The word no one wants to hear

Anne Mette Johnsen and Trond Eivind Johnsen

We meet Synøve Østgård and chat over ice cream and coffee. We talk about something that happened a couple of years ago that made a deep impression on the three of us. At that time, the doctors used a word no one wants to hear.

November 2008 was a memorable month for Synøve. She had been tired, felt heavy in her head, was really busy, and was about to start decorating for Christmas. She came home from work around 6 o’clock one Thursday, but instead of starting the Christmas decorating she had planned, she called a close friend. The feeling of being pressed into a corner was overwhelming. Something was wrong. She had to talk to someone.

“I am so tired,” she said. Then, suddenly, she couldn’t speak. The words she tried to force out were nothing more than long, incomprehensible mumbles. “I’m dying!” she managed to think. Then everything went black.

Right afterwards, her son got a telephone call. “You need to go into your mother’s room. I think something has happened to her.” The children found their mother unconscious on the floor. Synøve ended up at the hospital where they thought she had had an epileptic seizure. A few hours later, she had another one. The doctors informed her husband that they had found something in her brain that they wanted to examine. No one quite understood yet what had happened.

The word no one wants to hear

The most natural response would have been for her to become anxious.

Brain tumor. Cancer. The diagnosis was completely unexpected. The doctors had found a brain tumor, and identified it as the cause of her strange seizures. This was shocking news for Synøve, her husband, and her children. The doctor used the word “cancer.”

“It has been a real battle not to let it affect me that “I have cancer; I have had cancer; I might die of cancer.”

Just a few weeks earlier, Synøve read a scripture, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19). This verse became an incredible comfort for Synøve throughout her illness. From the beginning, she was convinced that it would serve a purpose for her own live and perhaps for others’ lives as well.

Fear of death

Think if I die when I am 80 years old, and have ruined every day of my life by being anxious? Or think if I die in one year, and have spent that year being anxious?

The most natural response for Synøve would have been for her to become anxious. By nature, she had always been anxious. Anxious when her children drove on icy roads, anxious if she did not know where the children were; so of course she had to be anxious about dying, right?

“One night at the hospital, the fear of death started to overwhelm me. I became afraid. I prayed, ‘Dear God, now You need to take over – my body, my family – everything. I commit myself to you completely so you can guide my life exactly as you please.’ Then I went to sleep, and I slept very well. Since then, that has been my attitude, even though I have been tested in my declaration: ‘Dear God, now you need to take over.’ I have needed to fight for it, and it has been something I have needed to continually lay hold of by faith. Even though I did not always feel reassured right away, I was constantly reminded of what I had said to God.

“Think if I die when I am 80 years old, and have ruined every day of my life by being anxious? Or think if I die in one year, and have spent that year being anxious?”

The tumor must go

Even though it was unknown whether Synøve’s tumor was malignant or benign, it was so large that it posed a threat. If it grew any more, it would cause more seizures and brain damage. The doctors therefore decided to operate to remove the tumor.

“It was quite clear that I had been borne up in prayer both before and during the operation. It must have been worse for those who were with me. I did not feel fearful or burdened. Not at all. That is all to the glory of God! That is not how I am, actually!

Before the operation, Synøve was told that there was a risk of her becoming paralyzed on the right side. Brain surgery is no simple procedure and the doctors wanted her to be aware of the risks. Neither did they know what they would find when they removed the tumor. Had it spread? Was it benign or malignant? Despite this, she experienced an especially peaceful time right before the operation. She slept well at night, and felt she was in safe hands when she was taken to the operating room. When Synøve woke up from the anesthesia, the doctors waited tensely, but to everyone’s great relief, it looked as though everything had gone well.

After the surgery, she went through 33 rounds of radiation treatment at the Norwegian Radium Hospital in Oslo. It is an exhausting treatment that drains your strength. Synøve lost some of her hair.

He is far-sighted with His plans

It is one thing to say that I will believe in Him; another to live by faith. Those are actually two different things.

From the first day, Synøve sensed God’s hand over her, and she tells about a God who does no evil, but is far-sighted with His plans. Throughout the whole ordeal, she therefore chose to rest in faith that God’s will would be done, even though she wasn’t indifferent about whether or not she would survive.

“Does anyone want to die? Does anyone want that? When you have a husband and a family, you want nothing other than to live for them, but it was still a little difficult to know: should I steadfastly believe that I will become healthy and survive or should I be at peace with resigning myself to whatever happens? Of course I want to fight to live, but what if that was not the plan? I asked a close friend what the point was; why pray if God has decided that I would not live? The friend answered that it is written, “when you pray you can change God’s thoughts.” To indifferently say that whatever happens, happens, is not the right spirit. However, I found that the greatest battle I had was to rest in the knowledge that He was in control and knew what He was doing.

“I have not dared to be 100% certain that I would survive. But in retrospect, I have done what I could to stay strong: go on walks, and refuse to be anxious or depressed about what might come.

“I have decided to continue in faith in Him. It is one thing to say that I will trust in Him; another to live by faith. Those are actually two different things. Many people can say that they believe, but when push comes to shove – when they wonder what will come around the next bend – then you have to live by faith.

Has this really been so difficult for me? It has led me to something better. God has shown me incredible compassion.

“Think about the many people who go through illness and cancer without God, without any hope. You can admire them for managing it. I have so much – I have many friends, people who pray for me, and the gospel. I can lay hold of treasures that no one can take from me; treasures that I can have for eternity. No one can take them from me, even if everything around me crumbles.”

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål

You might also be interested in our theme page about Overcoming sin.

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