When the Diagnosis is Cancer

It sunk in when I looked at the pictures.

The pictures worth more than a thousand words, capturing a moment more beautiful than words.


A man and his bride and over thirty years of living togetherness. There are some things that words can’t process…ways that words don’t suffice.


Words can’t always do justice and there are moments impossible for a picture to touch. Like the moment she pulled in the driveway from buying groceries in town and almost hit the wooden deck, her face all surprise. She climbed out of the car slow, “What? What is this?”

And from the front door I could see the tears rising to the surface, and Vienna grinning nixy, “Grandma! Grandma, we surprised you!”

The diagnosis was cancer and the surgery was scheduled and we all felt that ethereal “huh?” The one you feel when the diagnosis is cancer. I hope you don’t know what I mean.

Why is it so easy to take beautiful people for granted? To not see how that one person, the mother of nine, flawed and imperfect like the rest of us, ties a whole family together like no one else can…because no one can replace a mother.

When the diagnosis is cancer for someone you love, the reality is that you keep on living because life doesn’t wait for shock to register or panic to settle. You ask your “why’s”, you shed your tears, you speak words of encouragement that inevitably feel flat, and you get up and you live.

And when  I find the pictures, lost on a card with over a thousand photos from a wedding and family shoot, it sinks in and settles and you wonder again why it’s so easy to take people for granted.

My mother-in-law, Alma, she looked cancer in the face and she walked forward straight and took  her trembling yet unwavering stand. And it sinks in deep and settles on my questioning heart – that somehow all of this is grace, because all of this is redemption and all of redemption is grace.

Ann Kiemel put it this way.

Jesus took my shattered
heart and [you fill in the blank], and wrote
sheet music the heavenly choirs
are singing.

God is doing the same for you.
if you can’t hear the choirs yet,
just know Jesus is still working
on the project.

Infertility. Cancer. The death of your child.

You fill in the blank.

When you get your diagnosis and you feel that sinking depth of loss, the God of all Creation is standing right there to catch you and raise you up. Every shattered piece rephrased into beauty.

There could be no beauty without ugliness first.

And I see this more clearly now, when I sit on a couch in her living room and I look into her eyes and we don’t say anything about the part of her that’s gone, that left an ugly scar.

For everything that she has lost, she has gained, and this is the beauty of redemptive grace.


My mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer about three weeks ago and has since gone through a single mastectomy. She will find out more about the pathway forward this Thursday at her visit with the oncologist. At the moment, we are praising God that the cancer seemed to be contained and had not spread to her lymph nodes. Continue to keep Alma Shafer in your prayers and believe with her that whatever lies ahead…God is good all the time.


9 thoughts on “When the Diagnosis is Cancer

  1. I LOVE THESE PICTURES! Thanks for writing about the story from your perspective. Your line “I hope you don’t know what I mean” is just right. I wish I didn’t too.

  2. Renee, I’m so sorry about Alma. My niece died of cancer yesterday, she was 22 y. She’s been in the hospital most of the last six months, and the dr’s could’nt diagnose her till about a month before she passed away, even though they did who knows how many MRI’s and biopsies and what not. Tell Alma I’m praying for her.

  3. so beautifully put, renee! praying for you & yours, since we too understand the pain that cancer causes-after undergoing 3 yrs. of treatment for a cancerous brain tumor, kirby’s father was given 6 mos. max to live a few wks. ago. as you said, “God is good all the time.” & as i read recently, a quote that i recently read from a funeral,”The question is not why the person died, but why are we alive.” they may sound like cliques, but they are true…

  4. This is beautiful Sis! I have looked at others lives and said ” I could never go through”.. be it cancer, death of a loved one, or infertility, and suddenly its in your face, dropping itself into your world like a bomb. Exploding my warped confidence that God would never allow my family to go through anything too difficult because ,well, we couldn’t do it. It would be more than we could handle. And HE promises not to allow that, right??? And yet, Here we are. Seeing beauty in the midst of pain. Realizing the truth of the Words, I NEVER LEAVE YOU AND I WILL NEVER FORSAKE YOU!
    You say it so well Renee! Cheers to our beautiful Mom and to the JESUS who is bigger than cancer. Praying and believing.

  5. It is almost exactly 3 years since my own MIL was diagnosed with cancer. I wish I wouldn’t know that gut-wrenching feeling, and I really wish that no one else would have to experience it. I pray that God has many more wonderful years in store for Alma to spend with her family!
    Praying for all of you…

  6. That was beautiful. I love you.
    I love you Alma and am praying for you.
    God IS good-ALL THE TIME!!!!

  7. So sorry Renee. Tell Aunt Alma my thoughts & prayers are with her & Uncle Dave and the rest of the family. May you all feel God’s presence & peace during this difficult time.

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