God Never Wastes Suffering
By Constance Fink
Deb Martell’s second cancer was likely a result of the treatment from the first cancer.
- 1998: stage 3 breast cancer treated with chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, and radiation
- 2007: acute myeloid leukemia treated with chemo, umbilical cord blood transplant, and radiation
Even though Deb does not understand the reason for two cancers, she finds complete peace when she rests in God. He does not waste suffering. Rather, He uses it to produce eternal qualities of perseverance, character, and hope. Deb’s story is proof.
JBU: What was life like before cancer?
DEB: Four kids in seven years kept us hopping. I was a stay-at-home mom, busy with church activities and kids’ sports. After building our dream home, everything seemed to fall into place….until my husband was offered a job 1,000 miles away.
JBU: Tell us about the day of your first cancer diagnosis.
DEB: We had been in Denver less than 2 months. For most of 10 years, I had been pregnant or nursing. So, when we felt a hard mass, we did not think it was serious. It was stage 3 breast cancer with 16 out 17 positive lymph nodes. I was in shock and terrified. My thoughts raced from imagining my children without me, to begging God to let me see them finish high school.
JBU: How did God carry you through?
DEB: I was incapable of walking through this trial with grace. But as I clung to Scripture on God’s mercy and hope, friends commented on my positive attitude. I had unexplained peace and joy.
JBU: What about the second diagnosis?
DEB: While moving my son to college, I was incredibly fatigued. I went for blood work, followed by a bone marrow biopsy and the diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.
JBU: Were your initial thoughts and feelings different from the first time?
DEB: The familiar territory was good and bad. The road to survival would be traumatizing. But my relationship with God had grown to the point that I could say with all my heart, “Thy will be done.” The desperation to live was absent. I had no doubt that no matter what happened to me, God would take care of my family.
JBU: Was it easier or more difficult to trust God the second time?
DEB: It was easier because personal time with Him is never wasted. I didn’t turn my back on suffering, and He gave courage to walk through it.
JBU: How did your cancer affect your marriage?
DEB: Our marriage suffered after the first cancer. We weren’t sure we’d make it. Medical emphasis was on fixing the body, leaving the emotional and mental issues unaddressed. Counseling helped us both then and prepared us for the next diagnosis.
JBU: How did you support your children when you were struggling so intensely?
DEB: My example of clinging to God and His promises served a far greater purpose than anything I could have done for them. I comforted them, but did not keep them from the trial. It is a disservice to our children when we say “everything will be OK”. We must keep their eyes focused on eternity and fixed on the One who promises to never leave them.
JBU: How is God causing this to work for good in your life?
DEB: Coming from a dysfunctional childhood, I have a lot to overcome. In a quiet place, alone with God, He shows me that He is enough. I know that I know that I know that He has me and that is all I need. It reminds me of Jill Briscoe’s book The Deep Places Where Nobody Goes,
JBU: Can you share an example of when God amazed you?
DEB: Yes, it was my second transplant. We had a donor match; I was in remission and ready for the procedure. But, insurance denied it, calling it “experimental”. I needed almost $500,000 within 3 months just to walk in the hospital door (80 % down). Friends held fundraisers and opened a bank account. Money poured in, but not enough. This was so far outside of our ability to solve, leaving no choice but to trust and wait. And then a phone call came. The father of a dear friend gave the hospital his personal line of credit. Within a week, I was in the hospital preparing for transplant.
JBU: What is your prognosis and how are you doing now?
DEB: My most recent blood work was great, although I will always deal with side effects from the treatments. I am in remission and live an active life. I was “3 years old” on Dec. 18, 2010—three years since I received an umbilical cord blood transplant. The procedure gave me a whole new blood DNA. Now I have a different blood type and, this time, I’m allergic to nuts!
Deb lives each day with hope and courage. Her goal? To be more like her Heavenly Father.
- Favorite Scripture verse: Psalm 91:14-16
- Favorite Song: “It is Well With My Soul”
- Favorite Book: In addition to the Bible, A Sweet & Bitter Providence by John Piper
- Favorite Hobby: Reading, watching my kids sports events
- One fun thing she likes to do with her husband: scuba dive
To contact Deb: