By Shelley Hartung
Life was going smoothly and it was a beautiful day. I felt happy, healthy and invincible, believing that life would continue to stay this way, at least for awhile. I soon found out that God had different ideas.
It all started one day in June 2010 when I noticed my forehead starting to feel tingly and numb. I thought it was odd, but not until a few days later, when my left eye started migrating inwards and I had double vision, did I realize that something was very wrong with me. Feeling panicky, I contacted my eye specialist who booked me for an urgent MRI. I'll never forget the day she phoned me at home with the results – I had a meningioma, a benign brain tumour. Although she tried to reassure me that it didn't look cancerous, she booked me to see a neurologist as soon as possible.
I broke down into tears, as I slumped over the table. Why would God let something like this happen to me? How could I have a brain tumour? I didn't feel sick. How did I get this? I sat there terrified and trembling, doubts and fears of the unknown flooding my soul. Suddenly I realized how fragile life is, how life can change in the blink of an eye!
Two weeks later, I was on my way to see a very well respected neurologist. I felt nervous, yet very blessed that in such a short time I had been connected to someone with such expertise. With a prayerful spirit, I clung to the verses God had given me that morning from Isaiah 43:1-2. “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up: the flames will not consume you.” Those promises and reassurances became a real source of strength that day as I held tightly to them, not knowing what the future held.
The neurologist explained what was wrong by showing me the MRI images on his computer. A tumour measuring 18x6x8 mm was causing all my symptoms. It was situated in the cavernous sinus, a very sensitive area behind the eye, surrounded by many delicate cranial nerves. The doctor said the area was basically inoperable, but he tried to reassure me that this type of tumour was very slow growing and usually benign. He would consult with a neuro-radiologist and a neurosurgeon, though, and get their opinion on possible treatments and the feasibility of surgery to remove the tumour. For now he wanted to use a treatment method he called "watch and wait."
The thought of having brain surgery paralyzed me with fear. In the next few weeks, I became obsessed with finding out all I could about my condition, spending hours on the internet, desperately begging God to lead me to some person or place that could help me. It became totally exhausting, draining and exasperating, to the point that I felt useless for anything else and depleted of all energy. I knew this was not healthy physically, spiritually or emotionally. I yearned to be able to trust God completely in this and leave it in His hands, but a part of me still wanted control.
Before all of this happened, I had taken my health for granted. Now I felt the shock of being sick, puzzled to understand God's purpose in all of this. As a nurse and a caregiver, I didn't like being on this side of the spectrum. I longed to go back to work doing the job I loved so much. I pleaded with God to touch my body and heal me.
A few days later, I went to the church to be anointed and prayed for, as we are prompted in the Bible to do. It was a very special and intimate part of my journey and I was so thankful for this amazing experience. When the pastors were done praying for me, Pastor Kervin told me he wanted to "walk this journey" with me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, not only on that day, but in the many months following as he, along with many others, supported and prayed for me.
As I left the church that day, I wondered: Would God choose to heal me miraculously or did He have other plans? Did I have enough faith to be healed? Was I even deserving of such a plea?
In the weeks that followed, God spoke to me about giving this over to Him completely. The day I decided to do that was the day I finally felt a sense of peace envelop my soul. I felt renewed and relieved, believing deep down that God was in control of all my circumstances. From then on, I, along with many others, continued to pray, wait and rest in God's ever loving arms.
Over the next few months, God brought some very special supportive people to me. Surprisingly, some friends whom I hadn't seen in years re-entered my life and were a real source of encouragement. One of those people was my very dear cousin, who strongly encouraged me to believe in God's divine healing. She said she'd seen many people miraculously healed in the church where she worships. Though I had never witnessed anything like that before, she gave me renewed hope that a miracle could still be possible, if it was God's will.
Weeks went by with very little change, but through the prayers and encouragements I received from so many people, I was able to press on and stay open to what God was trying to teach me. Some people seemed very uncomfortable with my situation and chose to stay distant, which was disappointing at times, but I came to realize that people are only human, and sometimes just don't know what to say. But God never disappointed me. Though at times I felt lonely and scared, I knew I was never alone, for God was always by my side giving me strength day by day.
As weeks went by, my symptoms worsened drastically. My headaches and dizziness got worse, my head felt twisted and distorted inside, and my left eyeball became completely paralyzed. My pupil was dilated, and within a few days my eyelid completely closed and would not open!
Another urgent appointment with my neurologist revealed that additional cranial nerves were being affected by the tumour. When I asked him if he thought my eye would ever open again, he said that without surgical intervention he didn't think so. Radiation would stop the tumour from growing, but it was a last resort. It wouldn’t remove the tumour completely and it could cause further damage to my eye. The neurologist wanted to be very cautious before making any decisions. He reminded me that this tumour was in a very delicate and dangerous area he referred to as "tiger country."
That was one of my most difficult days. I cried out to God to be with me and uphold me. I asked Him for clear direction as to what treatment should be pursued. The neurologist still felt the best thing to do was watch and wait, so I continued to trust him and God that this was what I needed to do. And God continued to be my strength.
Near the end of September, I was encouraged to go to a special healing service at one of CSC’s regional campuses. I was told that the guest speaker that weekend had the gift of healing and I should consider going. Sensing God’s leading, I went, accompanied by my ever faithful and loving husband, who had been my ‘rock’ this whole time. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had. Pastor Gavin and Pastor Kervin laid hands on me and prayed passionately for my complete healing. When we opened our eyes, Pastor Gavin said to me, "You are healed."
I was ecstatic to hear something so wonderful yet astonishing, but a tiny piece of me wondered how he could know that I was healed. Either way, my husband and I left rejoicing, feeling so encouraged and hopeful. As I got into the car, I noticed that for the first time in ten weeks, my head felt totally clear, with no headache and no feeling of distortion. It almost felt normal! I was so excited at the prospect that God had really healed me.
In the weeks that followed, my condition continued to improve. To my doctor's utter amazement, my eye started opening and gradually moving again. It was a miracle! I truly believed I was healed. I felt so elated yet so unworthy to receive such a gift and was excited to see what my next MRI would show.
After the next MRI four months later in January 2011, my doctor phoned with the results. The tumour was definitely smaller but he had no idea why. "Meningiomas do not shrink,” he said, seemingly in shock over these findings. I told him that I believed God had answered my prayers and healed me. That was such a fantastic day and I stood utterly amazed at God's goodness to me. I felt so thankful, yet so undeserving. I knew I hadn't always been as committed and faithful to Him as I should have been, yet He still loved me and answered my prayers. I felt happier than I had ever been before and was so grateful to be feeling well again, convinced in my heart that I truly was healed!
On January 12, 2012, I had my last MRI to check on the status of the tumour. A few days later, my doctor phoned to say my tumour was completely gone! When I asked if it truly was completely gone, he said he saw “nothing measurable” on the MRI. I must have been wrongly diagnosed, he concluded, as meningiomas do not disappear. He said it must have been some type of inflammatory condition that had caused my symptoms. It was “unusual” though, he said, as inflammatory conditions were usually associated with a lot of pain, which I had not had. He told me he would have to discuss my case again with a colleague, as he had never seen something like this happen before!
This was the answer to prayer that I had so desperately longed for. Amidst my shaking, with tear-filled eyes I thanked God for this amazing news!
“What did I gain from this experience?” you might ask. I learned so much, and as I look back upon it, I am so thankful for each step of the journey. God became real to me in a way I had never experienced before. I felt His ever-abiding presence with me day after day. I learned what it felt like to look different and be stared at and I am more empathetic and sensitive to others now. I learned to forgive. I learned to believe that God allows things in our lives for a purpose. I learned how freeing it is to give our burdens totally to God, then trust Him to do what He sees is best for us. I learned not to fear the unknown, as fear is from the enemy, not from God. I learned to be thankful for each day I wake up, that I can open both of my eyes and feel healthy again. Most of all, I am reminded how powerful prayer is and how powerful God is. I understand more now that God answers our prayers as He sees best, sometimes quickly and sometimes not. I am thankful for all the people that stood behind me faithfully in prayer and I now know in a very real way what it feels like to truly be touched by the hand of God. God still performs miracles today!
Since this experience, I feel a renewed joy and peace. I feel like I've been given a second chance to make a difference by sharing my story of hope with others. It is life changing to think He brought this experience into my life because He loved me so much and wanted for me to draw closer to Him. I will never stop thanking Him. I still have a minor tingling sensation in my forehead and some limited movement of my eyeball, but I am thankful, as it reminds me of my ‘miracle’ and that God is still in control of everything in my life. Though at times I still fall into the sin of worrying about things and questioning why sad things have to happen, God reminds me that He does not always answer prayers the way we want. However, I have peace believing He is faithful and does what is best for us, and He can be trusted.
It has been almost 13 years since the Lord miraculously healed me and there has never been any sign of a reoccurrence of this brain tumour! God is so good! Through other health challenges I have faced lately, Jesus has continued to be with me, and be my hope and strength. He has proven to me His faithfulness, and I know He hears my prayers and answers each one in His perfect timing and how He sees best. He truly is my Rock, my healer, my Redeemer and my friend. “To God be the glory, great things He has done!”