Staying in the Face of Cancer {an interview with Stephanie Diamond}

I’ve known Stephanie Diamond for almost 20 years. As you’ll see from the interview below, she’s made her home in China for over 25 years. What you might not learn from the interview is that she’s an amazing cook, one of the most generous people I know, and able to put on almost seamless trainings and orientations for people both on and new to the field. Like me, she believes in the healing power of diet coke, reading, and a good laugh.

Stephanie can you share a little bit of what you’ve been facing this academic year?

Last August as I waited for my 13th August New Teacher cohort to arrive and as I celebrated 25 years of living and working in China, I discovered a game changer, a lump in my breast.

Wow, this situation is probably in the back of every woman’s mind. How did you initially respond? 

Where there should have been worry and confusion God provided peace and calm to my soul. I reviewed so many of God’s mercies, so many of His blessings in my life these years in China and He reminded me of His infinite love for me.  A few days after new teacher training with the teachers settled in their schools, doctors at Beijing United confirmed I had breast cancer.

What factored into deciding where to pursue treatment? 

Many years before God had provided a verse to help me know where to invest my life:  1 Thessalonians 2:8 (Paul writing) …Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” NIVAnd still the 1 Thessalonians verse provided a standard for decision making when I asked, “Is it time to leave?” As I looked at my options available for treatment the one that stood out was stay in Beijing.

With Dr. Lau

Ultimately it was the fact that there was a huge Community of expats and locals already in place to provide what support I needed and it allowed me once again to share my life with the people I love. I built up my courage to call my parents and let them know what was happening and to talk through my decision to stay in China — there was complete agreement with the decision. Two days later my mom was hospitalized and two weeks later she died of complications from end stage liver and pancreatic cancer – a total surprise to us all.

With staff

So this is where things turn a bit more Job-like than I would wish for — since September and the passing of my mom, I had a mastectomy, started and finished chemo, my dad passed away in late January after four months of declining health, it was confirmed there was cancer in my other breast and by the time you read this I will have had another mastectomy. OK, I have to share with you that I sometimes refer to myself as Jobetta – Job’s younger sister!

stephanie share lives

Steph, I have known you for a long time. You will probably hold a record as being the co-worker I have the longest in my life. I want to just pause here and let it soak in for others what you’ve experienced this year. Breast cancer, unexpected death of your mom, diagnosis of cancer in your other breast, and the death of your dad. I think I speak for everyone in saying, this amount of loss is hard to absorb on first (or 27th!) hearing.

But the truth is our Lord has continued to open my eyes to His mercies and blessings these days. And though I have cried a river of tears, they are saturated in Joy and Hope. One of the biggest blessings He has given me is Community. I am the kind of person who serves others and find it hard to have others serve me but in these last seven months I have been so served by my Brothers and Sisters that I know it is a great gift from God. What a family they have been for me, carrying my burden when I can’t.

So here I am in China, still sure that the Father will make it clear when it is time for me to go but for now He is making it clear that it is still time for me to stay. Again 1 Thessalonians rings true, “…we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” So many have shared their lives with me in my 25 years here and it is that Community that has continued to call me to stay.

No mo chemo!

Thank you for sharing with us Stephanie. Truly. We’ll keep praying for you!

What verses or other forms of encouragement has God used to let you know when you should stay?

6 Comments

  1. Monica F May 26, 2015

    This is so beautiful!  Thank you Stephanie for sharing your story and for the great interview Amy!  What a blessing for you Stephanie, to receive such wonderful support and care in the midst of one game-changer after another.  So thankful that you could access such fantastic health care in China as well.  I will definitely keep praying for you!

    1 Thess. 2:8 has always been so meaningful to me as well.  I will never forget the words of our neighbors in our tiny little Kenyan village, after I experienced a very life-threatening bout with malaria, and had to receive more advanced care in Nairobi.  When we arrived to our home in the village, they said, “You stayed. You really stayed.  You have experienced our life, and now you are going to stay.”  It meant so much to our friends that we were ‘sharing our lives’ in that way.

    Over the last 10 years, our family has experienced diseases and illnesses that have taken us out of our life in rural China for a time, but in other instances we have been able to stay and get care right where we are.  We are so thankful for God’s wisdom in each of those situations- knowing when to stay and receiving support from the local community and health care workers, or when to go because there was no other option, but to go.

    This post really made me smile, and feel so encouraged!  Blessings to you Stephanie and JiaYou!

  2. Ashley Felder May 27, 2015

    What an amazingly beautiful picture of trust and obedience that can only be accomplished with the HS. The Joy of our Father shines through your words and your smile! Thank you for sharing, Stephanie! I’m one of the recipients of your countless hours of hard work, so thank you. I’m glad you let others serve you during this time!

  3. MaDonna May 27, 2015

    Thanks Stephanie, thanks for sharing! I’ve been studying 1 Thess. and as I read this interview, I was struck with a visual of giving “thanks in all circumstances…” (5:18). I know you probably have really hard days… but His joy seems to overflow out of you into the words that you spoke AND your smile from the pictures. I pray that He would continue to encourage you this day, this week as you read all the comments from people, like me, who have never met you.

  4. Lesley Tsai May 27, 2015

     Stephanie, I happened to stumble across the link to this article on our mutual friend Joni’s FB page. Your story has left me in awe because I knew you way back in Boston when the spark for China first ignited in you more than 25 years ago, and neither of us could have imagined then that you would be spending the next two decades (and more!) living in and loving China as you do. Even though we have not been in touch for a number of years, I am thrilled to know that you have truly found your heart and your home there. Your decision to remain in the midst of your losses and grief is testimony to the depth of your love and your calling. It reminds me of the phrase from one of the Desert Fathers who said to his disciple, “If you will, you can become all flame.” That spark in you has indeed become all flame! What an honor for me to come across your ongoing China story all these years later!
     

  5. Tracey May 29, 2015

    This is the first post I’ve commented on (though I read many of them! :)).  This series on leaving and staying is proving very timely for me.  We are about to complete our 7th year overseas and 2015 is shaping up to be a whopper of a year with the loss of my dad to pancreatic cancer, struggles among staff, staff transitions, etc. We are in the beginning of a couple months of ministry whirlwind, and then looking at a couple of months of ‘sabbatical.’ Many thoughts, and a lot of grief are swirling around, and I just want to say thanks for this.  Thanks, Stephanie, for your courage and obedience to stay; you are now in my prayers. Thanks, Amy, for doing this interview. Thank you, Jesus, for speaking to me.

  6. Michele Womble June 3, 2015

    Thank you Stephanie and Amy for a beautiful article!  Your story is very close to my heart: last year I stayed in Novosibirsk for my hysterectomy – and I was blessed more than I could imagine by the love, support, and care that my community here showered on me.  Looking back I can see why the Lord led me to stay. (I wrote about my experience at brokenbreadandsmallfish.com/2014/12/one-year-after-my-surgery-in-siberia.html)

    Unlike yours, my story wasn’t  Job-like, though – the hysterectomy itself was the most dramatic part.

    Thank you for sharing your story.  I’m encouraged to see your faith and joy in the middle of the pain, illness, sorrow – to see by your example that He will be there with us on the roads that we walk down – no matter where they lead us.

    Beautiful.

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