SHIRL: November, 1997. Fifteen years ago.
YVONNE: How did you react to the diagnosis?
SHIRL: I was stunned. Although I knew in my heart it was true—after all, I’d seen it myself on the ultra-sound—I kept feeling it was some ghastly mistake and when the surgeon operated he’d find I didn’t have cancer at all.
YVONNE: Apart from the treatment itself, what were some of the challenges you faced as a breast cancer patient?
SHIRL: One of the first challenges was the way people reacted to my diagnosis. Some avoided the topic. Others asked me questions I didn’t yet have answers to, which made me feel stupid. I was also taken aback at the number of people that found it necessary to tell me about people they knew who had died from cancer, often after a protracted time of suffering.
Another challenge was knowing how to react as a Christian. I was told so often to “trust the Lord” that I became irritated. Were they suggesting I didn’t? When people quoted Scriptures about the Lord healing those whom He loved, were they saying He didn’t love me? (I knew that wasn’t true.) Or did it mean He was in the process of healing me? (I wanted that to be true, but one look in the mirror often chased the thought away.) I never doubted that God loved me, and I knew He had promised never to allow me to go through anything more than I could cope with. However, I have to admit there were times I wondered if He’d lost track of my limitations!
YVONNE: And what challenges did you face as a survivor?
SHIRL: Taking back my independence! I have a wonderful husband who took over the shopping, the kitchen, and whatever else needed to be done.
After my treatment was over, I wanted to do things for myself—and often had to say, “Please let me do this!” Sometimes I could “hear” the voice of a two-year-old, “I can do this myself!” The problem was, like the two-year-old, I often couldn’t. I had to accept that I no longer had the stamina to do as much. Rob repeatedly told me, “Give your body time, Shirl. It’s been through so much.” And he was right. It took time. Way more time than I wanted.
Throughout the full twelve months of treatment, I looked forward to the day my treatment would end. When the time came, we planned a holiday (vacation) at the seaside. (At that stage we lived in Johannesburg, many miles from the coast.) No one thought to warn me that the chemotherapy cycle would continue for some months, gradually becoming less debilitating. So when my blood count suddenly plummeted and I felt like death, I thought the cancer had returned!
Then there’s the on-going challenge every cancer survivor faces. Will it come back? As the years go by, this thought becomes less threatening, but it is never far away. Any unexplained pain or symptom can be ominous, and of course members of the medical profession are also on the lookout for a recurrence.
YVONNE: At the time of your diagnosis, you were a practicing registered nurse. Today, you’re a published author. What caused you to change careers?
SHIRL: Cancer. I’ve written since I was a youngster, but didn’t see it as “writing”. If the church needed a play, I wrote it. I often wrote poetry, just for the fun of it.
Prior to cancer, I took a correspondence course with a writing school, but I really had no idea why. I had no intention of ever being published, although I loved the challenge. I now realize this was part of God’s training program for me, preparing me for the future.
One day during my treatment, I was lying on my bed, desperately ill. I flipped the pages of my Bible open and read, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.” (Psalm 118:17 NIV) I knew that I knew that these words were for me. God wasn’t saying He had healed me, but rather that I would live through the experience, and then tell others about it.
A year after my treatment, we moved to a place far from any hospital where I could nurse, and I knew the Lord wanted me to write for publication, and tell others what He had done in my life.
YVONNE: So do you only write cancer-related subjects?
SHIRL: No. I write to inspire and encourage. I write mainly for those in the cancer valley, but I also have a passion for helping other writers. I have also had a number of un-related articles and non-fiction stories published.
YVONNE: Why do you have two websites? Surely it is difficult to maintain them both?
SHIRL: It’s incredibly difficult. I can’t spend the amount of time I would like to on either of them. I didn’t set out to have two, the second one developed. I had ShirleyCorder.com, my domain site for some years. But as my articles on cancer grew, it became apparent I needed a separate website to give the topic justice. So RiseAndSoar.com was born.
YVONNE: Tell us a little about your writing. What have you published?
SHIRL: So far, I am a contributing author to ten anthologies or similar books, including four Guidepost books and two Chicken Soups. I have had hundreds of other articles published internationally, both in print and on the Internet. And at the beginning of this month, Revell published my book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer.
YVONNE: Tell us a little about your book.
SHIRL: Sure. Strength Renewed is a book of 90 meditations based on actual incidents that happened during my cancer journey. Each event ties in with relevant scriptures. Although the book is written in chronological order, each story stands alone, so the book may be read in any order. Strength Renewed was written primarily for patients and their loved ones, but it will also be helpful for those walking alongside the patient as family, friends, or part of the medical team.
YVONNE: I know there’s a story behind the title of the book. Tell us about that.
SHIRL: During my treatment, I spent much time in the botanical gardens near my home, watching a pair of Vereaux’s eagles. I used to wish I could copy them and rise and soar over the cancer valley. Isaiah 40:31 says that those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. This became one of my favourite verses. So when I came to write the book, I chose the working title, Rise and Soar over the Cancer Valley. Revell changed it to Strength Renewed, which is an ideal title for the book. As we wait upon the Lord, by spending time in the Scriptures and meditating on the Word, so we will receive strength. That is God’s promise to us all.
YVONNE: Thank you, Shirl. I pray we all receive God’s strength when we need it. Your book is wonderful, and I highly recommend it.