My name is Shari Zindler, also known as “Survivor Girl Shari”, and I am celebrating 5 years cancer-free in February!
Six years ago, in April of 2010, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). IBC is a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer, which doesn’t show up in a mammogram, spreads quickly, is often mis-diagnosed and has a less than 50% survival rate.
Thankfully, my diagnosis came quickly - within three and a half weeks - and I was already stage III. I credit my GP with saving my life. He acted quickly, took it seriously and fast-tracked me through all kinds of testing. The following is an email I wrote to my network of prayer warriors, two days before I was diagnosed:
I have been thinking a lot about peace lately - and experiencing it too. As many of you know, I had a double biopsy last Thursday morning. I will get the results by the end of next week, so I am in a waiting game now.
The night before I had my biopsy, I was feeling a little nervous as I had no idea what to expect. Ryan and I were reading from the book of Philippians. I have been mostly calm during this whole process, and have been thankful for God's peace touching my life. So when he read the following verses, I was again struck by the idea of peace.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I was particularly drawn to the phrase "transcends all understanding." It really is something that is hard to grasp and explain intellectually. It really is either there or it isn't. And it is not a passive thing; it's an active thing, GUARDING my heart and mind. That sounds like something I want on my side! So many times I have had people say to me, "wow, you're so calm," "you seem at peace," "I wish I had peace like you do." Well, you know what? It's not about or from me - it's from God. So many times, I have failed to give the reason for my peace, and yet it is written right there in the Bible. It is the peace of God, and it comes and stands guard over my heart and mind, when I bring my concerns to Him and lay them at His feet.
So when you notice peace in my life, don't clap me on the back or think how 'together' I am (SO not the case). Rather, give a little nudge of thanks to God instead.
Two weeks later, I began six months of chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy, including removal of 14 lymph nodes, 12 of which were cancerous, then five and a half weeks of radiation, which left me with essentially a second degree burn. This was followed by painful tissue expansions, including a rib fracture, and many reconstruction surgeries, which have not ended up being that successful to this day. I have also struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder about eight months after my treatment. It is very common for people to feel lost and scared, to wrestle with feelings they have pushed aside. I ended up getting some counseling and also going away on a personal solitary retreat for two nights to the Mark Centre in Abbotsford. I faced all my demons and poured out my anger, fears, and sadness to God. This became a turning point in my healing.
My kids, Josh and Talia, were nine and 11 at the time, and they became the reason for me to “keep on, keepin’ on.” It was my deep heart’s cry and prayer that this cancer journey thrust upon us would be a faith builder in my kids and not a faith destroyer. I am so thankful that God honored that. One of the hardest things I had to face was what would happen to them if I died. God very tenderly and specifically assured me that He had them in His hands and that they would be okay no matter what. He asked me to trust Him with their lives.
Yesterday, I spent the day reading through my journal and emails from that time, shedding some tears, and feeling deeply thankful for the love and care Jesus has shown us through the amazing network of friends and family that supported us. As I started on this journey almost six years ago, I was on seven different church prayer chains and had an army of people coming alongside of me and my family; from helping us move two weeks after I was diagnosed, to cleaning my house, bringing meals, driving me to chemo, taking my kids out on fun dates, coming over and hanging out and playing Rockband so I would feel normal, and everything in between. I truly felt the power of people’s prayers and support, especially when the going got tough. Here’s another example of something I wrote in one of my email updates from that time:
“We are thankful for our friends, families, and our faith that God is good, He loves us immeasurably, He hates cancer, and He is sharing this journey with us too – providing peace, strength, and even joy in the midst of it. We couldn’t get through this without you. It makes a huge difference to my healing and outlook to know that at times like this, when the tears fall and my strength falters, you are there holding my arms up while the battle rages around me. You are the Aaron and Hur’s in my life.”
Exodus 17:11-13 “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
Here is an excerpt from my 2010 Christmas letter written just after my surgery. Chemo was done, and radiation was about to begin:
I have been thinking a lot lately about joy – not the ‘put on a happy face’ kind. I mean joy that cannot be contained and gushes forth in a wave of thankfulness and sometimes tears – happy tears as I tell my kids. It takes you by surprise and makes you feel truly alive in that moment. But you know what else I have found? That joy goes even deeper and becomes even more surprising when you are in a tough or painful place. Through some tough times in my life, I have come to believe that the heights of our joy are closely tied (in a supernatural God-way), with the depths of our suffering. Great loss, pain, and darkness are birth places for joy and thankfulness, if we are open to it. This has become true for me this past year as my family and I have waged war on cancer.
This journey that has led me here now - marking five years since the end of my cancer treatment. It has been a crazy ride, replete with tears, joy, pain, peace, fear and moments of profound beauty too. My story is not over yet, as I have been living with the chronic pain of rheumatoid arthritis for 12 years now and I am likely heading for knee replacement surgery soon. But I know who walks beside me and strengthens me for whatever lays before me, that He uses my brokenness, and that my hope and peace is found in Him. Truly, I cannot imagine facing cancer or any other difficulty without Him.