Lap three. We are sweating, talking and laughing. I’m thinking it’s time for a rest, my legs are sore. Then a stranger, a beautiful brown woman with headphones and an i phone in hand, casually breaks into our conversation.
“I like your jacket,” she says cheerily. This is the third time since we’ve been walking that someone compliments my jacket.
Several months ago my daughter gave me a bunch of cancer gear: T-shirts, jackets, a shawl, a head wrap, a tote bag — about 15 pieces in all. She picked up these items in the course of her work and gave them to me. My plan is to donate them to an organization that is promoting cancer awareness or research. I decide to keep the purple jacket I’m wearing on the track this morning. It is adorned with colorful ribbons and the words “Hope for a Cure For All Cancers.”
The beautiful stranger tells my friend and I that she has just been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. We stop our walk and turn to embrace her as she melts into tears. She is afraid. Because her mother is a breast cancer survivor, she has taken a test to see if she carries the gene that causes the disease. The test was negative, making her recent diagnosis all the more confusing. Her doctor has given her medicine to shrink the tumor, her hair has fallen out. She is in her 30s and is the mother of four young children. Her brother tells her that her diet may be the cause. She is working out in hopes of losing weight and improving her health. She tells us she suffers from bi-polar disorder and eats to ease her pain. Sonya and I listen, then do the only thing we know to do. We stand on the track and pray with her. We touch and agree that while cancer may be the diagnosis, God has the final say.
Then we tell her our cancer stories. Sonya’s husband has been battling cancer for six years. Last year, he received a bone marrow transplant. There are dark days to be sure, but they are survivors, she tells her. I tell her about my father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last May. He survived and thrived for more than a year relying on his faith and aggressively seeking treatment.
Our new friend has four children. She pulls up a family photo on her phone. She has much to live for. She tells us that God put us in her path. Often when we are at the end of our rope, God places a ram in the bush — something or someone to remind us all is not lost. As the three of us parted ways on the track, we felt God’s love and presence in our exchange. It’s important to remember that he never leaves us, especially in our darkest times.