Seeking Peace in Stress
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of FOCUS
Most people say that the second year of medical school is the most enjoyable and least stressful of our entire medical education. By second year, we will have met good friends in our class, found some amazing extracurricular activities to be a part of, and gained good study strategies to manage the schoolwork. As I was finishing first year and thought ahead to my second year, I kept this in mind and anticipated a quiet year. Little did I know, God had a different plan.
The summer leading up to second year, my family received the unexpected and terrifying news that my mom had breast cancer. This was a complete surprise – Mom had always been compliant in getting regular mammograms and visiting her family doctor for check-ups. She had experienced some changes in her breast tissue, but given her history, neither her family doctor nor specialists were alarmed. When she was finally scheduled for an MRI and biopsy, the results came back reporting that she had stage 3 breast cancer, bilaterally. Frozen and in complete shock are the words that I would use to describe my feelings at the time. Being an only child, Mom and I are very close. She is my best friend and closest confidante. The thought of losing her was unbearable and one of my greatest fears in life.
Hearing the news that my Mom has stage three breast cancer is by far the hardest situation I’ve ever faced in my life. It was one of those moments in life where I was confronted with the reality that I am not in control, and nothing I could do could change the fact that my mom had cancer. However, being a follower of Christ, I am very fortunate to have a hope that exists beyond ourselves. Our hope is in God, and He is the Great Physician, our loving Father and Sovereign Creator. I was reminded of Philippians 4:6-7, which says,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So, I prayed, as Paul calls us to pray, and the most amazing thing happened: the peace of God that transcends all understanding began to overcome me. Mom was still very much sick, but something had changed in me. I became overwhelmingly aware of God’s sovereignty in Mom’s life. It is hard to explain but I had this assurance that no matter what difficulties were ahead of us, God would provide the strength and power to endure and overcome them.
During the first semester of second year, there has been numerous challenges in taking care of mom with other responsibilities. Every step of the way, I have experienced God’s presence and strength where I am weak. God was showing me that His grace was sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). One such challenge came up the night before my neurology anatomy bell-ringer, when my mom developed a high fever and had to go to the emergency room. At the time, my mom was undergoing an aggressive chemotherapy regiment and her fever was not to be taken lightly because she had a compromised immune response as a result of her therapy. I dropped my studies and took the time to be with my family. We ended up being in the ER until 4am in the morning, at which point my mom was sent home with antibiotics. After prayerful consideration, I decided to get some rest and write my exam the next day as originally planned. I had faith that God would honour the time I took to be with my family and the studying I had done previously, and carry me through the exam. I did not expect much when it came time to write it. I prayed that I would simply pass. When I got that exam back, I was surprised to find that I not only passed but I performed better than I ever had in any medical school exam! This result was not attained by my own ability, but God’s strength displayed in my weakness. I felt overwhelmed by God’s love.
It has been almost 7 months since my mom’s diagnosis, and she has completed her chemotherapy regiment and a bilateral mastectomy procedure. I am constantly amazed at her unwavering faith and trust in God during this challenging time. In moments of physical pain, I have witnessed her cry out to God and seen Him comfort Mom. In moments where uncertainty about her long-term prognosis could be overwhelming, she has chosen to trust in the sovereignty God.
Our family has also experienced God’s love in this difficult time. We have been surrounded by the love of brothers and sisters in Christ. Our church family has been praying with us, crying with us, and leaving us food on our doorstep. They are truly the tangible manifestation of God’s love.
In closing, I want to encourage you to rely on God no matter what challenges and stressful situations you may be in. Life is full of the unexpected, and we never really know what’s around the corner. But our Lord is strong enough to carry us through even in the most difficult situation. Psalm 23: 4-6 says,
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
God is a good God who loves you and will provide everything you need in all life’s circumstances to live your life in a way that glorifies Him and brings you joy!