Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy: What My Mother Taught Me About How to Live and How to Die

Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy: What My Mother Taught Me About How to Live and How to Die

by Becky Baudouin


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"I've taught you how to live; now I want to teach you how to die. You don't have to be afraid."

When Becky Baudouin’s mother spoke those words to her, they weren't said lightly. Her mother had an inoperable tumor—and after months of treatment, there was no hope for a longer life. There was, however, assurance of life everlasting.

Learned in the dark hours of pain and the bright moments of love, the honest insights on fear, loss, and grief that Becky shares in this book are applicable to everyone's story—including yours. If you're losing a loved one or facing death, you won't be alone on your journey: Becky walks with you every step of the way. There are even questions for reflection to guide you to comfort, whether you're reading on your own or with others sharing the struggle.

In times when hope seems lost, Becky's story reveals that God is the only source for a spirit's true healing. For anyone living with the tension of wanting to hold on yet needing to let go, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy demonstrates a powerful and profound love.

"In Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy, Becky's mother becomes my mother; her grief, my grief; her hope, my hope. With a combination of emotion, vulnerability, and dailiness, this book offers practical comfort and wisdom for anyone in a place of trial or suffering."
—Jane Rubietta, international speaker and author

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780825444746
Publisher: Kregel Publications
Publication date: 09/26/2017
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Becky Baudouin is a writer and former columnist at Chicago’s Daily Herald. For over a decade, Baudouin has led marriage and grief workshops, and is currently a speaker for MOPS. She lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where she is an active member of Willow Creek Community Church.

Read an Excerpt


High and Low

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:10

Mom half laughs from shock as she tells me, "Becky, he thinks I have lung cancer."

The moment she says it I know it is true. I don't want it to be true, but I am a worst-case-scenario thinker. If the doctor saw something that looked like cancer on her scan, I don't need another test or a second opinion to convince me.

It's the third week of November, and my husband, Bernie, our three daughters, and I are in northern Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday. This morning — the Monday before Thanksgiving — my niece Maggie was born. I was thrilled and a little surprised when my sister Kari asked me to be in the delivery room with her and her husband. I never even considered inviting family members to the births of my own daughters; I didn't want anyone except Bernie in the delivery room with me. I didn't even really want to be there myself! I felt honored to be invited to Maggie's birth, however, and I experienced one of my highest highs as I held my new niece moments after she was born and kissed my sister's wet cheeks.

Mom didn't make the three-hour drive up north to be here for Maggie's birth; she wasn't feeling well. I called her this morning to give her details about the birth of her new granddaughter. Now, with my stomach in knots, I listen as she tells me that my older sister, Deb, who lives a couple of miles from my mom, had driven her to the emergency room that afternoon. She had been feeling weak and experiencing shortness of breath, and they thought something was wrong with her heart. But after taking an X-ray, the doctor says the problem is definitely not her heart.

When I was a kid, there were three things I feared the most: that my parents would get divorced, that I would never outgrow my stuttering problem, and that my mom would get cancer and die.

And that wasn't even the worst of it. In the deepest part of me I feared that not only would she get cancer and die a horrible death, but that she would still be smoking, right up to the end, and that I would hate her for it. Throughout my childhood, I begged her to quit. I hung motivational signs all over our house and tried to guilt her into stopping. She made several attempts, but it took many years of trying and failing before she quit for good.

In her early sixties, after having smoked for nearly fifty years, she finally found a way to break free from her addiction. I had heard that after five years of not smoking, the lungs rejuvenate and become like new. So cancer was no longer one of my biggest fears. I was much more concerned about heart disease, high blood pressure, or a stroke. My uncle Art, Mom's only brother, had died suddenly of a heart attack while visiting our family several years earlier, and I feared it was hereditary, that something similar might happen to Mom.

Becky, he thinks I have lung cancer. It isn't a firm diagnosis. She needs to have more scans, see a pulmonologist, and have a biopsy. I cry and pray with her on the phone. I try to sound positive. I tell her that an emergency room doctor can't officially diagnose someone with lung cancer using an X-ray, that maybe it's something else, something not so serious. My attempts to calm her fears do nothing to calm my own. My mom has been a constant source of unconditional love and acceptance in my life, and now I am afraid I might lose her.

We have a dinner-time ritual in our house that we call "high and low"; one of our daughters likes to call it "happies and crappies." We got the idea from a movie. We take turns sharing the best and worst parts of our day. I like it because I believe that words are gold — powerful connectors with the potential to make us feel heard and loved. And it reminds me that life is a mix of sweet and bitter, mountains and valleys.

In bed at my sister's house that night, the Monday before Thanksgiving, I sob as I tell Bernie, "I'm terrified my mom is going to die." It is the lowest low after the highest high. In one day, in the span of one sunrise and sunset, I've tasted sweet and bitter, new life and the shadow of death. Fear as I have never known it settles over me and fills me with dread. And it keeps me from seeing the One who holds both life and death in his hands.


Times and Seasons

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

We'll find out the results of the biopsy on Wednesday. I've taken a couple of days off work so I can drive to Michigan and go with Mom to her appointment. She calls me Monday morning to tell me that I don't need to come.

"I called the office this morning to ask if they had the results. I didn't want to wait until Wednesday if they could just tell me over the phone. It's definitely lung cancer, and we'll find out more when I see the pulmonologist. So you don't need to come anymore because I canceled my appointment."

I understand that she needed to know. The wait has been hard on all of us. But it's not the news we wanted to hear. I would have gladly waited longer if the results could somehow have been different. I think about what she has just told me, and for a millisecond I consider canceling my trip. The girls are in school, and I know that I will need to take more time off work in the months ahead. This trip is no longer necessary, so maybe canceling would be a good idea. Mom is thinking the same thing and says, "Why don't you wait and come another time when I need you? This week there really is nothing for you to help me with, but I'm sure there will be times down the road when I will need you to come."

In this moment, I see with clarity that I am entering into a new season. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a time and a season for everything: to be born, to die, to plant, to uproot, to weep, to laugh, to mourn, to dance, to embrace, to refrain, to be silent, to speak. When Bernie and I were newlyweds, we went through a honeymoon season. We spent every possible moment together and focused on building our new marriage. When I was expecting our babies, I slept extra hours, ate whatever I craved (which was often Mexican food late at night), shopped for all kinds of baby essentials, and read books about pregnancy and parenthood. I attended birthing classes and I nested. I was completely focused on preparing for motherhood. And when we moved into our house, we spent months painting all the rooms, hanging curtains on the windows and pictures on the walls, and making it our home. There is a season for everything.

Now, my mom has cancer, and I can feel my focus and priorities shifting. I realize that I am going to need to rearrange some things. I'm going to have to step out of some of the activities and ministries I am involved in so that I can fully show up and step into this new season. This is a time to go. This is a time to say "I'm still coming. Yes, I'll be there. Even if there is nothing for me to do, I'm coming just to be with you. Just to sit with you — to weep and to laugh, to be silent and to speak, and to embrace — because now is the time."

I decide that I will go as often as I am able. I will not later regret taking time off work and asking friends to help juggle my kids after school. I will not regret putting miles on my car and gas in the tank, spending hours on the road driving to and from her house. I won't regret telling my husband that, as often as I can, I need to go be with her. Somehow I know that these will become the moments I will cherish, the memories I will hold in my heart forever.

When a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, her adult daughter was living on the West Coast, more than two thousand miles away from her parents' home in Chicago. When she heard the news that her mom was sick, she says she made the easiest and best decision of her life. She quit her job, packed up her stuff and her dog, and moved home. She had a year and a half with her mom, and no regrets. She knew that home was where she needed to be.

Seasons change, and with them our priorities. We must seize the moments because we will never get them back. We've got to let the smaller stuff go, and quite simply, we need to learn how to say no to the things that will erode our strength and energy, distract us, and use up our limited time. Because saying no to lesser things will free us up to say yes to the things that matter more. Now is the time to go, to embrace, to speak words that need to be spoken, to weep, and to laugh. Now is the time to listen and tell stories and ask questions. Now is the time to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, to pray together and to pour out our hearts. Now is the time to love better than we ever have before.


Defining Me

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.

Brennan Manning, Abba's Child

I started journaling when I was seven, establishing the nightly ritual of grading my day the way a teacher grades a paper. A+. Today we cherned butter in Mr. Johnson's class, and his wife made home-ade bread for us to try. Then Mom made spugetti for dinner. It was a perfect day! Or D+. It was an OK day until Patrick chased me on his bike yelling that he was going to kiss me. Gross!!!! No one ever told me to write — to work my thoughts and feelings out on paper. It was just natural for me.

I won a writing contest in elementary school with my essay about why my mom should be voted Mother of the Year, boasting, "She makes the best chocolate chip cookies in town" (true), and "She is very talented at drawing" (not true). My essay was published in the town newspaper, and Mom was presented with a gold heart-shaped locket. Another year, Mom took my Christmas poem and had it printed into Christmas cards; I remember feeling proud and self-conscious at the same time. Mostly I felt loved because she thought my words were worth sharing with all her friends.

As a young girl, I loved school. I was the kid that always had her hand in the air, eager to ask or answer a question. I often volunteered to read out loud. And I was one of the kids who got in trouble for talking too much when I should have been listening. One day in third grade, a teacher I had never seen before pulled me from class and led me to a small room adjacent to the school library. For some students, their favorite place in the school may have been the gym or the playground, but for me, it was the library. It was a huge, open space in the center of the building, and the hallway that led to the classrooms formed a circle around it. There was a wooden loft with comfy pillows where we could read, and the room just had a special feeling, almost like a church. It was as if everything we needed or wanted to know about life could be found in the books on those shelves. I took my library privilege very seriously, making sure to take care of my borrowed books and return them on time.

I figured this teacher was probably going to give me some sort of placement test or evaluation, because I was usually placed in advanced groups for reading and spelling. She sat across from me at a small table, turned on her tape recorder, and asked, "Can you describe your house for me?"

This seemed like an odd game to me, but I was a chatty kid, so I played along.

"My brothers' and sister's bedrooms are upstairs, and the living room and my parents' bedroom are downstairs. My bedroom is downstairs, too, and I share it with my little sister, Kari. We have matching bedspreads and curtains with pink and blue flowers. The kitchen has wallpaper with big yellow and brown flowers. We only have one bathroom, and I hardly ever get to use it."

When I finished my detailed description of our house, the woman told me that I stuttered on the word downstairs. I didn't know what she was talking about. I didn't notice anything unusual about the way I said any of my words. Too embarrassed to tell her that I didn't know what stuttered meant, I waited until I got home and looked the word up in our family's Oxford English Dictionary: "stut-ter (verb) 1. To speak with continued involuntary repetition of sounds or syllables, owing to excitement, fear, or constitutional nervous defect; to stammer."

At eight years old, alone in my living room, I read in a book what was wrong with me. In the years that followed, those words took on a life of their own, morphing into a debilitating life message. I was not normal. I was not okay.

At some imperceptible point, stuttering ceased to be something I did and began to define who I was. I was a stutterer. It changed everything: my love for school, my outgoing personality, my confidence. The words I loved, from spelling cards and books, betrayed me. The words I used to write stories and poems tripped and humiliated me. I became a walking thesaurus, always thinking ahead, anticipating words I might stumble over, switching them out for words with similar meanings. I'd exchange father for dad, and quit for stop. But it didn't always work. I remember trying to tell a friend that my cat had died. I was afraid I would stutter on the word died, so I said, "My cat was killed." It painted quite a different picture from what had really happened (my cat being murdered as opposed to dying a natural death of old age), and I felt frustrated that I had been coerced into telling a lie.

As my stuttering grew worse, school became more and more difficult, and speaking in class or with fellow students became something I avoided as much as possible. I retreated into a shell. Grown-ups commented that I was such a shy girl and it crushed me, because I knew that my true self was not shy. I longed to share my ideas and speak fluently.

The more difficult speaking became, the more I wrote. Writing allowed me to say exactly what I wanted, no switching out words or eliminating sentences that might cause me trouble. Writing was freedom.

Year after year I went to speech therapy, which concentrated on techniques for speaking smoothly but did not address my anxiety or depression. In middle school and high school, I dreaded the classroom. I was led by my anxiety, taking classes like art and writing, steering clear of teachers that required oral reports. Fellow students mocked and made fun of me. Some teachers were sympathetic and left me alone. Others tried to help me "grow out of it" by calling on me frequently and making me read out loud. For years I lay awake each night, sick to my stomach with dread at the thought of going to school the next day.

During those years, Mom was my refuge. Mom was safe. I needed one space where I didn't feel pressure, where I could relax and be myself, and she provided that for me. She didn't push me, and she did everything she could to help alleviate my anxiety. She talked to my teachers and asked them to stop calling on me in class. She spoke up for me when I had trouble, ordered for me in restaurants, and compassionately listened and rubbed my back as I lay on the couch after school, many days in tears. One time I told her I would rather have cancer than stutter, because at least kids wouldn't make fun of me. Maybe then they would be nice to me. She scolded me for saying such a thing, and I get it now that cancer is far worse. But as a child struggling with daily humiliation and crippling anxiety, I couldn't imagine anything worse. I felt ashamed of who I was.

It would be many years — well into adulthood — before I could let go of my sense of worthlessness. Eventually, God's love would undo my shame and convince me of my inherent worth as his beloved daughter.


Hundred-Dollar Piano

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

Maya Angelou, Singin and Swingin' and Gettin Merry Like Christmas

Mom had me go to the neighbor's house for the afternoon so that I wouldn't see the delivery and the piano would be a surprise. I was about ten years old and had no idea that Mom had been looking for a used piano, asking around and checking the newspaper's For Sale section. She finally found an old upright for a hundred dollars. I will never forget that day. I walked into the house, and she was beaming. I knew something was up, and she told me to go look in the living room. When I did, I couldn't believe my eyes. The piano pretty much filled the back wall with the built-in bookcase. The books had been rearranged neatly on the shelves, and the piano stood centered along the wall, tall and proud.

I had always loved music, and Mom noticed that from an early age I seemed to have an ear for it. Whenever we were at a house where there was a piano, I couldn't help myself. I'd wander over and start plunking out a melody. I could play just about any tune by ear, and Mom felt it was her responsibility to figure out a way to get me a piano and some lessons.


Excerpted from "Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Becky Baudouin.
Excerpted by permission of Kregel Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments, 11,
Introduction, 13,
1 High and Low, 17,
2 Times and Seasons, 20,
3 Defining Me, 23,
4 Hundred-Dollar Piano, 27,
5 Green Cake, 31,
6 Bookends, 33,
7 No Turning Back, 35,
8 Game Changers, 39,
9 Walk with Me, 43,
10 Do Not Be Afraid, 49,
11 God's Sharpie, 52,
12 Burden Bearers, 55,
13 A Win-Win Kind of Faith, 59,
14 Let's Just Get This Over With, 65,
15 In Everything, 69,
16 Ripples, 73,
17 Grieve As You Go, 77,
18 No More Shame, 80,
19 Margie and the Dog, 86,
20 Surrender, 90,
21 Letting Go, 93,
22 Holding On, 99,
23 Give Me Jesus, 101,
24 Beautiful Day, 106,
25 Life Goes On, 108,
26 Obituary, Long Version, 112,
27 No More Pain, 116,
28 Life After, 119,
29 Mexico, 122,
30 Irreplaceable, 125,
31 Coming Home, 127,
32 Always a Part of Me, 130,
33 The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, 133,
34 Bells, 138,
35 A Ten-Year-Old's Guide to Being Happy, 141,
36 Just a Matter of Time, 145,
37 Ravioli and Candy Bar Bingo, 149,
38 Shooting Stars, 152,
39 Live Well, Die Well, 157,
40 A Word About Groups and Grief, 164,
Questions for Personal Reflection and Journaling or for Small-Group Discussion, 167,
About the Author, 175,

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Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy: What My Mother Taught Me About How to Live and How to Die 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
richardblake More than 1 year ago
Finding Hope and Help in Seasons of Grief and Suffering Becky Baudouin was devastated when she learned of an inoperable tumor on her mother’s lung? Her fear triggered an alarm, followed by apprehension and anxiety. In her book “Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy” Baudouin relates stories from her childhood, and expresses her fears and insecurities at home, in school, and in her relationships. She tells of how, as a teenager, she became a follower of Jesus and the impact this has made on her life. A central theme of lessons learned from her mother is beautifully woven throughout the tapestry of the book. Each fast moving chapter is filled with faith building examples and scriptural promises. Lessons I learned from reading “Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy” include: • A willingness to become vulnerable • To respect the feelings of other family members • God never intended for us to walk alone • Our times are in God’s hands • To be joyful in hope and patient in affliction • The peacefulness of our mutual faith drawing together in a unique closeness • Accepting the process of death and the conflicting feelings of loss and agonizing dread, and the wonderful new life awaiting in heaven “Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy” is an important and meaningful resource for anyone experiencing suffering or facing the uncertainties and grief brought on by a terminal illness. A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own.