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"The Storm" by Sandy Popp

They say a tiny mustard seed of faith is all it takes to move mountains. To me, cancer was that mountain. That day, I went to my primary care physician’s appointment alone. She could give me no information other than a fresh cancer diagnosis that “Doesn’t look good.” It seemed like the absolute worst idea to call my husband in D.C. and drop the cancer bomb on him. He was just about to be trapped on a plane for five hours. Our schedule that weekend had several interrelated, moving parts. That forced me to tell my youngest Debby first, my son Chase next, and my hubby would be the last in our immediate family to know that I had cancer. This diametrically opposes my priority of doing things. I would soon learn that cancer forces your hand and your life to places you never imagined.

While going through the motions of preparing for the next day’s business trip with my daughter, my mama’s heart searched for any way that I could make this okay. The reality sat my chest like a boulder. Nothing I could say or do would make this okay. When kids are little, they're easier to comfort, but as adults; nothing a parent can do is sufficient. God designed to be that way, but I don’t have to like it. I would fight to ignore the howls of the tornadic, winds of thoughts that battered my mind and punctured my heart. Jesus said that it takes only a mustard seed's worth of faith to move mountains, but I didn’t feel spiritual. I was torn, confused, angry. There was so much to do in the 15 hours before we would board a plane from L.A. to Tennessee. A peaceful reality lifted the weight of the boulder when I realized that none of this surprised God. I sent up a prayer with the tiniest mustard seed of faith and kept movin’ on.


When my son Chase came in from the studio announcing that his clients left. His tender heart instantly sensed that something was wrong with my daughter and I. He tenderly wrapped his long, loving arms around us both and pulled us in tightly to comfort us! He had no idea that within a few seconds he’d need more comfort than a village could give. The very thought of dropping the cancer bomb on him felt so immensely cruel. Simultaneously hating myself while lighting the fuse, I asked him to sit with me, while Debby sat on my other side. He initially received the news consistent with his “Still water’s run deep” style. I could see the reality soak into the open crevices of his soul like fuel igniting. He asked questions I couldn't answer. I watched the void of information created explosions that erupted beneath his serene surface. He began to tear up, he wept, we wept, and I waited. I watched my adult son rush to the bathroom and heard him get physically sick. He returned to me and Debby on the sofa. It enraged me. I abhorred seeing my loved ones in pain, pain that came from me. The anger burned through the crevices of my soul. I wanted to scream out into the universe, to the world, to anyone who would listen, “I HATE CANCER!”


We three snuggled on the couch; me with my young adults in each arm. This mama hen, cloaked with feathered armor, facing a colossal storm snuggling her chicks tightly under her wings. They are smart, capable adults, but at this solitary moment, they weren't successful business owners to me. But my kids snuggled to my chest, under the wings of my quaking arms. At that moment, holding them tightly was the only thing that felt good and right. It felt like the security of a brick home in the fury of a Texas storm. The wind howls, lightning, and thunder make their threats and the hail can even pound against the house, but nothing moves the steadfast brick. I breathed the golden moment, knowing I'll remember it in my last breaths of life; hoping those breaths wouldn’t come soon. We cried, we held each other; words were powerless. Time held its breath during this devastating, indelible moment unspoiled by deadlines, lists, social media, calls, emails, texts, and ticking time. I cherished my young adults leaning into me. I clung to them, wishing desperately in vain that I could comfort them, that my love would be enough to remove their pain.

The moment slipped through my figurative hands as I felt them lean out again. I would endure the next few months helplessly watching my young adults try to navigate their crazy lives under the shadow of my secret cancer diagnosis. I wondered if they would come to me, break down with me, but the probable weakened my heart. They are independent. We are all just codependent enough that none of us wanted the others to feel burdened by our sorrows. In the middle of my contemplation, someone made a stupid joke. We all forced a laugh, and the moment dissipated. They stood, bracing to face their lives alone, as they walked into the darkness of their own personal storms. I had to let them go, wanting nothing more than to hold them fast, as they slipped through my fingers into the night. My young adults had to face their own battles, I couldn't do it for them, and it utterly broke my heart.


Once again, feeling like the enemy, I had to do something inconceivable to me just a few days earlier. I realized that they couldn’t contact the very people they could turn to for comfort. My kids couldn’t be the ones to tell my husband, mom, or dad, I had to break the news myself. This was another heavy burden I placed upon their backs that day. I encouraged them to speak with their friends or me if they needed to please reach out. After they left, I texted their closest friends telling them that Chase and Debby just got the devastating news, knowing they’d reach out and they’d be in good hands. This was the first of many times I would feel helpless against the effects of cancer, angry that instead of making everything okay, cancer in me made it worse. As my kids walked away from my reaching heart, I had no choice but to let them go. I heaved this burden for their comfort, their lives, their souls, their futures, and their wellbeing, heavenward with my tiny mustard seed of faith. I would later see how God would move mountains throughout my entire cancer journey.


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