Peace Like A River
How Sue McGee found hope, strength and healing amidst ovarian cancer.
I awoke around two a.m., distressed about the doctor’s words and what lay ahead.
The year was 1986. I was 46 years old, married to a pastor and the mom of two daughters, and living in Corbin, Kentucky, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I had seen a doctor—a gynecologist—for what I thought was a routine physical.
Instead, he laid his hand on my abdomen and said, “You have a problem, don’t you?”
I didn’t know what he meant, but he insisted that I clear my schedule and return the next day.
So, I did. I found out, like a lot of people, that the things you think are so important really aren’t important when you get down to it.
Something wasn’t right in my body as I was steadily gaining weight, even after going on a diet. Soon my stomach was starting to show it.
But I had no idea how bad my situation really was.
How I found hope, strength and peace
The night before returning to the doctor, I lay awake at 2 a.m. and started reading my Bible. I have a personal relationship with Jesus, and I often go to this book for hope.
Eventually, the pages fell upon Psalm 40:3:
“He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.”
When I read these words, a peace that passes all understanding flooded me and I knew everything was going to be ok for me the next day, no matter what my doctor said. Of course, I never thought I had cancer.
God was using this verse to give me hope for what lay ahead.
The next day, the doctor did an ultrasound and discovered a large mass. He then scheduled me for surgery.
“Do you think this is cancer?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. He got up from his desk and hugged my husband and I and prayed with us, which was kind but also underscored the severity of the situation.
After I checked into the hospital, a surgeon removed a six-pound tumor the size of a basketball from my abdomen.
They diagnosed me with ovarian cancer, the deadliest of all female cancers.
In the 80s, they knew so much less about how to treat it. No one told me the long-term outlook, but I knew there was a good chance I could die quickly.
After surgery, they kept me in the hospital for 12 days and started giving me chemotherapy.
At one point a man came into my room and read Psalm 40:3. He knew nothing about how the Lord had already spoken that verse to me.
I wasn’t certain yet about what God was trying to say, but it gave me hope to keep going.
Peace like a river
During the beginning of my journey, I sat down at my piano, which is one of my passions, and played “It is Well with My Soul.” This song, written by a man who lost all four of his daughters in a shipwreck, seemed to resonate with my situation, too:
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot,
Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Like the song lyrics, I endeavored to be at peace with whatever lay ahead.
Six months later, they did a second-look surgery to see if the treatment worked.
The doctor found no cancer cells, which was amazing. Over the next few years, I continued to stay cancer free.
Yet with every doctor’s visit, when my fear returned, the words of Psalm 40 gave me hope.
My eyes were open to the pain and loneliness they were going through, and I began wanting to help others.
About three years after my diagnosis, my husband and I moved to Lexington, where I started visiting cancer patients, especially during the holidays.
I continued staying healthy, but a few decades later my husband was diagnosed with melanoma.
I lost him in 2011.
Sharing my story
A few years later, having experienced cancer as a patient and caregiver, I wanted to get involved again. I became a regular volunteer at the cancer center.
As a Chemotherapy Hospitality Hostess, I give the patients food, drinks, pillows and blankets. I also play the piano in the cancer center lobby for the patients, especially hymns including “It Is Well with My Soul.”
I continue to share my story, and many people resonate with my experience and the words of Psalm 40. The fact that I’m still here so many years later also gives people hope.
Advice for others
Cancer is a journey where we need to just take it one day at a time. We need to live each day the best we can, and this is true whether you have cancer or not.
Facing cancer changes your outlook on what’s important in life.
I often meet cancer patients who want to get right with God, either to restore the relationship or begin one for the first time. Of course, not all choose this, but everyone has the opportunity.
I’m not sure how anybody makes it through cancer without the hope that God provides.
Like me, you can find peace like a river, a kind that surpasses all understanding. God’s grace is sufficient for you whatever the occasion, as his grace was sufficient for me when I faced cancer and when I lost my husband.
Reach out to God today and find his hope, strength and healing.
For more about how to begin a relationship with God see Knowing God Personally.
To unlock the power of prayer see Asking God for Help.
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