In a previous post, we heard how Caryll’s life experiences are crucial to her as she lives with cancer. After becoming a Christian in her native South Africa, she learned about God’s care of her as a doctor on St Helena. In this second and final post, we find out about Caryll’s time as a leading hospice doctor and her response when the Covid-19 crisis stopped her cancer treatment.
Leaving St Helena
How did South African, Caryll, end up in England? Her ties with South Africa were loosened through an unusually long time spent with her family on the remote volcanic island of St Helena, in the South Atlantic. Caryll explains: “most expats were permitted to stay for two years, and at a stretch for four years. We were there nearly nine years.”
The needs of Caryll’s three children were key in her decision to leave, with her husband Andrew, for England. “We were torn at this time whether to continue at the church which we loved, but very aware that our children needed higher education which was not available on the island. None of our children could speak Afrikaans at this stage, which would have been essential if they were to finish schooling in South Africa. Our eldest daughter had already gone to the UK for her sixth form education.”
“Then, for other reasons, the Lord made it impossible for us to remain on the island. The decision was taken out of our hands, and we were able to travel to the UK by ship at no personal cost, provided we left on the next ship! We had no work, no prospects, so just travelled trusting the Lord to lead us once in the UK.”
Caryll and Andrew ended up in Kent in Broadstairs. Andrew was called to be minister of an evangelical church and Caryll got a job at a hospice. Once again, she drew strength from her Christian faith. “Working in a hospice was both challenging and emotionally very demanding, but also fulfilling. As far as working with a team, it is the best I have ever worked with.”
“I prayed daily for strength, and for wisdom, as we sought to solve so many varied and extremely difficult symptoms and social issues, and to give emotional and spiritual support. It has always caused me sadness to see how few people seek God’s forgiveness and help, even when they are aware that death is drawing near. I could not have done this work for 15 years had the Lord not helped me day to day.”
After so many years treating those with cancer, Caryll discovered she herself not only had breast cancer, but that it had also already spread. What was it like as a doctor to become a patient?
“When diagnosed with metastatic cancer three years ago, it was a shock initially. The Lord’s Providence over us, His help and the knowledge that He is in control, was far more help than my medical knowledge. I can truthfully say that from that time until now I have peace of heart, knowing that God has saved me and that, come what may, I am in His care and keeping.”
“My medical knowledge helped in that I knew what to expect, was familiar with hospitals and medical terminology, and had worked with the doctors and nurses who were now caring for me. On the other hand, being a specialist in palliative medicine means that I had seen all the most awful things imaginable and treated them.”
“So, I have a list in my head regarding the many worst possible things that could happen to me. I don’t dwell on these things, but do ask the Lord to help me to trust Him at all times, to live for Him, to honour Him and to point others to Him, no matter what happens. We only need strength for one day at a time.”
On the medical front there was still some encouragement. A new chemotherapy drug had been providing some respite, holding back the cancer from progressing any further. But coronavirus shielding created a terrible problem. With a suppressed immune system, Caryll cannot attend hospital appointments lest she catch Covid-19 at hospital. The chemotherapy has been halted. How does she cope?
Once again, Caryll draws strength from her faith: “I have done well on the current treatment, so am not overjoyed to know I am not on treatment at present. Then I am reminded that God has decreed my lifespan, and what happens to me. I depend on Him for my life, not on any particular cancer treatment. It does make this more meaningful when the props are removed. So I’m not fretting, but very conscious of the Lord’s goodness to me.”
Two separate threats
But what does this mean as life goes on? How does Caryll continue day by day in the face of two separate threats of imminent death?
“I live one day at a time. I pray for help and strength each day. I do not regard the cancer and Covid19 as a threat because I know that God’s plan cannot be thwarted. He knows the path I am to take. He will never leave me nor forsake me.”
“I’m not in a hurry to die, but the Lord’s timing will be perfect, and then I will be with Him in heaven, free of all pain, sickness, sin, and sorrow.”
“In the meantime I don’t sit and mope. My husband Andrew and I read the Bible together and pray every morning and evening which is a great blessing. We talk a lot. I keep busy as much as possible in the house, and in the garden, and when energy leaves me, I find a project to do e.g. knitting or crocheting, and while keeping my hands busy, I listen to God’s Word by various good preachers from the Sermonaudio site. I also try to keep in touch and encourage some friends by writing to them, sharing something I have found helpful, and by praying for them.”
“Some of the verses in the Bible that have been such a help to me are Lamentations 3:22–24.”
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
“After 72 years of learning and experiencing Gods Providence, this is only the tip of the iceberg of God’s mercy to me.”
Caryll is keen to stress that her appreciation of God’s goodness, even in suffering, did not come overnight. “I would not have been able to say these things 50 or 60 years ago,” she explains. “The Lord Jesus, in his mercy, has patiently been teaching me over a lifetime to trust him in all situations.”
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