling experience every two weeks.  It seems that chemo has become a part of me, a part of me that will remain forever. 

            Later I said goodbye to the nurses and with streams of tears, I thanked them for all they had done for me.  A lifetime of gratitude is all I have to give.  Many of my fellow cancer friends walked by, dragging their IV poles, and congratulated me on finishing my last treatment.  Unfortunately, many of them will never be able to have a last treatment day.  It saddens my heart so.”

God gave me the gift of laugher …

  • Laughter when I decided to go for a Mohawk before having all my hair shaved.
  • Laughter to put mascara on the four eyelashes I had left.
  • Laughter to paint on my eyebrows.
  • Laughter to paint on fake nails after the chemo had destroyed my nail beds.
  • Laughter to adjust my wig in front of a faculty meeting, not realizing the wind had blown it sideways.

And above all, God gave me the gift of Amazing Love …

Throughout my illness, God showed me an amazing love that I will never forget; an amazing love that has changed my life.  So, I would like to share with you a devotional I wrote for my church the week after my treatments were completed …

Amazing Love, How Can It Be?

All my life I have been taught that Jesus loves me, and I have had many opportunities to witness His love.  However, there simply have been none greater than this past year.  I can vividly remember reading the Advent devotionals last year and being so inspired by those who wrote of their close relationship with God.  I yearned for a similar relationship in my life.  I can remember praying for the Lord to put some type of test in my life to draw me closer to Him, to slow my life down, and to enable me to have a tiny glimpse of what is important in life.  My life was a juggling act out of control as a wife, mother, and an administrator of one of the largest high schools in Henry County, often working twelve- and fourteen-hour days.  I knew something had to change.  Although I was really praying for a little pop quiz, God sent me a final exam in February when I was told that I had breast cancer which had metastasized to my lymph nodes.  I can remember crying endlessly and pleading, “Why, God?”  But deep down inside, I knew this terrible disease was God’s answer to my prayer.  Little did I know that in the months ahead, my battle with breast cancer would become the biggest blessing in my life.

            Throughout this past year, I have witnessed God’s amazing love with my own two eyes!  I have seen the outpouring of His love through my family, my church family, my school family, my friends, and even through people I have never met.  All of you have been the hands and feet of Jesus’ love through your hundreds and hundreds of cards, well wishes, prayers, and meals.  I have seen God’s love through the human spirit like never before.  God’s love has emanated from all of you who have continued to support me as we prayed together in Sunday School, in Church, in my home, and yes, even in my school.  I have seen God’s love in several hundred students as they made cards, sent prayers, and even wore pink for Breast Cancer Awareness.  Amazing love, how can it be?

            I have had the opportunity to hear God’s love through the messages and prayers of our pastors, through your many visits and phone calls, and through my wonderful prayer beeper.  Each time my prayer beeper would beep, I could actually hear your prayers and love.  Many times, I tried to keep count, but the beeps were just too numerous.  Amazing love, how can it be?

Mostly, I have felt God’s love and His presence during my most difficult days.  I can remember being on my knees and begging God to take away the pain and the nausea.  Miraculously, He would ease my pain.  Miraculously, He would take away the nausea just long enough for me to attend one of my girl’s activities.  Miraculously, He would comfort me and provide me with the strength simply to get through the day.  And miraculously, in my darkest hours, He would send an angel to encourage me not to give up and to continue the fight.  Amazing love, how can it be?

            God’s love has enabled me to persevere through my suffering and to rejoice.  For Romans 5:3-5 teaches us “…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”  His love has given me comfort and strength.  His love has taught me patience, humility, the true meaning of Christian love, and the mighty power of prayer.  I now understand that when I am weak, He is strong.  Amazing love, how can it be?

            Through God’s love, I am a survivor.  His love has sustained me through six surgeries; through the loss of my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows; through months of dose dense chemotherapy; and through thirty-one radiation treatments.  My battle with cancer has been such a blessing as it has provided me the awesome experience to actually see, hear, and feel God’s love is so, so many ways.  His love has deepened my faith, drawn me closer to Him, and provided me with a sense of peace and hope that only He can bring.  To those of you who helped carry the torch, I owe a lifetime of gratitude.  I thank you deeply for showing me God’s love and for teaching me the true meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  Amazing love, how can it be?

            It is through God’s gifts of courage, strength, laughter, and amazing love that I stand today as a Cancer Survivor!  My battle with cancer has taught me more about life and the importance of my relationship with God than anything I could ever imagine. By His grace, we can emerge form our trials stronger and more conformed to His image. 

            As we draw near to the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is my prayer that we will forge ahead in being the fuel for the fight against a disease that will not triumph; that we will believe a cure is not just possible, but inevitable; that we will have love and respect for all the brave women and men who have fought courageous battles on the frontline; and that we will have hope that each day brings us closer to a time when breast cancer has been conquered for all women and men, all over the world.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 4:7

Mrs. George joined ELCA in 2013 as the high school Academic Dean after serving in public education for 33 years as a classroom teacher, Instructional Lead Teacher, and Instructional Assistant Principal. Mrs. George spent the last thirteen years at Union Grove High School where she established an academic continuous improvement plan that resulted in a ranking in the top 2.6% of all public high schools in the state of Georgia. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Georgia College and a Master of Arts for Teachers degree in Biology from Georgia State University. After numerous add-on certifications from the University of West Georgia in the areas of gifted education and instructional supervision, Mrs. George received her Education Specialist degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from Lincoln Memorial University. Mrs. George is married to Jackie, her husband of 32 years, and they are the proud parents of two daughters, Ivey and Lydia.