How A Childhood Cancer Diagnosis Taught Me to Trust the Unseen

Woman folding her hands in prayer and looking down. Greenery is in the background.

I don’t remember the exact moment that I turned to God and prayer, but I do remember what my first prayer was: “Please let me live to be twenty.”

I said it when I was eleven years old and going into the hospital for weekly chemotherapy treatments. I knew that I was living between life and death. I also knew that I wanted to live.

I said the prayer silently, and when I did peace poured through my body. A feeling, a knowing, of “I am ok” came through me. I felt a great lightness and an appreciation for being alive.

I carried this feeling with me through the years of doctor’s appointments, scans, and tests that followed. I carried it with me each time I lay under the CT scanner, in a dark, cold, bleak room at the University of Minnesota hospital for what seemed like hours. My mother would look nervous as we waited for the test results but I knew I was okay.

I felt not only peace, but also that something greater was with me. I began to call that something greater “God,” and I continued to pray to it for help and guidance during my cancer journey. Not only pray to it, but also trust it—to let go and surrender to it. This sense of trust as well as God’s presence, helped carry me through the darkest time of my life.

I told no one about God or my prayers or how they were helping me. I did not attend church very much, nor did my family talk much about God. Back in the seventies there were chaplains at the hospital, but no minister or counselor came to speak with me when I was there. My mother would say, “You are going to be fine,” which was comforting, but she had no idea what I was living through. No one talked with me about what was happening to me. I was alone.

Meister Eckhart, a 14th century Christian mystic said, “One must learn an inner solitude, wherever one may be.” I learned this truth at a young age. But in my solitude, I discovered that I actually wasn’t alone. I learned firsthand that there is a power beyond us that is so much greater than we can comprehend. Language is limiting when we try to define what this power is. I name this power “God” in a very broad, inclusive sense. This God, higher power, source, energy, divine, is here for all of us at all times. I’ve continued to feel God’s presence with me throughout my whole life. There is not a day that goes by that I do not say prayers of thankfulness to God that I am still alive.

I also learned to ask open-heartedly for help and then to surrender and let go. That’s what trust is: asking something greater for help and guidance and then letting go and surrendering. We just need to open our hearts, call out for help and trust that we have been heard.

I invite you to look at what may be difficult in your life—your health, a relationship, money, family—and ask for help today. You just might be surprised at what comes to you. I promise that comfort, peace, and companionship are here for you now.