Did You Ever Ask God, “Why Me?”
My big sister, Suzette, was always bigger than life in my eyes. We are four years apart but she always seemed so cool, so capable. I watched her organize protests against injustices in high school, be a leader in every organization she joined, and set trends. Simply said, Suzette was my hero. She still is. Now, don’t be mistaken, we had our share of conflicts. There were periods of our lives when we were virtually at war with each other. But in the end, I love her deeply and respect her immensely. As a child, she was invincible to me. So you could imagine my surprise when she told me the news that she had breast cancer. I couldn’t fathom it. How could Wonder Woman be sick? In January of 2004, Suzette called me and said that she was going to see a specialist about a health issue. She didn’t want to even say the “C-word.” I had to probe to get to the truth. I finally asked her what kind of specialist she was going to see. She paused and said quietly, “An oncologist.” I knew then very clearly what Suzette was saying. Her doctor found a lump during a regular annual mammogram and it was malignant. It just seemed unbelievable. Suzette was in excellent health. At the time she worked out regularly, ate well, and took good care of herself. The only time she’d been in the hospital was to have her three children. Suzette and I are women of faith. We’ve always trusted that God would take care of us. So Suzette’s cancer diagnosis was mind-blowing.
DTB: Had you ever thought about the possibility of some big, serious diagnosis?
STC: It never crossed my mind that I would have any illness because I had always been very healthy. In our family, people are pretty hearty and strong. It never occurred to me that I would have any kind of serious disease or illness.
DTB: How did you react when you first got the diagnosis?
STC: I remember when the doctor told me what the diagnosis was. He called and told me that the test was positive. I felt as if somebody had just hit me in the gut. It knocked the wind out of me. I just couldn’t believe it. I sat in my bedroom for 8 hours, crying, I just couldn’t believe it. So finally, around the eighth hour, I shook myself. And I began to talk to myself. I needed to get myself together. Then it dawned on me that I had not prayed and asked the Lord about this matter. So I said to the Lord, “I heard what the doctor said. The doctor said that the test is positive. The cancer is there. What do You say about this? What is Your report?” In my heart I felt a peace about this ordeal. I knew that I would be okay.
DTB: Did you ever ask God, “Why Me?”
STC: Never did. I don’t see disease as being targeted to certain people. I never felt like “why me?” I never felt “Woe is me.” I had this cancer inside of me and I was going to do whatever was necessary to get it out.
DTB: What course of treatment did you receive?
STC: I had radiation for 4 months. And I had a lumpectomy.
DTB: What was having surgery like for you?
STC: I remember when I went for my first appointment. That was to do an assessment, and answer a series of questions, take X-rays, take blood test, etc. For that first appointment, I remember pulling up to the hospital and I just started crying because I couldn’t believe I was the patient. As a pastor, I was used to going to the hospital to see people who were patients. To think that I was actually the patient, that was a bit overwhelming. I cried. I remember crying sitting in the waiting room. I cried when the nurse came out to talk to me. I cried through everything. But I never felt hopeless. I was never afraid. And I never felt my life was in danger because I just trusted the Lord to take care of me. But the emotions were definitely on overload.
DTB: What is your family history with cancer?
STC: Our mom and her mother both died of cancer. Other than that, we are not aware of anyone else who had cancer.
DTB: How did your diagnosis affect your work and family life?
STC: It did not affect it. The children were small so I didn’t talk to them about this. I kept right on going. I went to work, other than a little time taken off after the surgery. But for the most part, life kept right on going. I just did what I had always done. I never felt badly. I’d get tired and fatigued at the end of the day. I never had pain. I just never felt badly.
DTB: What helped you emotionally and physically through your diagnosis and treatment?
STC: My trust in God’s healing power, number 1. And number 2, the support of all my family and close friends. My mother was a pastor and she taught my sister and me never to put God in a box but to believe in the scriptures. If God said that He could do something, that is what she taught us to believe. So I grew up with that kind of faith. And I had a lot of support. I had support from family, friends, the church family, and co-workers. A lot of people just really rallied and supported me.
DTB: What did you learn through this experience?
STC: I became more empathetic toward those who have illnesses or are struggling. Also, I learned to enjoy life. Life is more than working and trying to be accomplished. Enjoying your family. Enjoying yourself. Doing the things that you have a desire, love, and passion to do, not because people expect it of you but because you really want to participate. As a result of [the diagnosis], we have more get-togethers. We go out with people more. Next to my relationship with God, nothing is more important than our relationships with friends and family. Now, I enjoy spending more time with my husband and children. They are my joy. As a result of my experience, I wrote a book called, “Praying To Change Your Life.”
DTB: Did your diagnosis make you more aware of diet, exercise or emotional balance?
STC: I eat better. I live fuller. I pray more. I eat more fruits and vegetables. I juice more. I eat less sweets, although, from time to time, I can get back into that groove. I quit doing the land-based cardio and started swimming. Now I do weightlifting and swimming. I later read an article that swimming was a good exercise for cancer survivors because of the oxygen that the body gets when you swim.
DTB: What do you call yourself?
STC: I call myself an overcomer. I use what the scripture says. I don’t call myself a survivor because survivor suggests an element of fear; that the cancer may return. It makes me think of someone surviving but still in danger. I am not just surviving. I am living. I am overcoming!
DTB: How often do you think about cancer?
STC: I don’t think about it much. Mainly when I have to go to MD Anderson for my annual check-ups. Otherwise, I just don’t think about it a lot.
DTB: What is your advice to women who are going through cancer now?
STC: Don’t panic! Gather your support base. Find people who will encourage you and be positive. My husband, Kirbyjon, was my strongest supporter. He was a rock of strength and hope. He loved and encouraged me every step of the way. Weed out the people in your life who are not positive. That’s so important. Those who can’t be positive, reconnect with them after you finish the cancer process. If you don’t have family and friends who can empathize and encourage you, find an effective cancer support group. Make no mistake, you deserve it and you need it. Most importantly, trust the Lord to take care of you.
DTB: If you could choose whether or not you would go thought this experience, would you change anything?
STC: No, I would not change anything. While I would not want to go through this again, I would not trade it for anything. I think it was a good experience for my life. I don’t want to go back but I am grateful for the life experience. I had to endure it. And I overcame it with God’s help. And I am better for it. I am a better person because of it. I am more patient, more loving, more relational, more appreciative. I am kinder. I’m just a better person.
Category: Survivors in the News
Tags: Breast Cancer, CancerForward Survivor in The News, family history, Rev. Suzette T. Caldwell, spirituality, swimming, The Prayer Institute, Windsor Village United Methodist Church