In February of 2008, our 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, began having some very unusual symptoms, including severe headaches and nausea in the mornings, dilated pupils, and double vision. An MRI revealed a tumor in the pineal region of her brain, which was surgically removed on February 25th. A biopsy of the tumor indicated that it was a glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. She began a six-week series of radiation treatments to her brain and an oral chemotherapy regimen. For several months, all went well...she completed her sophomore year with honors, enjoyed a fun summer, and began her junior year in the fall. MRIs were done every two months, with an "all clear" each time.
In September, she began having symptoms which were eerily similar to what she had experienced in February. An MRI was done, and revealed that the cancer had returned in the form of multiple tumors in her brainstem and spine. We began a new treatment regimen....20 radiation treatments to her brain and spinal cord and two IV chemotherapy drugs. The radiation was quite effective in shrinking the tumors; however, it took such a toll on her body that she was unable to begin the chemotherapy as scheduled due to extremely low blood counts. She was finally able to begin chemo the week before Christmas, but by the first of January, she began to have difficulty walking and her vision began to diminish. An MRI revealed that, in spite of the chemotherapy, the cancer had returned in the original site. The area could not be re-radiated, and surgery was not an option because the cancer was so extensive. We entered hospice care in mid February, and on February 26, 2009, she stepped into the arms of Jesus.
There's more to Hannah's story....The night before her brain surgery, she shared a story with us that she had never told us before. Several months before she got sick, she attended a Disciple Now weekend youth retreat at our church. A special speaker had been brought in for the weekend, and he talked to the students about how God uses storms in our lives to mature our faith, and to allow others to see Him through us. When Hannah went to bed that night, she realized that she had never experienced a real storm in her life, and she prayed that God would give her a storm so that she could be a testimony to others and bring glory to Him. While we don't believe that God inflicted brain cancer upon her in answer to this prayer, we do believe that He was preparing her for what was to come in her life. She faced her storm with courage, grace, and an unwavering faith...never questioning God's purpose or His love for her. In January of 2008, before she was diagnosed with cancer in February, she posted this status on her Facebook account: "Hannah Sullivan thinks this world has nothing for me...I will follow Him." And that she did...she followed Him faithfully right into Heaven.
If you would like to read more of Hannah's story, the following posts are an email "journal" of her year-long battle with cancer and her victorious homegoing. Her prayer was that her life would be a testimony to others...so if you find yourself walking closer to the Lord after reading her story, or if are not a Christian, but find yourself considering the claims of Christ maybe for the first time...you are an answer to her prayer.
If you are experiencing a similar storm in your life, or if you are wondering how to have the kind of peace that Hannah had, we would love to hear from you. Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get right back to you. Thank you so much for taking the time to travel this journey with us!
Jill, Brad, and Bethany