I don’t remember my grandmother, but her death has cast a shadow over my adult life for as long as I can recall. At age 43, Odessa Abner, my paternal grandmother, was diagnosed with breast cancer. A year later, on January 17, 1974, she passed away with my father at her side.
I was 3 years old.
Fast forward to my early 20s. I am sitting in my doctor’s office with a stack of medical history papers on my lap, a list of diseases and check boxes before me, and a pen rapidly depleting of ink. Little did I know, the information I submitted on Grandma Odessa would raise some intangible red flags. After the exam, I was no longer a young woman—I became a walking risk factor. Not a risk factor in the conventional sense of the word, but one who would live side by side with instructions and reminders on monthly breast self-examinations; yearly mammograms that would begin as early as age 30.
Those annual exams would become my yearly fear-fests—fear of the unknown. Fear that my grandmother’s fate would soon become my own. I lived on a constant countdown.
In 2009 a good and longtime friend of mine, not I, was first to utter the words, “I have breast cancer.” We were sitting at the park watching our children play when Brenda Fisher said them aloud as if she were saying, “Looks like rain today.” We hugged and gave ourselves one day to cry.
Brenda was 37, a fighter with impenetrable joy that could only be described as heavenly. She maintained her joyful countenance even as she lay in a Kansas City hospice and passed away at age 39. I was at her bedside. I cried. I questioned how someone so beautiful and spirit-filled could be taken so young.
Brenda’s relentless joy in the face of illness erased my fears somewhat, for I knew that whatever came my way, I could handle. God was my source of strength, just as it was Brenda’s, and I’d like to believe Spirit was present for my grandmother as well in her time of need.
Greater in Spirit
By February 2013, mammograms had become so commonplace that I considered them an annual nuisance—a feeling similar to getting a hangnail. But that all changed when I received what I assumed would be a routine call from the nurse to tell me that everything was normal. Instead, she said, “The test shows an abnormality. We need you to go back for a second mammogram and ultrasound. How does next week work for you?”
Prayer found me on my knees on a daily basis after that call. Every day, I meditated. But fear was steadfastly creeping inside of me again, etching across my face for everyone to see.
The evening before my second round of tests, I pulled my children in close and assured them that everything would be all right. Mama was just fine. And, it was—for a few hours. The ultrasound technician gave me a clean bill of health and told me to come back in six months for a check-up. I leapt from the table praising God. What a tremendous blessing I had received!
That same afternoon, my doctor phoned. “We need to schedule a biopsy as soon as possible. You have a mass.”
“But,” I said, “That can’t be possible. They didn’t find anything during the ultrasound. Why do I need a biopsy?”
My doctor explained to me that while the ultrasound had detected nothing, the mammogram comparisons showed a small growth on my right breast. I thought of Brenda, but most of all, I thought of Odessa. I was nearing the age of her sudden departure.
The week following the biopsy was beyond agonizing. I walked around in a fog. Every day that passed taunted me into believing my fate was no longer my own. It was then I began reading Lessons in Truth, by H. Emilie Cady. I held tight to her chapter on denials, particularly the third and fourth denials:
- Pain, sickness, poverty, old age, and death cannot master me, for they are not real.
- There is nothing in all the universe for me to fear, for greater is He is that is within me than he that is in the world.
I started reciting the fourth denial every morning to myself in the mirror—“There is nothing for me to fear, for greater is He is that is within me than he that is in the world.” Those times, when my fears and my anxieties loomed over me, I recited the words silently, again and again.
I rejected all negative appearances. I denied fear’s power of me. I claimed this denial as my truth! By doing so, I became more attuned to my spiritual nature and my highest good. I declared God as my source of strength. Nothing could overshadow the love Spirit had for me. My true self became the rejection of fear and of cancer. I saw joy as my inherent nature.
I’d like to say the practice of denials and affirmations of health and wholeness turned each day of waiting into pure bliss and that there were no tears. That, however, would be untrue. But they gave me comfort. Sometimes comfort is all you have, and it is enough.
As my prayers intensified, my prayer circle grew as friends, family, and coworkers joined in my intention for a negative result.
I was at home when the doctor called to tell me the mass was benign. I screamed! I danced around! I dropped to my knees in gratitude to the Divine!
Though I realize there will be more check-ups and tests to come, I now choose to live my life as a testament to Brenda’s memory. No longer am I the walking risk factor. I am God in action. I know, regardless of the circumstances, I am standing in the land of all-good. I experience only joy. That is my birthright, for “greater is He that is within me.” Fear has no power over my daily walk.
I continue to use the practice of denials and affirmations. They give me a semblance of control in times that seem chaotic—those times when I feel like my fate lies on the outside. I eat healthier and exercise more. I control those things that I can. I live in the now—at peace and healthy.