I have always thought of myself as “set apart.”
In high school I was not motivated by what motivated other high schoolers. I chose a college that was itself, physically set apart. It attracted students who were actively pursuing something, I myself, simply did not know what that something was, but I found kindred spirits and a home. After college many people, lose their idealistic ways and turn themselves over to practical choices. I ran off to California. I wanted to witness a spiritual movement, see the beauty of a cliffside coastline, and find God in a new way. I started a job, that led to a better and better job, but never was I content. I felt in my heart that this was not my purpose. I met Clifton, experienced love at first sight, spent a few weeks convincing him to give me a chance and then was married. I had two of my beautiful girls, became a teacher and then had a third daughter. Though I was a good teacher, a good advocate, a good mother and wife, I knew my life was not complete. There was a calling, something set apart for me as I was set apart for it.
The years that led up to my initial diagnosis of cancer I had daily reminders: 11/11. Everyday on a clock or a sign or a book I would see 11/11. I thought that November 11 would one day hold the biggest joy of my life. So year after year I would show up to work on November 11 declaring that something amazing was going to happen! This was MY day, something, HAD to happen! And nothing, nothing, nothing. Then in 2015 I met with a gynecologist who sent me in for a mammogram and on 11/11/15 I was told I had breast cancer. I will never forget the doctor handed me a doctor’s note and on it was written “From 11/11/15-11/11/16 Lauren Huffmaster will not be available to take care of anyone but herself.” Though I fought it for a month or so, she was right, my survival depended on my ability to rest.
My first diagnosis I processed as a trial. Who doesn’t have trials? I have a wonderful life, an amazing husband and family. If I must be tested, let it be in my physical nature. No problem. I held onto my God’s faithfulness and inability to fail, and kept walking. No problem 11/11/15-11/11/16. I can do this. At that time I knew no one in my own town and was served by the kindness of strangers for a year. I received support and love that poured in from all over the country. I experienced love because of my situation. I experienced God’s faithfulness, and I remained faithful to Him as I moved through the trial. I had deep communication with God through my darkest moments and I never doubted. I loved others whom I met in cancer circles and I was open about my struggles. I walked through the trial pulling from the faith that I had built in my spirit throughout my life.
For two years I pursued the list of treatments that were given to me on the initial night of my diagnosis: chemo, mastectomy, radiation, reconstruction, reconstruction adjustments and oophorectomy. In December of 2017 I met with a surgeon about my impending oophorectomy, the last item on my list. I went to have a PET/CT, as is expected before any surgery. Then on 12/21/17 my doctor called me with tears dripping from her voice and heard that I have metastatic breast cancer. The cancer spread. Through my spine and my pelvis. Multiple tumors and lesions.
For all that had altered my life under the first diagnosis, nothing compares to this news. There is no “from this moment until that moment you will have cancer.” This is a diagnosis for the entirety of life. This is a diagnosis without a cure. A diagnosis with no hope at the end of a tough battle. This is a diagnosis that demolishes my understanding of a trial. This is completely unexpected; a possibility that never crossed my mind.
All of my life, the prayer of my heart has been, “Here I am, take me, use me.”
Over the past two years I have met so many cancer survivors. I have laughed and cried with them. I have shared their pain, fears, anxiety, hopes. They are family. Even before I meet a newly diagnosed cancer patient, I know them. I love them and hurt for them. We are bound together.
My First Descents family, a group of survivors, describe us as a tribe. I have been called to this tribe.
There is a large number of young adult survivors in our country who are hurting, hopeless, desperate and alone. I have been initiated into this group through cancer. I love these people because of cancer. I will serve these people because of cancer.
Cancer, for me, is not a valley tucked between two mountain top experiences. Cancer is the calling of abundant life. It is my broken state through which God can best display His love. It is my weakness through which God’s power can be perfected. It is the one thing I can boast in because I believe His greatest work in my life will come through it.
I know a thousand voices have raised prayers for my healing since I announced my diagnosis but it is not the prayer of my heart that I may be healed. I simply pray that I may rest in God’s plan. There is a plan. It is not what I was expecting God’s calling to look like, but there is a calling. I feel overwhelmed by the idea that God would set apart a tribe of hurting, dying people, that I may be love to them. It is both the worst and greatest realization of my life.
Though I do not want cancer in my life, I embrace it as my earthly sacrifice. In the walking out of this sacrifice, I find the purpose I have longed for my entire life. So, when you pray, pray not only for me but for young cancer survivors around the world. Pray that I may be a voice of peace, a voice of love.