Trish Madigan is the mother of Kate Madigan, a nine-year old little girl who was diagnosed with a childhood cancer, known as neuroblastoma at the young age of 3. After approximately five weeks of vague symptoms that ranged from knee pain to general lethargy, Kate was diagnosed with this cancer on October 30th, 2005. The following week, the family was told that Kate had Stage 4 neuroblastoma and it had spread to her bone marrow. This type of childhood cancer has very vague symptoms and 70% of the cases are initially discovered at stage 4. Over the last seven years, the Madigan family has dealt with more pain and suffering, up’s and down’s, questions and uncertainties than anyone could ever comprehend and this small summary does not do justice to everything they have been through. You can visit Kate’s Caring Bridge page here… and I know they would appreciate your continued prayers.
When I asked Trish to answer the question, “Over the last 5 years, have you given thanks to God for your pain, hardship, heartache, and suffering?” Here is her response:
This is an area I have given a lot of thought. And yes, I have thanked God for the pain, heartache and suffering we have been through – on so many levels and for so many reasons.
The first thing I am thankful for is that God waited until after I had come to know him as Lord to face cancer in one of my children. The decision to trust him with everything had already been made- it was just to actually do it. I cannot imagine facing this without God. And I am so thankful that I did not have to. That is God’s incredible mercy!
In watching Kate fight cancer – I have also been thankful for the gift of tears. If I couldn’t have cried it all out to Him- over and over- I would have exploded.
The other thing I am thankful for- I am not sure how to explain this entirely- but I feel as if he has trusted us with something sacred. In my 2 AM discussions with other parents, some have wondered, “What did I do to deserve God giving my child cancer?” I have also struggled with this question. I was devastated for a while, and then I was angry for a while. But then I started to consider it from another perspective – God didn’t reach out and “strike” Kate with cancer. I learned that children with neuroblastoma (and most childhood cancers) are born with the beginnings of the tumor- and at some point in early childhood, something makes it “take off” and grow wildly. So knowing she was born with it made me think of the verse about how God knits us together in our mothers’ womb:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139: 13-15
And then I realized: if she was born with it- God lovingly knit this cancer into the very fabric of who he meant her to be. He knew what pain and challenges He had planned for her- and that she would need lots of love and care – and I believe that somehow He looked around for the right parents for her. Somehow God decided to entrust her to Pat and I to love and care for her- even though it would rip our hearts out at times. In this sense, I feel we have been entrusted with something sacred and I want to handle it in a way that honors Him. I have to admit- though- sometimes I blow it again and again, but He has been patient.
In the worst times – I have had to lean on Him for the strength to even get to my next breath. Not everyone gets to experience what it is like to be so broken and flat-out completely dependent on God’s strength to get through the day, the next hour, the next breath. And that is a meaningful gift. When it happens, I have had such an overwhelming experience of His presence. When I am going about my own plans in my own strength- I realize now that I’m not really all that happy. I listen better when I am at my most broken- and the experience of being spoken to by God has been incredible. I feel like it has given me a taste of what heaven will be like- to experience God that intensely all the time! That will be amazing. It has given me such an assurance that heaven is real.
I have asked God that if we have to go through this– to please wring as much good out of it as He possibly can. And I’ve seen glimpses of it. At one moment in time, God wanted another cancer mom to know that He loves her as much as she loves her six-year-old daughter. And He let me be the one to tell her. He could have used anyone to tell her, but He let it be me.
It was so humbling to be chosen to relay that message. When her daughter, Ylaria died a few months later, He let me and a few other cancer moms fly out to California to be with this amazing family in their precious daughter’s last days. He let me get their scanner working to make a slideshow of photos for her daughter’s funeral. In God’s strange way of doing things: I know nothing about getting scanners to talk to computers, but somehow, He brought that all together. It was meaningful and packed with purpose. He allowed me to be there to do this for this precious suffering family. I went with another mom to buy plaster and molds to make casts of Ylaria’s sweet little hands before she died. Honestly, it was so hard. Seeing this precious child near the end of her life on earth was so hard… I will never forget it. I so badly wanted to fix it, but couldn’t. I’ve never felt so useless. All I could really do was sit with them and cry. And at that point, that’s all there is to do. It was painful to see and I am so very afraid I will have to face seeing Kate that way some day. But I believe there was God’s purpose in it.
We have experienced being ministered to- and that was new. We had never really had the experience of truly needing help. It was hard- at times- to let others come along side of us and do what they were led to do. We had always had an unhealthy sense of self-sufficiency. Well, now we don’t!! I had weeks of not knowing where my other kids were- people were driving them all over town to their activities. Food showed up at my house when I was in the hospital with Kate. My kids and husband gratefully ate it. Some of the women did our laundry. My sons- who were teenagers at the time, were horrified at the idea of “Church Ladies” seeing their underwear. There was a time when others were taking care of our lawn and it looked better than any of the local golf courses. My daughter Kate knew the different kind of white blood cells before she knew the name of the state she lives in. I also now realize that the relationships that came with the help were even more meaningful than the help itself. And I suspect that this is the way God intends it to work- and I never would have “gotten it” any other way.
One thing I didn’t understand: I expected that “being Christian”… suffering wouldn’t hurt so much. Knowing that God had a purpose would take the edge off the pain. I was wrong on that one. I was really wrong on that one. I don’t know where I got that idea- but it doesn’t work that way. It has damaged my marriage and hurt my other children in ways I will never be able to fix. And I still worry about Kate in the same way that I breathe oxygen. But it is ok.
When people around me are hurting, I “get it” in a way I didn’t before. I have so much better perspective on how to talk to people who are suffering…which is a whole other topic that I feel quite strongly about. Now I know that I don’t have to defend God- I honestly don’t know why He does what He does, but He gives us his presence to help get us through it. Now I know to just listen and say, “I am so sorry.” and give hugs.
I don’t know if this answers the question – but most days I feel very blessed.
If you missed the first post in the series Thank You God For the Pain… you can read it here.