By Debra Brubaker ’79

On Aug. 13, 1999, I received a phone call from my doctor, who said that my recent mammogram showed two areas “highly suspicious of malignancy.” My family had moved to Goshen a month before. Having just spent two stressful years working on a doctoral degree at Kansas University in Lawrence, Kan., and having always been very healthy with no risk factors for cancer, this news was a terrible blow. I had no medical support system in place, but many frantic phone calls later was led to Dr. Rick Hostetter at the three-month-old Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Goshen Health System (a breast cancer specialist, and an EMU alumnus, he practices state-of-the-art oncology). To make a long story short, over the course of the next 10 months, I was to undergo three surgeries, eight rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. Through it all, Dr. Hostetter and staff gave me reason to hope that my condition was curable. My family – my husband, Jim, a builder/remodeler, and sons Andy and Martin, both middle school students – has seen me through all of this. Today, I am still undergoing blood tests every three months as a routine checkup, and I am operating under the belief that I am cured. (I refuse to use the term “remission.”)
I feel great – and as I write, it is exactly 18 months since the diagnosis.

It was never a question for me whether science and spirit worked hand in hand during my journey through cancerland.
I knew instinctively that I was fighting for my spiritual life as well as my physical one.
The darkness and depression and hopelessness that settles over you during the initial weeks following the diagnosis is staggering. Doctors, good friends, fellow “overcomers” – I despise the term “survivor” – as well as hymns, Scripture, cards and letters all pointed the way, but only quiet time spent with God got me through.
I would go to my journal daily and dive into it like never before – referencing meaningful passages from the stack of books I acquired, which quickly filled three shelves in my home, then reflecting and reacting as I wrote and wrote. I filled two notebooks in six months.
The enforced rest and solitude were at first frightening, then calming, then something I craved. It was freeing to realize that I was expected to do nothing and go nowhere, and thus was “allowed” to spend as much quiet time alone as necessary. I spoke to God, yelled at God, cried with God, heard God’s voice, felt God hovering over me and affirming, waiting, holding, guiding.
Intense visual images would present themselves. The frequent, strong references to water that I encountered while reading the Bible led me to imagining, for example, the chemo fluid in the I.V. bags as a green, healing liquid (Hildegard’s “viriditas”) that would only heal and never harm. The 23rd Psalm, with its still waters and anointing oil images, was a passage I repeated over and over on the nights when I could not sleep. After a shape-altering surgery, the most difficult part of the journey, the water turned to angry waves in a stormy sea. But the image of God as a rock came to mind; I clung to it as the waves battered my body and spirit, but the turbulence did not overwhelm me.
Eventually, the water images turned to desert images: I saw myself journeying through a land of dust and heat and sun. I never felt threatened by these images, which represented the harsh realities of cancer and its cure. I knew that God’s hands were upon me: the hands of the doctors and nurses ministering to me physically, the heavenly hands giving me daily manna through song, Scripture and people reaching out to me. At the end of this journey, I envisioned myself in a little white tent, the sun gently lighting its white roof as I curled in a blanket and waited for healing, knowing that God was right outside.
One of the friendships I developed at the Cancer Treatment Center was an Orthodox priest and lay psychologist, as well as a fellow cancer overcomer. He and I had frequent long discussions about spirituality, God, the reality of our physical beings. He brought a knowledge of the desert fathers to the discussions. I remember distinctly a conversation where Carl leaned toward me and said, “You know, at the end of the desert, God presents the Promised Land.”
At the time, I could barely grasp the truth of that statement, but I am here to tell you that indeed, God’s promises do not fail.
On Feb. 8, I stood in front of a crowd of witnesses who had gathered for the dedication of the new Cancer Treatment Centers of America building in Goshen. My choir stood behind me, ready to sing and express the power of music. As I prepared to tell my story, I realized where I truly was. I stood in a huge tent that had been erected for a celebration. The tent roof was white, and I was standing in the very spot where I had visualized myself curled up for so many months: waiting, like a bulb, to begin my greening – my growth into healing.
I believe in miracles. They are the miracles of prayer, of science, of risk, of courage. They are the miracles of God’s people in the form of doctors, nurses and friends laying hands upon the sick and bringing hope, life and healing. It was my privilege to receive this laying on of hands, and it is my prayer that I will be allowed time to do the same for others.

Associate professor of music at Goshen, Debra Brubaker teaches voice and directs the Goshen College Chorale as well as opera-theatre productions. The chorale recently toured Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio during the spring semester midterm break. The group’s programs included several songs about light.
Said Brubaker, “The Chorale’s theme centered on God being our light in the darkness, Christ bringing that light into the world and us, as believers, finding ways to reflect and become that light, which shines on our lives and brings healing.”

Return to April Bulletin contents
Science and simplicity by President Shirley H. Showalter
Traces of God’s handiwork in the universe by Rachel Lapp
Measurements of God: The search for truth and beauty by Carl Helrich
Creating a community: General education guides discussion by Ryan Miller with Beth Martin Birky ’83
The best of times, the worst of times by Owen Gingerich ’51
Marrying science and religion, in classroom and home interview with Elizabeth (Miller) ’51 and Marlin Jeschke

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