14: When Healing is a Process
About the Guest
Dr. René Rochester and her best friend committed to each other they would get yearly mammograms. The year she almost missed it, Dr. Rochester was diagnosed with breast cancer. Dr. Rochester discusses how her faith in God and the support of the community He placed around her sustained her through it all, including a recent scare.
14: When Healing is a Process
René: She asked the question “Do you know why you’re here?” I said, “I’m here because I got test results that didn’t look clear.” She said “I’ll ask you again. Do you know why you’re here?” And she was trying to get me to say that I have cancer and I just—I just couldn’t get it out of my mouth.
Kim: From the FamilyLife podcast network, this is Unfavorable Odds. I’m Kim Anthony.
Unfavorable Odds is about finding hope and help in those seasons of life when things are pretty tough. Jesus has promised us that whenever we walk through those dark valleys, He’s always with us. We will never have to go it alone. So on each episode of this podcast, we’ll be talking with people who have learned how, during those dark times, to draw their strength from Jesus.
Kim: Breast cancer. It seems that just about everyone knows someone who has it. It’s been reported that about one in eight US women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Dr. René Rochester is one of those women. She is an educator and Director of Student Academic Support at Brentwood Academy in Tennessee. And she’s also the Founder and CEO of PHAT STAR Learning.
Dr. René was gracious enough to talk with me about her personal journey with breast cancer. And as you listen, I believe you will be encouraged not only by her story of overcoming but more so by the way she weaves the truth of God’s Word throughout her experience.
Kim: Alright Dr. René, tell me a little bit about your background.
René: Well, I’m originally from Boston, Massachusetts—daughter of a single parent not by choice—twice widowed. I had two sisters, three nephews, and one great nephew. I grew up in Boston, moved to Brockton, graduated, became an athlete at Texas, and got saved at Texas. So that’s kind of it in a nutshell. [Laughter]
Kim: Well tell me when your faith journey started.
René: I was a junior in college, and it was in April of 1980. When I get to Texas, I had a dream because, like I said, my mom raised three of us pretty much on her own. I said, “I’ll get a scholarship, so you won’t have to spend any money.”—Ended up at Texas—was an all American. So my goal by the time I get there—was the late 70’s—was to make the 1980 Olympic team. That was my dream. That was my goal. That’s what I intended to do. I was very passionate about it.
Then it was my junior year. I stopped playing basketball. I was a dual athlete. I played basketball and ran track at Texas, and we were breaking the color line there. That’s a whole other day / another talk, but my junior year I let go of basketball to focus on track to try and qualify. I qualified for the trials. But on April 17th, I had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ on the campus. They were having what they called back then—some places called it Rez week where college campus ministries would all come out at the same time and this is at the University of Texas.
So right out on the east mall, they’re sharing about Jesus and singing songs. All the songs were loaded with the Word of God and little did I know that God was going to use the Word of God through music to convict my heart.
A young lady began to share with me that day—very sensitive about the fact I wasn’t into that Christian thing is what I told her because I think it’s fake. She said “Well one day you’re going to stand before your maker. He’s not going to ask you what your friends did with His Son but what you did with Him,” and started sharing with me. She said, “Can I tell you what the Bible says about being a child of God?” That kind of turned things in my head because I’d not really heard that before. So she shared with me.
That night I went to church and it was radical. I mean God got a hold of my life in such a way. I cried for three days. I mean it was crazy, but I had an insatiable hunger that day after that took place to read the Word and to know this God of the Bible. That’s how it all began in 1980 and from then it’s been a whirlwind change. As you know, we boycotted the Olympic games. We did not go. The Lord just spoke to my heart that I was to get in the race, let the Holy Spirit set the pace until I saw him face to face. It’s been a journey. I started teaching high school not too long after that and I still teach to this day. So it’s kind of crazy.
Kim: So you have an incredible opportunity to impact the lives of young people. Tell me what that’s like for you.
René: I think for me I get a great joy because I was a coach for many years and being an athlete, I love seeing when somebody gets there aha moment or “Ah, I get it. That makes so much sense to me.” I realize with the Word of God / the Spirit of God / the Kingdom of God message—when you share that with young people in a relevant way, where it makes sense to them and they get their ‘aha’ moment, they’re never again the same, and that gives me great joy when I see them waking through their journey.
I mean currently today I have the opportunity to teach high school and I’ve got 5 young men that are in the NFL and one just got drafted to the NBA. Having those young men, and young ladies, in my classes throughout the years and seeing people I taught 30 years ago pop up on a webinar—You’re going “What?!” But you just never know what God will do with what you’re faithful to do with what He gave you.
I often tell people you can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can never count the number of apples in a seed. Our job is just to sew. I have had great joy in watching people come alive in Christ—young and old alike. Because when you touch a student in school, you don’t just touch them, you touch their families. So it has far reaching impact. It’s discipleship day to day and I love what I do.
Kim: I’m going to move us into your personal life.
René: Ooh boy! [Laughter] No, I’m kidding. I’m just kidding.
Kim: Every year, you and your best friend get together and you take care of some very important business.
Kim: What do you do?
René: Well every year we had this thing: This is going to be our bestie thing. We’re going to go do our mammogram! What a deal! Because we know the seriousness of it. My best friend, Dr. Annita D’Amico, she lost a sister to breast cancer about ten years ago. We committed from that day forward—and I lost another friend that we both knew to breast cancer as well. I got challenged by Peggy, and then Annita’s sister’s death, that we will commit that every year we will go get our mammograms. So that’s something we’ve done like clockwork for about the last ten years.
Kim: Well this one year, you went to get your mammogram and things turned out a little bit differently for you. What happened?
René: They did. It was late October, of 2016, and we almost skipped. “We’ve been good the last five years. We’re both getting a little older, so we probably don’t need to go.” We had decided we’re probably not going to go and then she said “No, just go ahead and go.” We went. She couldn’t get in, but I could get in. She goes “I’ll just go later. You go today.” I said “Okay, whatever!”
So she left and I went and did my little mammogram thing, left, and thought “Okay, cool. Alright. I’m done. Did that for the year.” That was on the 21st of October and then I get a call back, something in the mail, saying “We need you to return. We need to do another test. We saw some things we didn’t like,” whatever. So I go back.
Kim: Okay, bring me in to what you’re feeling when you see the letter and you get the call.
René: Oh boy. Well in all honesty, initially, I thought “It’s probably scar tissue / just something.” Yes, I didn’t know it was really any big deal. Sometimes it can be just small little tumors that are benign. Because I had had a benign tumor on my left breast years ago. No big deal. Sometimes they’ll just see things and so I thought “Ah, no big deal. We’ll just go in and take care of it.”
So I went back, still not thinking really anything. I go in. They do another mammogram, but he said they wanted to do an ultrasound. So I go back in for the ultrasound after they did the mammogram and I’m kind of lying back and I could see out of my right eye. I’m looking at his face and I’m looking at the nurse’s face. They’re trying just to be, I guess, stoic and act like they don’t see nothing. But you know I’m looking at their faces like “Hmm, they don’t look—hmm.” He looked real concerned and I felt that in my gut. I thought “Something’s not right.”
But I didn’t know what the something’s not right is because he still wasn’t saying anything. Because they don’t want to share anything while they’re doing the testing because it’s non-definitive at that time. But I knew something wasn’t right by the look on his face and by what I was feeling, and my heart started racing a little bit. I’m thinking “Okay, what’s the deal?”
So he says we need to check the biopsy and we’ll get back with you. That was on the 7th of November. Then on the 9th he says “Okay, we did the ultrasound. I think we need to do biopsy. We see some tissue here that just doesn’t look right.”
So in the meantime, I do a Monday night Bible study with my women and we had been studying about your faith walk is not just for you. We’re talking about the woman with the issue of blood and Jairus’ daughter who was sick unto the point of death and just how if he had not gone to Jesus, the woman with the issue of blood wouldn’t have been healed and if she had not said to him what had happened he turns to her and says “Woman, your faith has made you whole. Go in peace.”
Then he turns around and immediately the Bible says he hears the people coming over the hill saying “Don’t bother the teacher anymore. Your daughter has died.” Jesus looked at him and said “Don’t be afraid. Only believe.”
I knew then when we were teaching that Bible study while I’m waiting on the results of the biopsy because I had to go in for a biopsy the following—I guess it was on the 9th. They just started moving real quickly. I go in on the 9th for the biopsy and then it’s the following week.
So I had a Monday night Bible study prior to getting a diagnosis. I just told the women I said “We’re just going to believe the Lord. That it’s really not anything,” and then we’d been walking through that faith journey piece in the Word.
I get a call that day, the following week. I’m on my way to work and I usually pray with Annita every morning. So I’m calling her and her phone—she’s not picking up. I keep getting her voicemail. I’m like “What is wrong. She knows I call her in the morning. Why isn’t she picking up the phone?” I was a little irritated with her actually.
So I finally get through and I call her. She goes “Hello” and I’m like “What is wrong with you?” “I just talked to Steven. He needs to get ahold of you at work. He’s going to call you at work.” I said “Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.” I said, “What is wrong with you?” “Steven heard from the doctor.” I said “Okay,” and she couldn’t press him. He just could tell—only thing he could say to her: it wasn’t good news. I said “Okay. They got the results.” She said “Yes.” I said “Okay.” That’s all I said really, for about the first month, Kim, was okay because I didn’t know what was next. I just said “Okay.” She said, “He’s going to call you because it wasn’t good.”
I said “Okay!” She was so upset. Now mind you, she had lost a sister 10 years ago and I’m like a sister to her. We are so close, and we’ve been journeying together with Jesus for over 20 years.
So he calls me, and he said “This is what’s going on. It’s an invasive mammary carcinoma.” All I heard was the invasive piece. I’m like “The devil is a liar” in my mind and I’m thinking but my heart’s racing 100 miles an hour. Then I stopped for a minute, I said “Okay,” again. I guess every time i was saying okay the Lord was just telling me it’s going to be okay. Didn’t know that then but it’s okay.
I just wanted to know what’s the next step. He says you’re going to get a call today probably two calls. He said we’re not waiting on this. It’s very invasive. We’re moving swiftly. Sure enough I parked in the parking lot at work. I get out of the car. I hadn’t been out of the car for about, maybe, five minutes—unloading my stuff—still trying to process what I just heard, and then the phone rings and I got the phone call from the oncologist.
She said “You’re going to get a call from Vanderbilt”—No, actually, Vanderbilt called first and then the oncologist called me. This thing is moving. I hadn’t even gotten into the building yet.
So by the time I get into the building, they had scheduled my next meeting to go into to meet with the surgeon. That’s how fast we were moving. I walked in the building. I stood there for a second. One of my colleagues was there. She goes “You okay?” I’m like “No.” She goes “What?” “I have cancer. Huh!” That’s what I said literally. No tears, no nothing, just huh because I didn’t know what to do with it. It was kind of like [Poof]
I walked in. I told my headmaster. I said “Listen, this is what happened this morning.” He said “My goodness! Do you want me to tell your students?” and I said “No sir. I need to tell them.” That’s kind of how that day literally happened when I was diagnosed. It was like “Woof.” It was a shock actually.
Kim: A whirlwind.
René: Yes, it was.
Kim: I want to take you back to something you said to your Bible study. You said, “Let’s just believe the Lord that everything is okay.” But things were not okay.
René: No, they were not. But I think what we see—and I’m learning this as I journey my journey with Jesus—you know what we see is not okay, He knows at the end it’s going to be okay because He knew our end before our beginning, and then He backed up and began us.
He knew every day of our life. The Word says that every day of our life was written down. Every day was written down in the book before there was yet one of them. So He knew that it would be okay. Even when we don’t see that it’s okay, He knows it will be okay.
So with the women, I knew once I was diagnosed and came back again the following Monday and told them the results. Because by the following Monday, I had already gone—like this was on a Wednesday when I got the phone call.—Thursday / Friday moving. Friday, I’m in the doctor’s office. We are scheduling surgery. I mean it was that fast.
So the following Monday—that was on a Friday that we scheduled for the surgery—that following Monday, I tell my women “Okay ladies, are you ready to walk? It’s time to walk.”
I said “I know a man who was crippled who couldn’t get to Jesus, but his four friends did whatever it took to carry him to Jesus. I need y’all to walk with me and carry me if I need to be carried but we’re on a journey.” So that was the following Monday that that had to become a reality for us.
Kim: So how important do you think having people to walk with you through something like this is?
René: I think it’s critical. I don’t believe that we’re called to journey this journey as we’re on a pilgrimage. You know the Word says that our citizenship is in heaven so we’re strangers and aliens to this world / to the earth, and while we’re here, God made it very clear in Genesis 2:18. It says “It’s not good that man be alone.”
That man is mankind / human species. We’re called to walk together, and I think it’s because of the frailty of life / the things we go through. The Word says two are better than one. A threefold cord’s not easily broken.
I believe we’re called to walk in community because the journey for me—I’m a single woman and I live by myself so at the night hours—when everybody’s gone home. I’m not at work; the door is closed. I’m in my bedroom about to lay my head on the pillow—that’s when the war starts in your head. You have to know that somebody is walking with you and somebody’s praying with you. I know that I’ve got certain people on speed dial I can just call and say “Listen, sisters, I need you to pray.” I mean we have a group text. I need you to pray right now. My head is in a war.
Annita or my mother or sister or all three went to the appointments with me. I didn’t go to any appointment alone. The only time I started doing anything alone was after I had my first radiation treatment and that was post-surgery, a month later. But Paul says over and over again to one another / one another. Pray for one another. Encourage one another. Stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Build up one another. Encourage one another day after day as long as it’s called a day lest any of us be enticed by the deceitfulness of sin.
So we live in a world where we’re going to combat stuff, but we don’t have to fight alone. That’s why you read the epistles. It’s over and over again let us, our warfare, the weapons of our warfare are, let us put on. So it’s a “we” thing not a “me” thing in this journey.
So I think it’s critical, especially when you’re journeying through something that’s very difficult. Because when you’re down, somebody else can pick you up and when you’re up and they’re down, you can pick them up. We journey this life together.
Kim: Now your Bible study group were not the only people who helped you walk through this. Your students actually stepped in and supported you as well. Tell me about that.
René: That was crazy. In fact, I’d just spoken at church this past Sunday and there were four former students in that church service, and they were that class, actually, that journeyed the journey with me. It was just fun to see them there. When I told the headmaster of my school—when I said I would like to tell my class—my classes actually, he said “Okay.”
I remember the day that I told them. It was that day that I found out. Remember I had been teaching that story about the woman with the issue of blood and with Jairus’ daughter.
So what I did—I always take prayer requests from the students and then we pray. I said, “But I have one today.” I told them that this morning I just found out I was diagnosed with breast cancer. You could hear the room go “Aww.” You could hear the moans for a second. I said “But I want to share something with you because I need you to do something with me. I’d like to know who would be willing to do this with me.”
So I told them the story of Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood. I said, “I need people that are willing”—Because Jairus once he heard Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid, only believe,” he had to take a journey. They had to walk. They were still walking toward his house. All the people because he was wealthy—the mourners “Oh she’s dead.” So all he’s hearing is she’s dead. They’re wailing and mourning while he’s walking to the house. That’s why when Jesus got there, He got everybody wailing out. He only took the parents in with three of his disciples.
I told the young people, I said “I need people that will— I told my Bible study last night that we need to walk by faith. It’s a faith walk for us. We don’t know what’s yet ahead, but we know in the end that God is Rapha. He is the Healer. So I’ll either be healed on this side of glory or on the other side of glory but I know He’s able to do it on this side. Will you walk with me?” So I asked the students. I said, “I just need to know who of you would walk with me?”
One by one the students started getting up and then when they started to pray—and I said this in church the other day. There were some of the young men that really took me back—that really started praying, and they were praying scripture just started rolling out of them. Like who are you? I didn’t even know they rolled like—What? You? Knucklehead, what? Like you just don’t know what’s down inside somebody until you call on them to step up. Sometimes they just need to be encouraged to join you in a journey.
I think for us as leaders in the kingdom, as we mature and get older, that we can’t leave the next generation behind thinking “Well they’re just so young.” Ask them to join you in the battle. I saw young people rise up and take literally the journey with me even to the point of when I had to go back and do the oncotype trying to find out if my numbers were high or low. I mean they were praying specifically for me. So I have great joy knowing that this next generation if we equip them and encourage them and ask them to join us in a battle and in a journey, they’ll do it.
Kim: I believe that we underestimate our young people.
René: I do, too. I do, too.
Kim: Now you said something that stood out to me. You said that either the Lord is going to heal you on this side of heaven or the other side of heaven. When you said it, it was just matter of fact which makes me think that you were okay with this. It wasn’t a struggle for you.
René: I think where I am now of understanding and being on the side of where I am in the journey, I knew that He was Rapha—no doubt in my mind. I could quote all the scriptures. Sometimes you know in your heart and your head what is right, but your emotions have to catch up. You know your feelings have to catch up with what you know in your gut is true.
At night, I would lie in bed “Now Father, if this is what you have, I don’t understand it, but I know you are faithful.” I had gotten a call from a couple of people. I remember talking to Madeline Mims and she said “I believe this will be a story for God’s glory,” and whether like I said I have seen people, I’ve prayed for people, I’ve seen them healed on this side of glory and I’ve prayed for people and I’ve seen them healed on the other side of glory.
So what I did with my Bible study—and I tell you my mother’s a woman of faith. She just started believing that He is Rapha and she said to me “I wish it were me but it’s not. But I’m believing God to restore you whole.” So I had people praying for me to be restored whole on this side of glory. But we hold to the truth of God’s Word that says it’s not up to us to know the times or seasons of God which He’s fixed by His own authority. I said, “But while I have breath to breathe, I’m going to believe that He’s able.” Now how that turns out—and I think what we think a lot of times: people pray for healing expecting a miracle. And they’re two different things.
The Lord spoke very clearly to my heart from the scripture as we were doing Bible study that this was going to be a faith walk. I didn’t know how long the walk was going to be, how long a journey it was going to be, if the journey was going to continue on the other side of glory—all I knew is He said it’s a faith walk and it’s going to be okay. But this is going to be a journey. It’s not going to be [clap] a presto chango. I think miracles are instantaneous but one of the words for healing is the word therapeuo which means therapy, and you don’t just go one time.
I’ll be honest with you, Kim, the one thing I cried—I said “Now Lord, you know I can’t even get on a ride at the amusement park that spins around. Now Father, if there’s any way we can avoid chemo, Lord Jesus. I did. I was praying because I knew, like I said, three days in after the diagnosis I’m talking to a surgeon.
The next thing I know, she had one date open within a two-week period and then I wouldn’t have been able to get in to this particular surgeon for another couple of months, and she is the best in the area. Everybody says she is the best doctor. Ana Grau from Chile, brilliant woman—just her bedtime manner was outstanding but anyway. She was very thorough, and Dr. Means. I had an incredible team.
We moved so quickly. God had to have things in motion prior to. He had people already set up to just encourage me along the way. That was the crazy thing for me is that He had people set up in this journey to continue to remind me that He is who He says He is, it is going to be okay, and you’re not alone in this walk. Because it’s going to be a journey and it still is to this day. I’m still on medication and it’s a journey. You just have to know and every time you go back for a mammogram or go in for a checkup you just My Lord you know. It’s an ongoing faith walk. Yikes.
Kim: Now you talked about praying and asking God “Please don’t let me have to go through chemo.” What was the type of treatment you received?
René: Okay, well I went in November 18th and I had—Here’s my trio. I had Annita, my mother, and my younger sister with me. All three of us trying to march in together.
René: Yes, we go in together. Surely goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life. No anyway. But we go in and in all honesty, Kim, I was nervous but I had a peace. I giggled about stuff and she was so personable, and we laughed. My mother got tickled because when she told me she was from Chile, I started speaking a little Spanish and she looked and my mother and sister looked at each other because they don’t know like how I roll you know when I’m in—I said yes. I said I knew that I said “Jesucristo sana mi corazón.” Jesus Christ heals my heart.
Because the hardest thing for me in that meeting with her nurse even before she got in there is that she asked the question “Do you know why you’re here?” and I said “Yes.” She goes “Why are you here?” I said, “I’m here because I got test results that didn’t look clear.” So “Do you know why you are here?” I said “Yes, I had negative test results.” She said “I’ll ask you again. Do you know why you’re here?”
And she was trying to get me to say—I could see my mother and them looking at me—and she was trying to get me to say that I have cancer and I just couldn’t get it out of my mouth at first, and I went “Oh, the cells were cancerous.” She said “Okay, now we can begin.” I was like “Oh boy, here we go.”
Kim: Why did you think it was important for you to say that word?
René: They want you to own the fact of the reality of where you are. The Word tells us to be anxious about nothing but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God and He’ll give you a peace that surpasses your comprehension. He’ll guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.
So you talk about the reality “Now Father, we’ve got some problems here. Now I know you know. I know you know but I’m not there yet.” So I wasn’t ready to embrace it, I guess, in my mind. But when I had to say it out of my mouth, it was like “Okay, then everything started moving in fast motion.
It was like they give you this notebook and it’s about this thick. I have it sitting on the table and there’s no way you’re going to read all that stuff. You know they’re telling you all this stuff, and you’re still in shock because you’ve just said out of your own mouth: I have cancer. I wasn’t in there: Well I don’t have cancer. The Word of God says I’m healed in the name of Jesus. No, no, no, no, no. The Word of God does say that we are healed. But it also says it’s not up to us to know the times / the seasons of God which He’s fixed by His own authority.
I knew for René Rochester that God already told me this is going to be a faith walk and it’s going to be a process. I knew that much, and I just thought “Okay, Lord, how do we move from here?”
Kim: I want to go back to you saying that you had cancer—saying the c word. What do you say to those people who believe that because you said it that did something to create more of a problem? Those people who say “Well you know what? I refuse to say that I’m sick. I refuse to say that I have cancer or any other disease because I’m,” I guess, “speaking that into existence.”
Kim: I might be getting myself in trouble asking this.
René: No, no girl because I’m going to go right down that street with you because like I said I’m a faith woman. I love the Lord, Holy Ghost filled, love the Word of God, pray the Word of God, believe the Word of God, and I do believe that death and life are in the power of the tongue. I know that scripture, but I think we have to look at the text in its context.
So when I said out of my mouth, she’s trying to get me to own the fact of what I have. You have cancer. Right now there are cancer cells in my body. I know God is the healer of cancer but currently in this present state cancer cells are there. I can’t deny that. So what do we do with that?
I think sometimes when we grab things and just run with it because “Well the Bible says” but look at the text in its context. If this little earth suit wasn’t a reality, Jesus wouldn’t have come in an earth suit. God sent His Son in an earth suit. It says in Hebrews 5:7 it says, “In the days of his flesh.” The Bible says, “He offered up loud crying and tears to the only one who was able to save him, and he was heard because of his piety.” I think for us we forget about his humanity trying to safeguard his deity. He says you can be of good cheer because I have overcome the world. He overcame it so we can overcome it.
So what we do now, we follow suit with what He did. He offered up it says loud crying and tears. So there were days that he had to cry out to God. There were days he cried. There were days He mourned. There were days He got angry, but He did not sin. We have to be honest with what comes our way, but we take it to the one who is the healer.
So if I’m a faith believing / faith talking woman when the cancer is recognized as an enemy coming in my camp, now I’ve got to know how to strategically fight against that cancer. So it’s not that you’re going—you’re confessing your—your confessing—no, no, no. Confess—the word is homologous—to say the same thing as. When you confess that He is Rapha in the midst of your cancer, He only can be the Healer if He has something to heal. So you have to admit you have something to heal for Him to be the Healer.
Kim: That’s a good point.
René: I can say it. I’ll just say it.
Kim: I hear you.
René: But it was a journey. That’s why one of the reasons I did not put on social media my journey when I was going through. Some people post everything. I mean they’ll show you clips in the hospital and the whole bit. I didn’t do that because I didn’t want all the outside noise.
I wanted those that knew me intimately, walking with me, and the people that I knew knew how to pray and believe the Word of God and loved me. I know that they would pray because the Word says faith works through love. I wanted people praying for me that I knew really loved me and knew me and they would pray with that divine unction of compassion and speak the Word of God into the situation. But it was a journey. It wasn’t a presto chango. It wasn’t a miracle. It was a healing process and it still is a healing process.
Kim: Dr. René, I want to give you a chance to finish telling me about the type of treatment you received. You were in the doctor’s office. She had you speak the truth about your situation. Then what?
René: That was the nurse. So when the nurse got busy, then she could ask all these other questions. I’m glad that I didn’t look at all the material right away because I think it would have overwhelmed me. So I got all this information and she said, “Well I do have the December 1st date,” and I just said, “Let’s go.” The word I heard was invasive mammary carcinoma. That means it’s moving fast. We need to move. Let’s go. So I said, “December 1st is fine.”
So I had two weeks really to kind of get my mind around it, get my kids prepared for their final exams, and make sure that my class was covered. I only missed five days of school. It was crazy through the whole thing.
René: Yes, because it was at Christmas time. So I went in—and this is how good God is. You go in hoping that she gets it all, meets her borders, that there’s nothing in the nodes, and everything will be okay. They said, “It’s curable but there’s going to be a process.”—is what you’re told in the front end. But then they don’t know what they’re going to see. That’s the whole issue. If there’s nothing there, then you’re going to be [clap] you know.
But anyway, I go in that day to the hospital. Annita drove me in. When I got there, the young man that wheeled me back into surgery, he actually worked night shift at our school maintenance. He’s wheeling me in and he’s like “Doc, what are you doing here?” I said, “What are you doing here?” I didn’t know that he was a nursing student. So he was there at Vandy and so he wheels me back to see the radiologist/oncologist.
I go in, I look at her and I said, “I know you.” She goes “I know you.” I actually tutored her two twin daughters in ACT Prep, and she goes “We’re going to take good care of you.” I forgot that she was a radiologist/oncologist.
So she’s just talking me through and telling me about her girls and she looked at the screen and she goes “You know what? This was a good catch by the radiologist at Williamson.” She said, “This thing was hidden.” I said, “Could it be the Lord wanted it to be exposed?” She goes “Sure you’re right.”
She did her thing and next thing I know I’m back in waiting. I go into surgery. My mother, my two sisters were there and Annita, of course, and then a couple came from the school. One young woman that I had been kind of encouraging in her journey with the Lord. She came to the hospital as well.
But when I got out of surgery, I’m in the recovery room and I wake up. The nurse that was looking over me, her mother is the one that I told you that was a friend that I lost to breast cancer and she’s the recovery nurse in there with me. She goes “I saw your name on the board, René, and I had to come over here.”
So we talked and it was just reassuring. Then the woman that was making sure I got everything I needed to leave from there, she went to my church.
Kim: So God place people along the way.
René: The whole day. So I got home, slept a lot—very painful and you don’t know anything. The biggest thing I think with the cancer journey is the waiting. You wait on results for everything. So she did talk to my mother after the surgery and said she felt like she met her borders. My cancer was so crazy invasive and my oncologist—I even have a picture of it. You can see it, but the audience won’t see it. But you can see how she has little circles and she said these lined up, she said, like a little army and they were making their way out. That’s how we knew it was invasive. They had never seen anything quite like that.
So I was part of grand rounds with the doctors when they looked at the cancer cells because they hadn’t seen anything like it. It was a strange invasion. I said [singing] “But I know somebody that can heal that.” Anyway, I was like “Okay!” But she was so detailed and thorough. But what the results were: they found out that two of the nodes were clear, but one had cancer.
This is when the next part of your team comes in. That’s the thing with cancer you have a team of people that work with you. So the next protocol was we had to find out about the HER2 factor to know whether or not we had to have chemo. Because you have to have chemo and radiation both are protocol based on the HER2 factor.
So we’re waiting and I’ll never forget this day. She said “Well you know, René, we got back the HER2 factor is non-definitive. It’s almost like it’s in limbo.” I said “Hmm, could it be someone’s trying to turn it around?” She said, “That could happen.”
So I didn’t know what else to do other than to walk by faith. “Okay, what’s next?” I mean it’s like every time we turned, we saw this good thing and then you saw this bad thing.
Kim: How did you keep a sound mind in all of that—the back and forth?
René: I think the biggest thing for me was having people praying with me / for me. I had a friend of mine—she gave me a book one night and actually, it was at Bible study—one of the women. I have two doctors in my Bible study—physicians. She gave me the book, Christ the Healer, by F. F. Bosworth. Old, old, old book.
So at nighttime, that’s when the greatest battle came, and you know my mind’s going at night. So what I would do at nighttime, when nobody was there, I would just listen to that Christ the Healer and what the Word says about who He is as the Healer.
I’d just be prayerful and there were nights I’d just think “Okay now, Lord, I don’t know how long the journey’s going to be because you told me it was going to be a faith walk and I’m believing you.” But I know in Jairus’ story and with the woman with the issue of blood both were made whole. I didn’t know how it was going to happen or when it was going to happen, but I did know what he showed me.
It was a journey for me. So it was being around people. I’m grateful for Annita, my mom, and people that know me well. I don’t have to be “Hey, Praise the Lord! God is great all the time.” It’s like “Today is a hard day.” I’d be told one day at a time. That’s how I think I kept sane through it is one day at a time / one step at a time. Because when He said a faith walk, you take steps. One of my steps were according to your Word. So it was one day at a time / one step at a time.
When we found out about the nodes having cancer in it, the good news is she said she met her borders. The hard news was that there was cancer in a node. That means it had the probability of being systemic.
One night I was reading through, and actually it was in preparation for Atlanta, but I was just really praying. I said “Lord, I just need my team to be unified.” That they are doing this thing together well. So I found this scripture in Chronicles. Actually, the Lord pointed me to it. I didn’t find it. It was there. He said, “Go here.” But I was reading through and it said the sons of Rueben, the Gadites, the half-tribe of Manasseh had 44,760 valiant men—listen to this part—able to bear a shield and a sword, to shoot with a bow, and skillful in war.
I thought “Mercy, that’s my team. That’s my oncology. That’s my team.” I needed to have somebody that could bear a shield and what she had to do, she had to get her borders. So she had to shield around the borders. So the surgeon that she was able to bear a shield and a sword—that she could come in very specifically / precisely with the sword, and the strategic—I love this shooting with the bow and strategic in war. That’s the oncologist and the radiologist.
Radiologist has to be skillful in knowing exactly where to pinpoint that we’re going to do the radiation, so we don’t do any damage to any other cells of your body. But the oncologist to be strategic or skillful in war, she has to know how to attack the cells, what cells we’re attacking, and how to come at it.
So I mean, I’m praying for them. I’m texting this to all my people that I had that I texted that knew to pray. Like I said it wasn’t Facebook. One thing I did / I had whenever the Lord spoke something to me that I felt like I needed prayer for, or I felt like I was nervous or fearful, I’m sending a note “Agree with me in prayer here.”
So I had a bunch of people agreeing with me in prayer and same thing with my students. There were some days I would come in and I’d look at them and I’d get a wave of heaviness. I would tear up for a minute and then I’d be like “Okay, I’m going to be alright. I’ve got this.” I’d pray and they’d pray, and then, we were on our way.
Kim: Now did you let them know that you were feeling heavy?
René: Yes, I did. I did. One thing that I think was so powerful is with those that you know love you and are walking with you, you can be authentically real with them. There are days that I told people “Today’s a good day,” or “Today’s not a good day.”
Because I had to go through 30 days of radiation, and I worked. It took me longer to get undressed and prepared and on the table than it took for the radiation treatment. It’s like five minutes but the procedure every day. That’s when it got tedious—every day. And then tell you after you got done and you felt like you were run over by a bus, but it was very exhausting.
René: So by the end of the day, by the time I got home, I had nothing left. So if I had to leave early or anything like that, I had grace to do that, but I really pretty much worked through the process and I think it helped keep me sane. Because when you’re teaching, you’re having to give out to others and be sensitive to others.
So there are some folks that didn’t even know I had cancer until—I was asked nine days into radiation. We had Sarah Cannon night at our gym, and it was a basketball game—one of the biggest games / rivals. Sarah Cannon night everybody wears pink. It’s one of the cancer treatment centers here, and huge. The CEO’s husband is the basketball coach at our school. It’s the boy’s coach.
So I got a call that morning of the game—that morning!—asking if I’d be willing to share a little bit of my story at half time. I’m like “You have got to be kidding. I am nine days into radiation, you want me to go before all these people. What?!” I thought about it for a second. I thought “Okay. Alright, we’ll do this thing.” So I mean, girl, you could hear a pin drop. God allowed me just to testify of His goodness and that I’m nine days into the radiation.
One thing with cancer: every day, like I told you, it’s a waiting thing and you trust in God. You have to trust Him the whole journey. Because you’re trusting the meds are working. You’re trusting that the radiation did its job. You’re trusting that there’s going to be no recurrence. You’re trusting. You’re trusting. You’re trusting.
You’re trusting that He is Rapha. The Healer. Healer means that He’s healing that body while we’re still yet here. So it’s a trust factor every single day. I’d take those pills every day and it’s a trust factor. The thing I don’t like about it, it makes your bones soft. And so every day it’s like “Lord, today’s one of those days. Father, just grant me grace, Father, as my bones are tender right now.”
Kim: So are you in pain even now? Describe for me what it’s like when you talk about having soft bone. I don’t even know what those symptoms are.
René: It’s like people that have arthritis which I have a tinge of RA. Your bones they will ache at night. So what happens with the medicine, Letrozole, other types of cancer meds, they make the bones more fragile. So like if I’m leaning down in an area like on my elbow for an extended period of time and then let up, it’s almost like I feel like I’m bruised but I’m not. But it feels like that if that makes sense.
But just certain things that can mess with your emotions because I was estrogen positive. That means she’s trying to kill all estrogen and throw me into full blown menopause. So your emotions, you can feel these swings. I don’t want to just take medicine to stop everything but there are ways you can do things different and know what’s happening. Then know how to pray through it and know how to watch what you eat through it as well. So there’s certain things you have to pay attention to.
That’s why I said you can’t just blab it and grab it. Speak a scripture and think it’s over. But you also have to pay attention to this earth suit. Because if you’re not paying attention and you are fragile and you are weak, you have nothing to give anybody. But if you are taking care of it and you’re taking it to the Lord: “Lord, I need more grace today to do x, y, & z” and you can keep moving. So I’m learning as I grow. Let me do it that way. I stood on GO, I wait on D, and then I grow through it. [Laughter]
Kim: Now you’ve learned a lot about the human body and the effects cancer has on it. What are some things that you have to watch out for? And other women who have cancer as well?
René: Well the ones that have been diagnosed with cancer; I would tell you to stay true to the treatment plan that the doctors give you. Because one thing when you are in the field of medicine and you don’t have to—what I appreciate about Dr. Means is that she is not a pill pusher. She said, “I don’t want to medicate you if I don’t have to medicate you.” Meaning I’m not going to give you this harsh stuff just to do it.
She’s very holistic in her thinking. In fact, the second time we met she said, “I want you to get the book, The China Study, and I want you to read it.” And really, it’s about diet. Much of it is about diet and what we put into our body.
There are certain things that I was told to avoid like the plague because I had what was called an oncotype dx test. Because remember I said the HER2 factor was non-definitive. They could not tell whether it was positive or negative. So there was another test that they could do. Because usually after surgery they can get your HER2 factor and they couldn’t for mine.
So we did what’s called a oncotype dx test and what it does is they take the cancer cells—This is how advanced we are now—and they measure the cancer cells. They identify what feeds the cancer cells. So then they know, number one, how to attack it, and then, number two, what do you need to avoid. So I had to have an oncotype number. It had to be below 18. This was 2017 when I was getting the results. So I had all my students “We’re believing God for 2017. We’re going to get victory in 2017.” So we’re believing God for a 17. We needed to be below an 18.
I tell you what, God gave me a 14 and we were celebrating. So I did not—that was my blessed answer because I have watched people go through chemo and chemotherapy—people don’t realize this—any kind of medicinal treatment for a carcinoma or cancer is a chemical therapy. But chemotherapy injection—that kind of journey—I’ve watched people go through it and for some of them, it was just atrocious.
But God was gracious to me. I did not have to have that. But I did have 30 rounds of radiation which is its own kind of poison, and you have to work through that peace. So I was able to do radiation and medicine orally. So I’d take it daily and the regimen is actually five years. So I still have another year and a half / two years of medicine. You just have to journey through it.
Kim: What was the hardest part of radiation?
René: The radiation, the hardest part, like I said, was the day to day. Every single day, five days a week, and the exhaustion you felt afterwards. It was very—you’re tired. That was the hardest part. The treatment, you just kind of go in and they were so great. The team was great.
Just like when people go through chemo, when they finish the treatments, they get to ring a bell. When you finish the treatment, it’s kind of the same thing. The team of people—big ups to those who work in the field because I felt so taken care of and so loved through the process of the folks that was their vocation and their job.
I remember asking Dr. Means one time “Why did you decide to go oncology?” We talked. One thing I have done during this journey, I got to know my team. I got to know the people and just visit with them. Sitting in the room going back—Every time I go back to the oncologist is a spirit of empathy that is all over me when I come in that room and I know where people are in their process.
I’m like “Ooh Jesus.” That’s the part that I just start praying for families, and people dialogue in the room. People will “When did you find out?” And you dialogue. There was a time where I just didn’t even want to be around it. It was overwhelming.
And then when you’re diagnosed, it changes your whole world. Because now you’re a part of that family. You’re a part of that journey. So it’s talking to people and listening to their stories. I’ve seen people come in that were just so nauseous. I’m like “Lord have mercy.” I’d just pray. I’d just pray.
Kim: So you’re able to speak to them in a way that others who have not experienced cancer can. It reminds me of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of compassion—
Kim: —the God of all comfort who comforts—
René: —comforts us in our afflictions. Go on sister.
Kim: —so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.”
René: Amen and that’s it. That we ourselves have received from God. When you’ve been comforted by the Master in the midst of your whatever—and that’s where I was. There were nights in my room, girl, I had one real breakdown.
It was after surgery. I was in my living room. I was actually grading finals. So Annita was here helping me grade because I was fatigued a lot. I love praise and worship, and I think it was a Yolanda Adams song that came on. I mean I just sobbed. For about an hour, just sobbed. I guess it was the first time I really felt a release to just sob.
The second break was when I went back after the very first all clear mammogram I got—was crazy. I was nervous as all get out but trusting the Lord in it. I went in and Dr. Grau said “You’re clear. No sign of cancer,” and I sobbed in the chair. She said, “We tend to have that effect on people.” I said, “You think!”
But the first all clear and every time you go, you’re praying for an all clear because when something has a probability of being systemic, you’re just prayerful that it is gone in Jesus name. You just believe in God that it’s gone. But you still come in. You still have to be tested. You just go through the process. It’s trusting Him in the journey.
I think that’s the biggest thing, and trust is not as easy as we think it is sometimes. I think confessing and trusting are two different things. You can confess something but really not trust until you’ve been really pressed into it and you’re going through it for a minute.
Kim: What’s the biggest way God revealed Himself in the process?
René: I would say peace of mind. I mean God gave me an undergirded peace at different times that I just didn’t even understand. That folks, a lot of folks, said “I had no idea you had cancer.” I was like well, you wouldn’t unless you asked, I guess.
I think the other part was just His handiwork of how He built people together through the journey. Like it was a faith journey not just for me but other folks that know me. I had several people tell me that the journey helped them so much because I had them on a day to day as the Lord was doing things. I need you agreeing with me here. Can we be praying about this? It grew them in a way. So just watching God grow people around me, and then, there was indeed a supernatural peace at times that I just knew that it was Him.
My joy was never really destroyed. There was a joy just knowing that God was so good. Because He kept doing little things just to show himself. Like there would be something crazy wrong and then there’d be this person over here that was so reassuring. Then there’s something crazy over here and then there would be this one over here. So it was faith walk with others and it was a journey.
I think showing Himself in community and showing Himself with us. I shared last night in the webinar: grace and peace be multiplied to you. That’s what I saw a lot is God’s grace and God’s peace be multiplied to me in the journey.
Kim: Dr. René, I’d like you to close us out by speaking to that person who is in the midst of a cancer journey right now and they want to have that peace. They want to believe. They want to have the faith you’re talking about but they’re just having a hard time finding it. What do you say to that person?
René: I would say if you’re having a hard time finding it, keep on knocking, keep on asking, keep on seeking. It’s actually a present progressive verb there that you keep on seeking. If you seek Him, you’ll find Him. You keep on seeking.
Remember Jesus Himself offered up loud crying and tears to the only one able to save Him and He was heard because of His piety. There are days that you cry out in faith and it’s okay. There were times where I said “Now Lord, I don’t understand this but Lord, I know that you are able.
The other scripture that was real, real to me during the journey is Lord, I believe but help my unbelief Lord. I believe but help my unbelief. It’s funny when Jesus told his disciples that it’s impossible for you to live in this world and not be offended. There are things that are going to come against you. He tells them that in Luke 17 and after he tells them what it’s going to be like the apostles answered Him and they say Lord strengthen our faith.
We need more faith for this. If this is going to happen, Lord, we cry out for that faith. That’s what I love about the fact that we can cry out: Father, I believe but help my unbelief. Grant me grace to believe you where it’s hard right now. Grant me grace, Lord, to embrace your truth when I don’t see it right now. Because that’s what I had to do.
When I didn’t see the healing right away, I’m like Lord, God and every day I take a pill. I’m grateful that there is medicine out there. That they are doing what they’re doing. But all we can do is do a pill. Ultimately, God is the healer. Because the body has to respond to the pill. So I would just say moment by moment—just take it one moment at a time, one day at a time.
I say that. I had a scare about a month and a half ago. I lied in bed and I felt a lump and I thought “What is this?” So I made an appointment. I went to the oncologist and the first thing she said when she checked my breast, she goes “I’m concerned.” I mean I went “What?” I mean my goodness. From that point on she said “Right now, you’re going across the street. You’re going to get a mammogram and ultrasound and if need be a biopsy.”
I mean I went in a tizzy. This was a month and a half ago. I just thought “Mercy, what do I do? Okay.” Then from the time—the girl was setting it up. There was another girl getting in the elevator with me. She goes “I heard you making an appointment with the woman. You got some news.” I said “Yes, I’ve been here before.” She goes “Me, too. I’m going to believe it is going to be okay.”
I’m getting in the elevator, but my mind is racing still. Then I go on. So even then, Lord, help thou my unbelief. Father, I’m believing you that it’s just scar tissue because it was right around that area. But Lord you know.
So for me moment by moment. It is a journey and all the way through. I watched a woman walk out that got—I could tell got really bad news. I’m like “Lord, have mercy.” That’s what I prayed “Lord, have mercy for her.” I prayed for her. I didn’t know what her thing was, but I saw it in her face. I felt it when she walked out. I said “Lord, minister to her.” It took my eyes off of me to minister to her.
It seemed like I had to wait forever. I went in. She did the ultrasound. She came back and she said, “Doctor says it looks like scar tissue.” I’m like “Thank you, Jesus.” But it was still a journey. I’m sure it will be again. If something pops up, Lord, you are who you say you are. You’re Rapha. I don’t know how You’re going to do it, but I know who You are.
So some days I have to take it moment by moment, and some days with tears. Some days with bold faith. Some days Lord, I just know You’re God. Some days just Lord Jesus. It’s a day to day. It’s a moment to moment as things come up in our journey.
I do know this that we serve a God who sits high who looks low who’s intimately acquainted with all of our ways and nothing catches Him by surprise. He doesn’t sleep nor slumber. So He knows everything that comes by our way and nothing can come by our way without going past Him first.
That’s the thing that gives me great hope and great peace is that if it comes by my way, it had to pass Him first. He knows. He’s got it under control. I don’t know what control looks like. I just know that He is who He says He is and I’m just holding on. Sometimes I’m holding on with tears streaming down my face but I’m holding on.
Kim: As I listened to Dr. René share her story, I can’t help but think about all the times she pulled scripture from her heart and explained how it applied to the topic at hand. She obviously is a woman who has hidden God’s Word in her heart. She knows her God and she knows what He is capable of.
Yet something I love about Dr. René is how open she is about her own personal struggles. The struggles she had believing God during some of those dark and desperate times. I love how she is unashamed to ask God to help her in her unbelief. From her, I learned it’s okay to be real about what you’re feeling. And saying or not saying the C word does not determine whether you’ll be healed or not. Only God does.
Another thing I took away from our conversation is how important it is to have people in your life who will not only let you feel what you feel, but at the same time fight for you and with you from their knees in prayer. And we shouldn’t be afraid to be choosy about who we want to walk with us through our times of difficulties.
James 5:16 says “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Like Dr. René, we want people on our team to be those who know and love us. But more importantly, we want those people to know and love God.
Thanks for listening. If you’d like more information about Dr. René Rochester, take a look at our show notes on the Unfavorable Odds page at FamilyLife.com/podcasts.
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On the next episode of Unfavorable Odds, I’ll talk with Daniel Ritchie about tackling life’s challenges when you don’t have arms to tackle with.
Daniel: I cannot as a kid wrap my brain around the fact that people are going to treat me different for something I can’t help and something I can’t change. For me, there’s no other option other than to just crawl in a hole and never come out, and eventually that became my response.
Daniel Ritchie, next time.
I’m Kim Anthony. Thanks for listening to this episode of Unfavorable Odds.
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