This story is such a beautiful reminder of how the Lord reaches us in the midst of our pain, in the pit of our sorrow, and in the depths of our suffering. He removes seeds of destruction and despair and replaces them with seeds of restoration and hope. The new seeds grow into goodness, deeply rooted in the unconditional love and faithfulness of Jesus.
I have 14 friends who are pregnant. And while I’m happy for them, there’s still a slight pull on my heart. Between you and me, it’s hard for me to hear the intimate details of another woman’s pregnancy and I’d rather not be invited to baby showers.
I’m 35 years old, and for more than 20 years, I’ve known that outside of a miracle, biological kids would never be a reality. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia shortly after my 12th birthday. The next few years were by far the most challenging and faith-stretching years of my life. As a young child, I gave my life to the Lord, inviting Him to be my Lord and Savior. The Lord ministered to me in very real ways and I grew tremendously in my personal relationship with Him.
Shortly after completing my 2 ½ years of leukemia treatment, my cancer returned. I knew I was at a high-risk to relapse during my treatment, and without the chemo, the leukemia did come back. Exhausted from years of weekly treatments, I was faced with the decision to have a bone marrow transplant. This only offered a 20 percent survival rate, and if it didn’t work, I would go Home and be with the Lord. I remember sharing with my parents that I would win either way as the apostle Paul so boldly shared in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
After much prayer, I decided to move forward with preparation for a bone marrow transplant. A month into rigorous treatment to get me back into remission, I was bedridden from the high-dose steroids. Shortly afterwards, I was hospitalized, leaking spinal fluid and “mentally absent” due to the stress and weight loss. The Lord graciously brought me back into remission, restored my mind, and provided a bone marrow donor, my sister.
After the initial 2 ½ years of weekly treatment, I knew that there was a chance that I might not be able to have kids. But at the same time, I remembered how the Lord had given me a heart for international adoption before I ever learned that I had cancer. I knew without a doubt that God was in control and had a plan for my life. However, the pain I experienced that day in March 1995 when I learned of my upcoming infertility will forever be etched in my mind.
My parents took turns taking me to the hospital. On this day in early April, it was my Dad’s turn to go with me to meet with the radiologist “Dr. K.” My heart still pounds and tears roll down my face as I remember this painful visit. Dr. K is a world-renowned radiologist and very nice man. But none of this mattered as he shared that the eight total body radiation treatments I would receive in the days leading up to my bone marrow transplant would cause infertility. My spirit was shattered and I needed a shoulder to cry on, but I was in a room of men who could never fully understand the implications of this news on a 14-year-old young woman. When I got home and shared the news with my mom, we cried together. Of course, my mom wished she had known and could have been there with me as I received the news. I later learned that my mom sat outside the radiation room during my first treatment and wept for my loss.
I won’t go into all the details of my bone marrow transplant, but I will say that I know I am here today by God’s grace. The marrow I received was a very poor match and I spent a week on the ventilator and 7 ½ weeks in the hospital. The new marrow did graft which was a huge relief to everyone, especially to my sweet sister who donated the marrow!
The news from my radiologist remained on my heart, but I am a very private person and rarely talked about it with anyone. I knew that my infertility would be more challenging when my friends got married and had kids, and even more so when I got married. But for this season in life as a teenager, I could entrust it to the Lord.
Fast forward a few years — my life continued to look different than I expected. I always thought I’d be married in my early to mid-20s, but the Lord had other plans.
I met my husband in 2007 during a work conference in Colorado. We were both serving in Christian ministry and he had just moved to the city where I had been living for the past year. We got to know each other better over the following months and I remember how fascinated I was when I learned that he was adopted from Korea as a young child!
He was working as the assistant to the president of our ministry and traveled quite a bit. I laugh now thinking how much I wanted him to ask me out. When he finally did, we had to wait two weeks to go on our first date due to his upcoming travels!
When I look back at our dating relationship, two of the things that stand out the most in my mind are related to my illness. After we’d been dating awhile and were pretty serious, I remember him asking me the sweetest question: “Will we be able to grow old together?”
In January 2009, I had extensive surgery around my right eyebrow to remove basal cell carcinoma caused by the radiation I received. This was such a hard and long day as the doctor had to go in six times to remove layers of tissue and examine the cells under the microscope. My face looked hideous, but my husband was right there with me, helping me make difficult decisions and doing everything he could to support me. I knew that this was the man I wanted to marry. My husband and I were married shortly before our 30th birthdays!
While the Lord continues to bring healing to my life, the life-long side effects from my years of treatment have not been easy. The Lord is helping me trust Him and find joy in trials, but I will admit that I battled a spirit of bitterness and anger at times as I thought my life would look much different 21 years after cancer treatment. The radiation has left mental and emotional scars causing headaches, hormone, ear, eye, skin, bone, memory and muscle damage. I get sick much easier than others and the sickness hangs around a lot longer. And then there’s the infertility.
It was only over the last few years that I verbalized the shame I felt with my infertility. Why shame? I couldn’t control the fact that I had childhood cancer and needed the chemo and radiation. I had nothing to be ashamed of, yet the feelings were still so present. This was an area where the enemy wanted to have victory in my life.
My husband and I began talking more seriously about adopting a child in the winter/spring of 2011. I was thrilled and wanted to begin the process immediately, having had a heart for adoption for more than 20 years. Words could not express how much I wanted this child!
Later that summer, we met with some friends who adopted a little girl from South Korea to ask questions and hear about their experience. I remember tearfully sharing my biggest fear for the first time: others will know of my infertility when they find out we were adopting. My pain and my sense of loss were still very real.
That same week, the Lord spoke to my heart as I brought my pain before Him. I was getting ready one morning when I heard the Lord’s voice so clearly, speaking the truth of Joel 2:25 into my life: “I will restore what the locusts have eaten.” In my human mind, I had lost so much life from the cancer, but I had an overwhelming peace, knowing that God was in control and would bring redemption and restoration for His glory. My cancer and plans to adopt were not “plan B” in God’s mind. They were and always will be “plan A.”
In her article, Redeeming the Locust Eaten Years, Hannah Goodwin writes,
When we allow God to work in our souls, we give Him the access He needs to clean out what the locust (the invading enemy of our souls – sin) destroyed and build up what the Spirit delivers. The Holy Spirit, in effect, redeems what was lost by working through our lives . . . .
Our sin makes us weak, but it is Christ in us that makes us strong in spirit. God works everything together to restore what sin has cost us. It does not matter what the “locust” have done to destroy your testimony or the life of a prodigal you know; the Lord, through His mercy and grace, is ready to redeem.
This encounter with the Lord has remained on my heart. The Lord graciously brought me through this time and I soon became involved in the ups and downs of an international adoption.
The extensive paperwork, background checks, personal questions and expenses of an adoption quickly taught My husband and I that there would be many fewer parents in the world if everyone had to go through this detailed process to have a child! But I knew in my heart, that if I had not had cancer, I may not have taken this opportunity to give a needy child a home.
Nine months after beginning our adoption, we took our third and final trip to Russia to bring our son, Isaac, home. I celebrated my first Mother’s Day in our flat in Moscow with my husband and Isaac! The following weeks were challenging as I wanted to care for my new son, but had become very sick while in Russia with pneumonia, ruptured ear drums and fluid in my lungs. Many prayers, my husband, and a kind pharmacist friend in the U.S. helped me through this time!
Shortly after returning home, I was lying in bed one night when the Lord reminded me again of His provision in Isaac. Years ago, a doctor told me that my chances of getting pregnant were about like the chances of Abraham and Sarah conceiving. I joyfully shared this with my husband and said, “But Isaac is in the other room!”
I am continually tempted to ask, “How would my life be different if my body hadn’t been physically weakened by cancer?” But I can’t go there. I have a husband and child who need me to be present now and a God who will give me victory over the enemy.
Surprisingly, having a child hasn’t really lessened the pain of infertility. But verbalizing my pain has brought great healing. I was able to sit down and talk with another friend and adoptive mom about my struggles with infertility. It wasn’t anything she shared that helped my heart — it was the fact that I put it out there. It’s not a secret and it’s not something I should be ashamed of. This experience brought so much healing to my heart and I’m much more at peace about things. The Lord is teaching me a lot about what it means to know His true joy that is not dependent on any circumstances.
I’ve since shared this struggle with a few other friends and have taken a huge step of faith to share it with you. I know that I am on a lifelong journey of completely releasing my infertility to the Lord and embracing His plans for my life. And I pray that He will use my story to encourage others. We will never fully understand God’s ways this side of heaven, but we can know He is at work and has a greater plan in mind than you or I could ever imagine.
These days, if someone asks if I adopted because of medical reasons, I still share that I’ve wanted to adopt a child for many years. Others laugh saying, “You’ll get pregnant now that you’ve adopted Isaac!” And as a very petite woman with a son who looks like a “future linebacker,” people ask, “Is his daddy tall?” I respond, “Taller than I am!” as we all laugh! I usually don’t share that my son is adopted. Often, this information isn’t relevant. Isaac is my son and I’m his mom, and that’s what matters.
In December 2015, we became a family of four, bringing our daughter, Lottie, home from South Korea after a three-year adoption journey.
I’d be honored to talk with you about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, cancer, infertility, and/or adoption.