My journey stared in early November 2021 when I noticed some symptoms…I felt tired, had some unexpected weight loss, and my skin was itchy and slightly yellow.  My first miracle was early detection, which doesn’t often happen with pancreatic cancer but, the tumor grew in such a way that it blocked the bile duct and caused me to become jaundiced and, after much nagging from a dear friend, to seek medical attention.  I went to urgent care and was sent for an emergency CT scan that same day and was admitted to the hospital for surgery the following day to remove my gallbladder which was the suspected culprit.

However, upon waking up from surgery the doctor informed me that they did not remove my gallbladder – they had found a malignant tumor on the head of my pancreas and had placed a stent in the blocked duct to relieve the jaundice.  I was in shock.  The only thing I could think to do was pray…and I did just that.  With everything happening during COVID, I spent the next two days in solitude recovering from surgery and pleading with God.  In the silence and desperation, He comforted me, surrounded me with a calm and a belief that everything was going to be ok, whatever the future held.  He was breaking the stronghold of fear in my heart, and I knew that I wouldn’t be walking through this alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I was distressed to be sure but, the Lord was my hope, and I trusted in him with everything I had.  Although I wanted to run and hide, to pretend this wasn’t happening, God gave me another miracle…I was witnessing the Lord move.  His hands were everywhere.  He gave me grace to see Him in the events around me, and He brought people to surround me.  What I wanted to keep hidden and thought would make me a pariah in people’s eyes had actually endeared me to them.  I was loved so well by so many, with a love I never expected and never knew was possible.  There are no words to express my gratitude to all those who hit their knees in prayer for me.  I am grateful and humbled.  Thank you seems so pale in comparison to the enormity of what this meant to me.

The next month was a whirlwind of activity and information.  I met my oncologist, case management team, palliative care doctor, and surgeon.  I had a port placed 3 days before Christmas, more scans and tests, and my first chemotherapy treatment.  For me, chemotherapy consisted of 8 hours in the infusion chair followed by 46 hours hooked up to a pump which continued to administer the medication at home.  Fatigue was extreme throughout treatment…and while the fatigue accentuated my human frailty it also magnified God’s power and might.  God gave me new acceptance of my weakness and contentment in His purpose.  He is the Great Physician, sovereign overall; I could trust Him even though the chemo would burn holes in my clothing and skin and kill all of the new growth in my body.

I completed my chemo treatments on June 17, 2022, and the CT scan that followed revealed the treatments had shrunk the tumor enough to allow me to undergo surgery…another miracle.  My surgery was scheduled for August 13, 2022, with the OHSU surgeon who had been with me since my diagnosis.  One week before surgery, my surgeon called to let me know she had a family emergency and, not wanting to delay my procedure, referred me to a new surgeon at the last minute.  In retrospect, yet another of God’s miracles.

I underwent the Whipple procedure, a complex surgery to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and bile duct and, in my case, the lower part of the stomach and a portion of the liver.  The Whipple is a difficult and demanding operation and what was anticipated to be a seven-hour surgery turned into a 16-hour affair.  I was thankful and blessed to have the young, strong surgeon that God had arranged for me.

While there were setbacks, I recovered very well overall and on August 31, 2022, I received the news that I was officially cancer free…The Ultimate Miracle.  I will never forget my surgeon standing there telling me all the scientific reasons why people with pancreatic cancer don’t experience healing, how it just doesn’t happen.  I thought in that moment of faith.  The faith required every day to withstand and endure.  There was no other option but to put on foot in front of the other and trust God.  His grace is sufficient.  His power is made perfect in our weakness in ways we will never be able to comprehend this side of heaven.  Sometimes, cancer can be a display case for God’s glory.

In the year since I received complete healing from cancer, the Lord has continued to answer prayer, bless me abundantly, and fulfill promises I had long since abandoned.  Such as, after 27 years of being a single mother I had given up on ever finding a partner to share my life with; I didn’t even know if I was going to have a life to share – and having been on my own for so long, I didn’t know if I even had anything to offer somebody.  But when I least expected it God brought a wonderful man into my life.  A strong man of God who I believe is my destiny and God’s promise fulfilled; we are building a beautiful life together, and plan to be married this coming June.  At this stage in my life, I never thought I would find love – but the Lord has given me new life in more ways than one.

I have faith, I immerse myself in it.  There is no greater source of love, healing, comfort, and grace than that which we find in our relationship with our maker.  Whom, by the way, wants every single one of us well of that, I am sure.  Throughout my journey, I was given exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it.  I was never alone.  As curious as it is to say, cancer can be a blessing in disguise…I am better now in some ways than I was before; I appreciate every day for what it is…a Miracle!

So, what am I being called to do in this season of life?  I believe I’m being called to share God’s goodness in my life and find ways to share my testimony with others.  To speak words of encouragement and love and to share my story of hope and healing with others going through their own cancer journey.  The deepest desire of my heart is that others would witness God’s love and grace through my story.  As for me, “I will keep my eyes always on the Lord.  With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” Psalm 16:8.

Lisa Birkholz