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When I Could Not Pray for Myself by Briane Pittman Kearns

The second article in the Plot Twist series comes from my friend, Briane Pittman Kearns. Briane takes the boring out of Bible study and invites women to study God's Word through the "lens" of Biblical culture. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy this heaping blessing.

I clicked off the phone with the radiologist and stood in stunned silence. My 7-year-old son played in the next room. Breast cancer!? At 42 years old, I was too young to have breast cancer.

That afternoon when my husband John came home from work, anguish lined his golf-tanned face. He looked at me and said, “I met with the vice president today. They eliminated my job.”

“The radiologist thinks I have breast cancer.”

The initial biopsy confirmed I had the “best kind of breast cancer. It’s contained, and we've caught it early.” The course of treatment was a lumpectomy followed by 7 weeks of radiation.

I wrung my hands with worry. The surgeon said she’d call with the pathology report from my lumpectomy the next day. So, why hasn’t she called yet? Finally, I called her office, and she said, “I need you to come down to my office; we need to talk face-to-face.”

My best friend drove me to the surgeon’s office because our family committed to delivering pizza to our son’s class for lunch. We walked into the office Christmas party for staff and family. The nurse led me to my surgeon's private office. She sat there with her six-month-old son on her lap.

The entire scene was surreal. A Christmas party, a baby, and me waiting on an increasingly ominous pathology report. My surgeon looked at me and explained, “The pathology report did not tell us what we expected. You have aggressive and invasive breast cancer. It has already spread to the surrounding tissue, but I got clean margins. The tumor markers are correlated with poor survival prognosis. Cancer may have already spread into other parts of the body, and if not, it is likely to spread and grow if we don't take some serious actions now.”

“What happens next?” is all I could think to ask.

“We'll do sentinel node surgery to see if cancer has spread to your lymph nodes. We will throw everything we have at this to give you the best chance at long-term survival. You will have chemo and radiation. And I will be your surgeon for the rest of your life.”

My husband arrived, and she repeated the information to him. Like me, he did not know what to say or ask either. The surgery was scheduled two days later.

At home, I crawled into bed and pulled the covers up over my head. Paralyzed by fear and dread, life stopped. I couldn't breathe. I sobbed for long periods, stopped, and then cried again. I lay there for hours, unable to move.

I was worried about my 7-year-old son. Would he lose his mother? Would I live to see him grow up? I was worried about my mother because I knew this would break her heart. I worried about my husband, who had lost his job. How would we pay for the treatment?

My relationship with Jesus is everything to me and it has been since I began walking with Him when I was 19 years old. When I received the initial breast cancer diagnosis, I knew I was not alone. I knew He was with me. Even though my husband had lost his job on the same day, I'd gotten the call about cancer, I had felt a deep sense of God’s presence and care early in the journey.

But when the cancer was not a simple, non-threatening tumor, but a tumor that could take my life. I allowed myself to be overcome by fear.

One thing I had never experienced about fear was its weight. Fear is heavy. It weighs down your soul, your heart, and your thinking. It is truly paralyzing. Your body literally carries a physical sense of the weight of sorrow, fear, pain, and dread.

For the first time in my relationship with the Lord, fear paralyzed me and prevented me I from reaching out to Him. Fear incapacitated me. I could not feel God’s presence. Instead, I felt cold, alone, and abandoned. I could not find the words to pray; it was physically impossible to utter a prayer.

My Bible lay beside my bed; I could not pick it up. Days melted away and I have no memory of anything other than fear and dread.

On Sunday, John received a call explaining his daughter was on the way to the hospital (two hours away) for an emergency appendix surgery. My in-laws picked up our son, and my husband drove to the hospital to be with his daughter.

Before John left town, he visited our church Sunday School class. He gave the class leader, David, a rundown of the pathology news, the job loss, and now the emergency with his daughter. When David hugged John, he gave way to the weight of his bottled emotions and sobbed in David’s arms.

I spent the day alone. I looked at my Bible dozens of times during the day, but I did not pick it up and open it. Fear ruled. I did not want to see anyone or talk to anyone. Later Sunday afternoon, I opened my computer and a flood of emails filled my inbox.

  • Each one was from someone in my church.

  • Each one contained either a prayer or a verse of Scripture about the challenges we were facing.

  • Each one was tender, loving, and supportive.

  • Each one connected me to God personally.

When I could not pray myself, God called others to pray for me. When fear paralyzed me and I had no words for God, God called others to speak the words that I needed to hear. I received God’s Word in emails when I could not read it myself.

I felt the overwhelming power of His presence, His love, and His very personal care. I sat at my computer for hours, reading each email, crying, and reading the verses out loud to fill the empty house with God’s Word.

The situation with the tumor had changed, but God had not changed. My inability to act, to reach out, did not affect God. He was working behind the scenes to reach me with prayers and words I could not speak for myself.

That gray December day, I learned my limitations do not limit God. My inability to reach out to Him in no way limits His access to me. God was not afraid of my fear. God came after me that Sunday and poured love and care on me in a way that I could never have asked for or imagined.

Once, fear overwhelmed me. Now, God’s goodness and personal love for me overwhelm my heart. And He continues to overwhelm me with His love twenty-one years later.

2023 Briane Pittman Kearns

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