Cancer is a vile, insidious disease. It destroys cells and organs and internal systems; it brings nothing good in and of itself. For those of us with a diagnosis of cancer, everything changes from the moment we hear that awful word. Cancer changes how we view our bodies, it puts a roadblock in the path of our goals and plans, it scrambles our emotions and our brains, and it adds stress to all of our relationships.
The aggressive treatment for cancer—chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of these—causes additional side effects that run the gamut from tolerable to absolutely awful. Throughout the process, we wait to hear the words, “Your cancer appears to be in remission,” although we know that our cancer isn’t “cured” and that scans and tests will continue for the rest of our lives. We are thankful for that.
Because of cancer, our perspective takes a radical shift, and the boundaries of our world close in. We learn to concentrate on the moment because going beyond the moment is too frightening. We cling to the words of the apostle Paul: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Such hope! We can be convinced that nothing—and that includes cancer—can separate us from God’s love.
On Friday morning, October 26, 2012, a friend of mine again changed her perspective and moved her address from this world to the next. Shelley Wolf now knows the reality of the face-to-face presence and the precious love of our God. Shelley was passionate about, and was blessed by, a strong community of family and friends, who each ministered to her in his/her own way. She was gracious and kind, curious and creative, strong and tenacious. She loved animals and the outdoors, and she embraced the many people whose lives crossed hers. I met her because her girls attended Brentwood Academy, and through the years I looked forward to our conversations on all sorts of topics. She was a strong advocate for her family and for causes that mattered, and she and Jack were generous with their Wolf Den Farm for events and end-of-year school gatherings.
Her intelligence and wit were such a powerful combination, and she often delighted in delivering a punch line that surprised her listeners. I remember a parent meeting in the spring after her cancer was first diagnosed and treatment completed. Arriving a bit late, she took a seat on the top row of the 7th grade den and thanked everyone for the prayers and care extended to her family. Then, she paused and with a coy smile said she wanted to share her joy in the newest member of her family. She bent down, carefully cradled a small bundle, peeled back a corner of the swaddling blanket, and held up her new baby—a sweet little lamb! The look on her face was priceless as everyone broke into laughing applause. Classic Shelley!
While I wasn’t part of her closest community of friends, I prayed fervently for her and her family for the last three years as she faced the challenges of her cancer. Then I was diagnosed on February 17, and five days later I was in the hospital having a port inserted into my chest for chemotherapy. As I lay in the recovery room, hoping that perhaps I’d wake up and discover this had been a nightmare, I heard a soft tap at the door. In came Shelley—who knows how she got back into that room? She placed on my wrist a simple bracelet, one with a small dangling turquoise cross and a pearl, and said that her family and friends wore the bracelets and I needed one too. She told me to do my chemo on Thursday because that’s when she was there, and later that spring we did sit side-by-side in chemo chairs for a time or two.
My prayers and sympathy go to her dear husband Jack; her precious daughters Tory, Taylor, Tara, and Tate; her faithful parents and family; her beloved friends who have been constantly by her side, especially throughout this last cycle; and the wider circle of all who knew and loved Shelley Wolf.
I grieve the loss in this world of this precious woman. I also know that we “do not grieve like those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). In 1 Corinthians Paul quotes the prophet Hosea: “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” and then answers those questions with these joyous words, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57)
I hate cancer, but I love that it is defeated in the end. I am thankful that with Job we can say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth” (Job 19:25).