Archive for the ‘Testimony’ Category

Making an obstacle an opportunity

This picture captures a moment when I counted my blessings.

My journey through treatment for breast cancer is about so much more than what is happening to my body. The very many obstacles of my treatment create opportunities for deep growth and personal development.

I started this blog quoting Lance Armstrong in his book It’s Not About The Bike. His mother’s words to him to make an obstacle an opportunity helped him to believe he could survive anything – even testicular cancer.

His second book, Every Second Counts, recounts his post-cancer perspective on life. Every second counts as he returns to training for the Tour de France, and also as he recognises how precious and fragile life itself is.

Every moment is significant.

Nothing is wasted.

Lance found that ‘the experience of suffering is like the experience of exploring, of finding something unexpected and revelatory. When you find the outermost thresholds of pain, or fear, or uncertainty, what you experience afterwards is an expansive feeling, a widening of your capabilities.’ (p222)

I am listening to a series of podcast from Mosaic called Reality Check. The talks cover topics such as Making Your Life Count, Is This All There Is? Eternity in Our Hearts. You can download the podcasts here.

The speaker, Erwin McManus, talks about digging deep to find beauty in tragedy.

When we step back and see our situation differently, taking the perspective of eternity, our vision and understanding expands. We begin to glimpse an interconnectedness.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

Every experience and every second counts.


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Scary – isn’t it?

A whole new horizon – and no markers in the sand to say ‘THIS WAY’

This is how I feel as I begin my journey beyond breast cancer.

And yet there is warmth in the sun and the breath of life, and boy does it feel good.

I am thankful to be alive.

6th October marks the anniversary of the day my life changed when I was told I had breast cancer. This is my week of transition when I step off the bridge.

Please come with me on this new journey.

I look back at the things we did before my year of breast cancer treatment. We had workshops on Spiritual Journalling, Touching the Edge of His Cloak, Listening to God’s Heartbeat. We joined the Benedictine Monks for retreats, and we spent a season Listening to God’s Heartbeat.

And now we can also look back on a long slow year exploring a journey with God – making breast cancer an opportunity to get to know God better.

I would like to keep learning and keep sharing – and to do this I value your help.

We have a Celebration on 16th October. BC and I are thrilled at your enthusiastic response. Please let us know if you have missed an invitation and would like to come.

And after the party, I want to build again on the foundations we laid. I value your feedback on two questions:

  • FIRST – I would like to run another WORKSHOP or RETREAT in the New Year? Are you interested to join me, and if so, what topic would you like?
  • SECOND – I would like to start another blog. This would be about what it means to have life to the full: taking John 10:10 and exploring what that means in our lives day by day.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full

Please let me know what you think. You can comment in the usual way by clicking on the comments tag at the end.  Or you can email me directly.  The next post tells you how to do that.

And about the new header to my blog. I took this photo after one of my early morning radiotherapy treatments. Sitting in the peace of a summer morning, I recognised how much the obstacle of treatment had become an opportunity to listen to God. What do you think – do you like it or did you prefer the orchids?

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I didn’t think I struggled with denial – but I was wrong.

The truth is I am still not sure I have come to terms with having breast cancer. Writing about the stages of grief has helped me recognise some of my own struggles.

The astute among you might have recognised my reluctance to put breast cancer anywhere in the headings of this blog.

I didn’t want to become a woman who has breast cancer.

I didn’t want you all to look at me and see breast cancer instead of seeing ME.

I didn’t want to cause my family any anxiety.

I didn’t want to put a black mark on our family history for my daughter and my grand-daughters.

I didn’t want my life to change.

And so the easiest thing to do was to hide from the layers of loss.

But one by one the layers peel away and a new reality settles.

And I can bear the truth.

There is another truth; I didn’t think I struggled with anger – but I was wrong.

Last week a friend sent me her newsletter full of information about all of her activities and achievements. My mind wandered to explore what a tragedy it would be if she was diagnosed with breast cancer . . . and then it hit me.

TRAGEDY! . . . of course!

And the layers of loss washed over me all together –  that breast cancer has entered my world. My family is anxious for me, and my life has changed.

Anger rumbled inside me.

Today, 9 months since starting the blog, with 150 posts already published, I changed the heading of the blog and added breast cancer right at the top.

Making an obstacle an opportunity – Abigail’s breast cancer blog.

Breast cancer is the underlying driver for the blog. It is an obstacle in my path. Making it an opportunity is my challenge.

I have watched the words in the tag box in the margin grow and change over the months. They reflect what I am blogging about. I kept hoping that the words breast cancer would get smaller and smaller – but instead they grew bigger week by week.

And yet the encouraging thing is that other words like prayer, knowing God, happiness, soul-training and transformation grow to match them – and that is what keeps me going.

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Crossing the Bridge – three small words that convey a lot.

The metaphors you use give significant clues about what an experience means to you.

Looking back I have spoken about other metaphors of transition like hanging up my stethoscope or parachuting out of my job.

Being told I had cancer of the breast was like falling off a precipice. The laws of nature seemed to change; gravity disappeared and I could no longer rely on what had always been.

My handbag flew away – my purse tumbled upside down and the pages of my Filofax fluttered away in the wind. What I thought was important, even urgent, disappeared into the ether.

I was disoriented . . . falling . . . with no idea how far I would fall or what I might hit along the way – and watching my appearance change day by day.

This blog has been an important reference point. A different force of gravity that keeps me anchored. A place where I can explore what is happening and feel safe within its structure.

And the framework is you – saying ‘I am with you and I am praying for you’.

Thank you for being there. I wonder if you realise how much it has meant to me to have you alongside.

in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

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It is all very well talking about learning from the lives of the heroes and fools in the bible, but the natural question that follows is HOW?

I had never thought of God as a mentor until I read Wayne Cordero’s book. The Divine Mentor gives the nuts and bolts of growing your faith as you sit at the feet of the Saviour – through spiritual journaling.

Henriette Browne (1829-1901) 'A Girl Writing'

A few years ago, when my life was something like a railway junction, I discovered journaling by accident. I was a beginner in a writing class. Our first task was morning pages, an exercise to get over writer’s block. This is to put pen to paper first thing in the morning and let three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, flow on to the page. You write about whatever comes into your mind – for your own eyes only.

I don’t take to routine easily, but this one slotted right into place without any difficulty.

As I wrote page after page I found I was talking to God – words and questions just poured out on to the paper.

Without realising, I was learning how to keep a spiritual journal.

At the same time I read the Divine Mentor and everything fell into place. Wayne Cordero talks about the importance of constructing a sacred enclosure round your heart.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it

Your heart can be broken by one great physical, emotional or moral collapse, or it may be little by little, through the months and years, gradually weakening our lives, eroding our personalities, killing the essence of who we are and who we would like to become.” (p17)

“The choices you make regarding the foundations of your life have eternal implications that go far beyond your life span on earth. As Paul told his young pastor-friend Timothy, ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come’.” (p21)

The technique is simple – Gather a kit of 5 things (here is mine)

  1. Bible
  2. Pen
  3. Journal
  4. Bible reading plan
  5. Daily planner (your diary)

I include a bag that I carry the kit around in (I was given this one on a trip to Istanbul), and a set of colour pens – adding colour, mind maps and highlights makes the pages and the learning so much more memorable.

He uses the acrostic SOAP as a guide for daily reading – The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever 🙂


He guides you to read, reflect, ask what it means in relation to YOU and your life, and pray.

You write what you like in your journal. And as you do this, day by day you notice your senses sharpen, your ears tune in and your heart learns to recognise God’s voice in your life. The evidence is there on the pages you wrote yourself.

And so these are the five things for life – the kit to help you talk to God and listen to what he has to say to you each day, as you build a sacred enclosure round your heart.

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If you think of humbling yourself before God you might imagine lying prostrate or covering yourself in sackcloth and ashes.

I can testify that lying on your back, bare-chested, arms stretched above your head, feels pretty humbling. Add some strangers to the scene and the feeling intensifies.

Mark Twain was right

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society

You will not be surprised to hear I have been thinking a lot about this.

In the brief minutes on the rack while I have my treatment I feel vulnerable, powerless and naked before God.

Here I am, God,

No pretence

Flesh and bones

And the part that is me

No secrets

You knew me before I was born

You know me from start to finish

. . and I am not finished yet

Just as I am dependent on BC’s attributes when we have a disagreement, I reflect on how dependent I am on God’s attributes.

Lying naked and vulnerable, not knowing the future, I am dependent on God who tells me he is . . .

accessible creator eternal faithful father good gracious guide holy impartial immutable incomprehensible infinite jealous just long-suffering love merciful omnipotent omnipresent omniscient perfect preserver provider righteous saviour sovereign wise

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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Week three, treatment 10 and all is well.

The sun keeps shining. Life and growth are all around me.

I know the routine:

Mosaic Art Sculpture - to support breast cancer

Brisk walk

Sigh under sign – RADIOTHERAPY

Doors engulf me

Card in box

Alcohol gel

“Hi, fish”

Read book

Blue gown, smiling faces, harsh room

Stretch on rack

Bare breasts

No jewellery, no blanket, no pretence

Nowhere to hide

Measure . . check

Adjust . . check


Pushed to the wall, I called to God; from the wide open spaces, he answered. God’s now at my side and I’m not afraid . . God’s my strong champion; I flick off my enemies like flies.
God’s my strength, he’s also my song, and now he’s my salvation.

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

The machine whines – I give thanks that any cancer cells are flicked off like flies.

Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego I am not alone in the furnace.

As I walk back into the sunshine I breathe deeply – no smell of fire on me!

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