My online friend of many years, Susan Baker Swehla, has had an astounding life in Christ. An amazing woman with a deep faith in God, she has been accompanied throughout her life with His grace and help. From her birth in Japan to a Japanese mother and U.S. Marine father, to coming America, the death of her mother when she was eight years old, chronic illness, and her later conversion, her faith in the Lord has been great and is an amazing witness to what Christ can do in your life if you let Him. She has allowed me to reproduce the story of her cancer journey here and I’m honored. Susan’s faith is an inspiration to me and I hope to you as well.
In September of 2011 I was diagnosed with Stage Four Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Yes, breast cancer. It was also found in some lymph nodes underneath my armpit. When I found out, I wasn’t shocked or mad. I didn’t cry or yell. My words to God were, “Really? I already have one disease to deal with,” rheumatoid arthritis.
I did the breast check in the shower every once in awhile, but seriously I did not see this one coming. My paternal grandparents lived until their 90’s, but it was my mother’s side that I did not know anything about. My mom died of aggressive lupus, but I did not know what my maternal grandparents died of. And they were both deceased by the time I was born. So the journey began in this unknown territory.
I received all kinds of advice from well-meaning people. Go to the Cancer Center of America in Chicago, or the Burzynski Institute. Don’t get chemo, radiation or have surgery, eat organic food, and the list goes on. I yelled in my head, “Stop!” I didn’t want to spend hours doing research, I just wanted to go forward and get done with it. So I prayed, “Abba, you are God and the Lord of all. You are going to have to be bigger than all of this. I need to be able to use the doctors at Mercy Hospital. I trust that you gave them their gift of wanting to help heal people. I want to be able to go to Fareway where my all three of my sons worked, buy groceries come home, and cook supper and be with my family here in Des Moines. Amen.”
Mark 5:34 – And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
I had a port put in my chest wall for the IV. I had an MRI and Pet Scans. The results showed a tumor in my breast as well as a large mass in my ovaries. The aggressive chemo treatment began. It knocked me on my butt and made me stay home for several months. I starting losing my hair, so I had my oldest son shave the rest of it off, and I was okay with it when I looked in the mirror.
I took a sabbatical from my bible studies and book clubs. I had been very active, and now I didn’t feel well and wanted to stay home. In December, I came down with shingles, a very painful illness and to this day I still have neuropathy because it was treated too late. I take medication to keep it at bay.
Many wonderful people were praying for me. I felt covered in prayer. My sisters-in-Christ came to the rescue and brought meals over. The nights were long, and I prayed and prayed, however, I felt a darkness surrounding me. Where was God? “Are you there? I can’t hear you, feel you or see you. Have you abandoned me?”
I continued to trust and not give in to my emotions. At the end of March in 2012 I had my last chemo treatment and was now getting ready to move towards my surgery date. I met with the gynecological oncologist. He was so kind and very knowledgeable. He took the time to explain everything. He said that we were hoping that it was ovarian cancer and not breast cancer that had metastasized. I said, “Why can’t it just be a cyst?” He looked at me and said as gently as he could, “I know what I see, and I am good at what I do. I’m sorry Susan.”
I decided to have a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy, and to have both surgeries at the same time. I would be in surgery for six hours with both doctors. I opted not to get the reconstructive surgery. My womanhood was in my children and family, my breasts and uterus were no longer needed for my physical body.
On Holy Saturday, ten days before my surgery, I went to my St. Monica’s Mothers Prayer Group. I went to the home of Rosemarie where she also had the traveling image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that day. We prayed for our children for a half hour, and then Rosemarie told us to take our time to pray to Our Lady. I needed to get home, so I went up to Our Lady and placed one hand on her breasts, and the other on her uterus, and began to pray. The other ladies came up from behind and laid hands on me. We prayed for about five minutes and then took our leave.
I later found out after my surgery that Rosemarie had opened her eyes and looked at the image of Our Lady and saw a tear coming down from it. She wiped it and it was an oily substance as has been reported with other weeping statues. She told me that it was for me, but I told her she was the one that saw it, so it was a gift for her to see, and perhaps for me; that our Lady has such compassion and love for her children.
The night before the surgery my sisters-in-Christ had a prayer service for me. I know they were a strong and mighty army of prayer warriors. The day of my surgery I began to get a little anxious and said to myself, “What have I gotten myself into having two surgeries in one day. I will be laid up in bed for weeks.” The surgery went well, so well in fact that the gynecological oncologist came skipping into the waiting area where my family was and happily proclaimed that there was no cancer in my ovaries. It was a cyst.
I believe that God heard my prayers, and Our Lady’s intercession, and changed the cancer into a cyst. My surgery was on a Tuesday. I got up and started walking and moving the best I could. My sons walked down the hall of the hospital with me and I got stronger. I was released on Friday, and never spent one day in bed. My recovery was speedy and complete. My husband said I was having way too much fun when I was supposed to be in bed on medical leave. All those prayers were answered. God is so faithful and merciful. Praise His Holy Name!
Psalm 91 – You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shade of the Almighty, Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust. He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, He will shelter you with his pinions, and under his wings you may take refuge; his faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come. You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see. Because you have the LORD for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold, No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You can tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon. Because he clings to me I will deliver him; because he knows my name I will set him on high. He will call upon me and I will answer; I will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and give him honor. With length of days I will satisfy him, and fill him with my saving power.
Life’s journey continues on with all its joy, challenges and trials. God has given me a rich life, not materially but with treasures that are priceless; my husband of 31 years and my children with three daughters, three sons, three son-in-laws and six grandchildren, and God willing many more in the future.
I go to a weekly bible study, two Catholic book clubs, adoration, and any classes that will further my spirituality. When I go to adoration I’ve told my kids, I am going Son bathing! Basking in the light of His love. I try to go to daily Mass a few times a week. I pray for moral courage and the Spirit of Truth in my life and purity of mind, body and soul.
There have been many God-incidences in my life. I no longer believe in coincidence. I can look back now and know God has always been there throughout my life, leading me to Him. I thank Him for his unconditional love, His mercy and the peace He alone gives me. I think of Him all the time. I would love to tell you that I pray the Rosary and read scripture every day, but in my human weakness I fail.
Every day is a new opportunity to start over fresh and try again in my faith walk. And remember, I am a spiritual being more so than a human being, for He has made us for Himself to live with Him for all eternity. I look back and see my mother with her Buddhist prayer beads, I have my rosary beads. She had her Buddhist shrine at home. I have a Catholic family shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I pray for my Japanese ancestors and I pray for my birth mother’s intercession. I know I have a family here on earth and I have a huge family in heaven, with Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Communion of Saints.
We are blessed with a wonderful faith. Rich in scripture, oral tradition, the Saints, the papacy, the sacraments – especially the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith – and all the smells and bells. It is my strong desire to be faithful to the Holy Father and the Magisterium.
1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Abba Father loves us from all eternity. He deeply desires a personal relationship with us. We are the adopted sons and daughters of Him who is King. Therefore, that makes us princes and princesses. And what girl doesn’t want to be a princess? Our family album, the Bible, promises the story does have a wonderful ending, and we will feast forever at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, and we will live happily ever after with the King.
Rev 19:9 – Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
Susan only has four weeks left of preventative chemo treatment and she says. “I pray that the cancer never comes back. Though I know it is His will done and not my own. I go forward joyfully, living, loving and liberated. This journey had many rough roads, but God always brings good from it. Along the way I have met many wonderful people and experiences. I am blessed.”