About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Take home points

I had the pleasure of sharing some of my testimony yesterday at a Women's breakfast at Calvary Chapel of Escondido. In preparing for my talk, I went through this blog and re-lived my journey with cancer.  It was very good for me to step back and look at this experience in a compressed period of time. There were three main "take home" points that I shared with the ladies.  Since most of my readers were not present, I would like to share them here. Plus, I kind of ran over time (okay, by a lot...like 30 minutes!) I am going to expand on what I actually said so it may make more sense.

Keep in mind my entire story as you read this. It may sound flippant if taken out of context. But I've come to this after a longish road of trial and walking the walk. I continue to be concerned that it is not really over. I live in persistent concern (I don't want to use the word "fear") of recurrence. This is what I've learned so far:

"Joy" is not dependent on your relative circumstances. Joy does not come from having things, or being comfortable. Sure, it can make you momentarily happy. But a deep, abiding joy only comes from knowing the Lord. It's hard to describe if you don't have that. But even in the midst of cancer, in my darkest moments, I can say that I had the joy of the Lord. Not even cancer could take that away from me. In fact, having cancer actually made me realize what a gift I have been given in Christ. That the Creator of the universe, my Lord, has been by my side helping me get through this entire ordeal. Maybe some would be angry that God let them get cancer in the first place.  Honestly, I've never thought this way. Trials happen to everyone. I see this as an opportunity to be refined. Yes, it hurts. But I am being brought closer to my Lord. I can find joy in that.

So how can you find joy when you are in the middle of something really hard? When I was having a difficult time during treatment, I found it very helpful to count my blessings. Yes, I know that sounds corny. But it worked. Here was my list from about a year ago, when I was in the middle of chemo:

I'm thankful that:
  • I found the lump under my arm when I did. 
  • My family supported me throughout this trial.
  • I have a wonderful family in Christ that has lifted me up in prayer continually
  • The advancements in breast cancer treatment make a diagnosis not necessarily a death sentence. I'm also thankful that I have access to treatment.
  • That I am the one with cancer, and not one of my kids.
  • For having the Lord by my side at all times, giving me the strength to press on.
What if the worst was to happen? What if I die from cancer? I know where I am going-I'll be with Jesus in glory. While the temporary separation from my loved ones would be hard, ultimately the ones I love that also are in Christ will be with me for eternity. We can't even conceive of how amazing this is going to be!

I did not know that cancer was coming. But God did. He knew all about it before I was even born. We all will face various trials in our lives. They may be physical, spiritual, or mental. We need to be strong physically and spiritually so that we can meet these trials head-on.  We need to be good stewards of what He has given us.

In my case, I am so thankful that God planted the desire to get into physical shape before my diagnosis. I was at the strongest I've ever been in my life when I was diagnosed. Having that outlet of exercise has not only been good for my prognosis, but helped me get through treatment. It would have been a much different story if I was not in shape at the outset.

So why not make efforts to be healthier now?  It can't hurt. Exercise helps with a range of physical problems. It also helps prevent so many health issues. God made our bodies to move and exert themselves. Our lifestyle in modern America has made it so we don't have to move much to provide for our immediate needs. Unfortunately, in so doing, we aren't providing for our bodies' need for movement. I urge everyone to do what they can to get some exercise every day.  Eat more vegetables. Eat less processed food. Cut out sodas. Eat organic as much as you can, especially the "dirty dozen" fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residues on them.

You don't know what is coming your way. It could be a physical trial, like cancer. Or it could be spiritual one. Be a good steward of your body and be in God's Word. No matter what, it will equip you for whatever is coming. God willing, nothing "bad" will happen. In that case, you will still feel better and be stronger and healthier than you were before.

God knew this was coming and He got me ready beforehand. He "flipped the switch" in my heart to want to lose weight and get into shape. We made changes in our insurance coverage just a month before my diagnosis that were more advantageous to us financially to pay for my treatment. Even Eric took it upon himself in the year before my diagnosis to learn about cancer.

I made it through my treatment fairly well. Yes, there were hard times. I don't want to make light of it and make it sound like it was a breeze. It wasn't. It hurt. It was hard. But I made it through.

Here's the thing. It had nothing to do with me. It had EVERYTHING to do with the Lord. HE is the one that showered me with blessing and grace. It was all HIM. The Bible says, "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I'm in awe of how God has worked in my life in the past 18 months. I don't believe in luck or coincidence.

In the end, there are higher purposes at work in everything. God promises that He will work out ALL things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)  In my cancer, there are purposes in all of this that He wants. Those that are for my own good. To make me better, more like Him. I don't understand what these are, nor should I. His ways are higher than mine.  All I can do is trust in Him. I've experienced His love and grace throughout this time to know that He is for real. How can I not trust the rest of what He has promised? He has not failed me yet, nor will He.


  1. My Prayers are with you Tonya and hope that you make a full recovery. Your story is very inspiring and upllifting as I have my own trials to bear . My youngest son Adam has seizures and has autism. It has been a very trying year, but reading your blog has put everything in perspective. I too look to God for the strength and courage of the battles I face everyday but never forget to acknowlege all the blessings he has bestowed upon my family and Adam certainly is the most beautiful blessing I could ever have. Take care of yourself and I enjoy reading your blogs.
    Kelly Quirk-Ouhida

  2. truly beautiful and relatable. xoxo I bet you inspired many women with your talk. I like your use of the word "concern" instead of "fear". You know I had a scare this week which turned out to be a false alarm, praise the Lord...and as you can imagine the enemy took full advantage with planting horrible thoughts and worries in my mind which I had to rebuke over and over. I can not imagine going through any of this without the love and salvation of Christ. Cancer sucks but for me it was in many ways the best thing that could ever happen to me as it brought me to Christ and led to my becoming saved! The best gift ever. Sure, I'd have loved for it to have happened another way...but this was the way He had planned for me and I trust in Him completely now. You are a great model of Christ's love and a vessel through which His good news is brought to others. So wonderful! xoxo

  3. Wonderful post, I can relate on so many levels to this. Glad you are doing well