Brave in the Face of Breast Cancer

I am a 42-year-old wife, mother and local church pastor living with breast cancer.

“Don’t be afraid,” said my dear friend, Marques…

Actually, Jesus said it first. And the great Jewish prophets said it many times before him.

But Marques Bovre, a Wisconsin-based singer/songwriter/theologian, had this amazing ability to bring Jesus' words to life through music and poetry. This was partly because Marques was insanely talented, but it was really because Marques deeply loved Jesus, his mentor and friend.

And Jesus said, "Don't be afraid."
His body bread, "Don't be afraid."
Thorns on his head, "Don't be afraid."
Where Jesus led, "Don't be afraid."

Because I worked with Marques for several years, I have loved "Don't Be Afraid"* (https://soundcloud.com/bsirch-1/dont-be-afraid-1) for a long time. Most times we sang it in worship, I would find myself in tears. So pastoral, so compassionate, so Gospel. So true.

We lost Marques at the young age of 50 to brain cancer over two years ago. In his living and in his dying, he lived this truth as well as any human creature could. Brain cancer is frightening, rightfully so, and I am sure Marques struggled with terror. But he held this truth close to his heart the entire time--that is all any of us can do.

Especially in the face of cancer.

In May, at the age of 42, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am a wife, mother and a local church pastor. My husband, Robert, and I have been married for 10 years. Our only child, Josiah, is 8 years old. I have served The Church of the Good Shepherd, United Church of Christ for 3.5 years. Though I am no longer considered super young, I am still at the beginning of these precious relationships. There should more time ahead with my people than time already spent. That is life in your early 40's.

Still at the beginning....

Four months ago, I assumed that I had decades to look forward to with the people I love. A cancer diagnosis destroys that assumption. Kills it really. I am not guaranteed anything in this life, and breast cancer made sure I knew this.

Last week, I had some pain in my upper ribs. I casually mentioned this to my surgical oncologist on the phone, and she had me rush to the hospital for x-rays. Don't pass GO. Don't collect $200. Just get there. I am no cancer expert but I know that if breast cancer spreads to your bones, there is no cure. Women can live a long time with metastatic breast cancer, and the treatments are getting better and better. But when breast cancer decides to take up residence somewhere else in your body, all treatment is focused on slowing down or reducing cancer cells. At this time, no one is cured of metastatic breast cancer.

It took several hours for my surgeon to call back with the results of the x-rays. In those 5-6 hours, I felt terror for the first time in my life (part of white and economic privilege is a certain freedom from terror). I am talking about the knock-the-breathe-out-of-you kind. I am talking about the visions-of-your-funeral kind. I am talking about the calculating-life-insurance-policy kind.

I am talking about terror. Real terror. Acute terror. Disabling terror.

I have been living with breast cancer for months now, and I have been frightened and nervous and totally cranky. But this was terror. I obsessed for hours about what might happen to Robert and Josiah. I obsessed for hours about what would happen to my church that I love so deeply. I thought about friends and family and money and location and home. It was irrational on so many levels, but completely rational at the same time.

My x-rays came back clear, just in case you were worried.

I got a glimpse at the terror that Jesus and the prophets and dear Marques were addressing in this simple reminder:

Don't Be Afraid

Marques knew that Jesus wasn't speaking to people that were nervous about their stock portfolios or passing that important future exams. Jesus was and is speaking to white knuckle terror--the feeling completely, utterly powerless kind of terror. And Jesus speaks to authoritatively because he knew it intimately.

"Don't Be Afraid" is not a commandment. It is not an admonishment of faithlessness. It is proclaimed over 350 times in the Hebrew and Christian Testaments because it is truth.

And Jesus said, "Don't be afraid"
because God never abandons.

His body bread, "Don't be afraid"
because has claimed you as God's own, because God has proclaimed you as beloved.

Thorns on his head, "Don't be afraid."
because God knows suffering, true suffering.

Where Jesus led, "Don't be afraid."
because God seeks a deep partnership with humanity to end suffering forever and ever.

I knew terror last week for the first time, and it won't be the last. But I wasn't afraid.

Thanks be to God for that.

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Visit my blog Pastoring Into the Unknown at https://pastoringintotheunknown.wordpress.com/

*This audio clip is the only recording ever made of this song. I give thanks for my dear friend and Marques' closest friendand fellow artist Bryan Sirchio, for making this song available. Check out Bryan's powerful music here: http://sirchio.com/