By Lauren Ullman, Guest Blogger and Former AFL Staff Member
We were made by God for a purpose. We might not know what story God has written for us, but we know that He has a purpose for us. Everyone has a life story. Like your story, my story is unique and has a purpose for God’s glory. As you read this blog post in which I share my own story, I hope you find encouragement in your own faith story. I hope you feel empowered by God’s love and His strength. I hope you feel equipped as you walk with Him.
God speaks to us through scripture, prayer, and our circumstances. Though we cannot see God’s protection we can experience and feel it. We must trust that God is faithful and our source of refuge. The psalmist says in Psalm 91:4, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” What a beautiful picture. God is our refuge! There will be days of anguish, but we can celebrate the days of hope!
Days of anguish came for me at the age of 26, when I experienced my first battle that involved life and death. I found a lump on my collar bone—it was cancer. Newly married, my husband and I had no choice in the matter as we were faced with a cancer battle. My doctor said the chemotherapy and radiation treatments could very likely leave me infertile, and so we were forced into discussions about the possibility of future biological children. It was difficult to consider, knowing that I would have to start the staging process, port placement, and chemotherapy soon. We decided that we were not going to go through any fertility options and accepted the fact that we would not have biological children.
I completed a bone marrow biopsy and had bloodwork. Next would be a PET scan. I wasn’t able to complete the scan because my bloodwork, which included a pregnancy test, revealed that I was pregnant. This is where my life and death battle came into play. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Bulky Disease Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and I was 4 weeks pregnant!
Being pregnant with cancer wasn’t something I thought I would experience. I had many moments of complete shock and numbness reconciling that life and death were both present in my body. After having accepted that we would not have biological children, we were ecstatic I was pregnant, but what were we going to do now? What were the risks of being pregnant with cancer? The word abortion did come up by my oncologist but just in the manner that he knew we were on the same page. We know that all life is precious, and we wanted to do everything we could to protect both my life and the life of the baby I was carrying. My oncologist assured me that he would take care of both of us.
With the news of pregnancy, my doctors delayed chemotherapy until the second semester. I also had to see an OBGYN and a high-risk OBGYN. I soon had a new team of doctors who coincidentally already knew each other as they did their residency together. They consulted each other for every decision as they handled my case. It was only through God’s protection and the many prayers being lifted on my behalf that I was able to make it to the end of the first trimester—my cancer was spreading. Once I made it to the second trimester, I underwent surgery for the port placement, then chemotherapy began shortly after. I will not forget the first chemotherapy treatment; I was so emotional about having to start a nasty cocktail of drugs while I was carrying a precious baby. This baby was my gift from God—such a precious life amid the death in my body. Chemotherapy wasn’t easy, the baby was monitored frequently, and the doctors set goals for the delivery. I made it to around 32 weeks and was admitted to the hospital for the first time as I had back-to-back seizures because my body was wearing out from the effects of the chemotherapy. My doctors stopped treatments to give my body some time to recover before delivery. At 34 weeks, I delivered a beautiful little girl, who brought us so much joy in the midst of cancer.
Since our daughter was delivered so early, she spent three weeks in the NICU. During that time, I restarted chemotherapy treatments. My body was weak, and I found myself in more hospital stays, which took me away from my precious baby girl. The final chemotherapy treatments were very hard, but my daughter helped me finish my battle and became a sweet simple reminder of God’s faithfulness in my life. God was with me in every step of my battle and empowered me along the way.
I finished chemotherapy and started radiation a month later. A few months after radiation, I received the news that I was cancer free. Despite the chemotherapy and the radiation that would most likely leave me infertile, God gifted us with two more beautiful girls. Life is full and they are beautiful examples of God writing a wonderful story. This past September, I celebrated eight years of being cancer free!
My body was full of death but also full of life. My body was full of uncertainty but full of hope. My body was full of sorrow but full of joy. We can rejoice knowing that God is faithful. He is walking with us and is our refuge and strength. Friends, whatever you are going through, rest in Him and know you were made for a purpose. He is with you in your story.
Lauren Ullman is a wife of a military chaplain, mother of three beautiful little girls, and the Chief Administrative Officer for the Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy (ACNA). In her free time, Lauren loves running, hiking with her family, baking, and horse riding.