By Mollie Meeks
I recently read that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it. When contemplating this, I thought about an 18-year-old friend of our family, Anna Hill, who has been battling ovarian cancer this year, her senior year of high school. She wrote about her battle for a Cancer Survivors’ Fund college scholarship competition. With her permission, I am sharing her incredible response to what life handed her. This is her testimony.
“But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength” (2 Timothy 4:17).
Strength comes from within and is made physical upon stimulation. It is not measured by how much you bench, the force with which you throw that mean right punch, or how fast you can climb the “longer than life” rope in gym class. Strength is so much more than this. Strength is the will to process your weakness. It is the recognition that in your weakness, He is present.
My life as a senior at Madison Central High School and as a person in general was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but some things came pretty close. I was on the Student Government Association for four years running, I was voted funniest out of the entire school for three years, once as a sophomore. I had my own show on the campus television, I had my triplet sisters and best friends on my arm at all times, and I had the best pair of purple and orange Nike tennis shoes the world had ever known. Diet coke in hand, I was ready to finish out my easy senior courses, film some funny morning videos to share with my peers, and head to the University of Mississippi in the fall of 2015.
Plans were in motion, and I was running towards them with open arms. When I was diagnosed in September of 2014, obvious shock ensued. The previous summer, I had overcome two surgeries in two months to remove a pre-cancerous cyst, along with the ovary it sat on. After numerous tests, I was pronounced cancer free and cleared to go on a mission trip to Belize with my youth group. I did this, and the memories created there will stick with me for life. I “showered” in a dark tiled vessel with absolutely no hot water and little to no water pressure. I ate authentic Mexican foods, cooked fresh in Pastor Alberto’s cozy little kitchen.
I met children who were hungry for life, and I singlehandedly spread the phenomenon of “Little Sallie Walker” around the streets of Orange Walk. Amazing things happened in the brutal sun, for example, my first sunburn in two years; an important moment in a ginger’s life. Good times were truly good. Little did I know that as I held that little six day old child, looking longingly at his tiny sock covered feet, an evil monster was growing inside of me—changing my life without my consent. And life did change.
One day I was going to school, reaching my personal goals, and laughing my way through what I thought at the time were the worst problems ever. The next day I was metaphorically chained to a hospital bed, managing horrid pain with drugs that I wouldn’t stop taking until January of 2015. Spending the night at UMMC would become my normal, and being a “hard stick” would become my greatest flaw. My hair would fall out, and the bobby pins would sit lonesome on the counter, not useable. My heart would break every single time my bottom hit that chemo chair. The hours upon hours of treatment would replace my TV time at school, and the nausea would reject my favorite drinks and foods. I would become a lost woman in the same amount of time that it took for the Nurse Practitioner to get the damning word out of her mouth, “Cancer.”
Life took a ceasefire. My chemotherapy regimen was so intense and debilitating that I couldn’t go to school, see my friends, hug my family, or touch anything without using hand sanitizer. My greatest fear was no longer failing that test, but losing my life. I was so angry, but for some reason I couldn’t be angry with my God. Anyone can bet I doubted my faith. I asked the obvious questions that went unanswered. I was so tired and weak that I couldn’t even pray. Rather than enjoying my time, I began to go through the motions. Wake up. Pull on a beanie and sweatshirt. Put on pants. Slippers will work. Walk downstairs. One step at a time. Skip breakfast. Endure car ride. Walk into hospital. Avoid eye contact. And conversation. Suffer through chemo. Another car ride. Return to couch. Cry. Fall asleep. Repeat. My world was crumbling, and my positivity and humor declined rapidly with every prick of the needle.
After months of chemo, my will to live had broken down. Surgery was the next step, and the shadow of fear that followed filled my mind with unspeakable thoughts. Though my life and head were in danger, being held captive by this maniacal disease, I still could not say that I felt abandoned. The pop up feeling of being alone was natural and excusable, and though I doubted the purpose and reasoning behind my suffering, an unexplainable sense of calm would periodically save me from myself.
Going into surgery, I was blatantly aware of the amount of people praying for my healing and survival. I didn’t know what I would be told about my condition coming out of surgery. There were so many “ifs” involved in my case. Even with this, the confidence in my father’s eyes when he told me “I believe God wants us to fight alongside him, Anna,” sparked a hidden strength within my very spirit. As I said before, strength is seemingly invisible until stimulated by circumstance. It was then that I realized everything would be okay. It might not have been favorable or perfect. It was not awesome or normal, and it would never be the same again, but as long as I had my family, my faith, my friends, and my very life, everything would be okay.
The surgery went better than expected, a best-case scenario they said. I now am in the beginning stages of remission, working to attend the University of Mississippi in the fall, learning to laugh again, and growing my hair out. At the moment, I am pushing to study and make a career of broadcast journalism and political science, or teaching the history of our great America to young children. I still do not understand the grander meaning of my illness or why God chose for my life not to end in death, but instead be used to glorify Him. I don’t mind not understanding, for I take the outcome on faith. Khalil Gibran once said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” My scabs still bleed, but in Him I move forward. God is real, life is hard, and cancer sucks.
Molly Meeks, LPC, is a therapist at Summit Counseling providing counsel in the areas of caregiving, depression, stress, anxiety, loneliness, and grief. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601.949.1949.