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The Survivor in Me: Unwavering faith in one of life’s hardest challenges

(Note: This is part one of a four part series. For part two of The Survivor in Me, don’t miss next week’s edition.)

Having kept her faith in God during a relentless battle with breast cancer in 2019, Judith Hensley continues to make the most of her life one step at a time.

A beloved local columnist, Hensley prayed for God to make her into the woman she needed to be.

Hensley said she didn’t want anything to stand in between her and her relationship with God in the remaining years of her life, but she never thought breast cancer would be the answer she needed.

“Like most of us, I don’t even like the word cancer. It conjures up fears and images of heartache and loss,” she said. “In days past when people didn’t see doctors on a regular basis, the disease had progressed so far by the time the person was seen, there was little time and no cure left.”

Hensley said it had been routine having annual check-ups, including a mammogram, but when her family doctor sent her to Knoxville Breast Center for further testing when a suspicious lump was discovered, Hensley had no idea “this was the first of many ‘miracles’ along my journey.”

Having been met with uncertainties about her insurance paying for the required mammogram and ultrasound and a long wait time, Hensley said she knew something was wrong before she was ever diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I first had a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound that had been requested by my doctor. After waiting for some time, a nurse came and told me the doctor wanted to perform another ultrasound herself.

“I had been at the clinic for hours without understanding why there was such a delay. when I asked one of the assistants who came in my room why it was taking such a long time. I wasn’t trying to be rude but couldn’t help wondering why I had been isolated in a room half dressed, without seeing anyone for hours.”

After the second ultrasound and then an MRI, Hensley was asked to stay until the end of the day for a biopsy, nothing she heard God in her heart say, “Judy, you are going to have to pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but I will be with you.”

“I didn’t tell anyone at first except the friend who had driven with me to the appointment and my son. I felt I had specific instructions from the Lord to keep it to myself and not reveal anything to anyone unless I knew they could/would speak words of life over me and pray for me. I also didn’t want to worry my elderly parents with this news until it was necessary,” she said.

Six weeks later and a procedure date set in stone, Hensley told her parents she was scheduled for a lumpectomy, where she underwent a double partial mastectomy and reconstruction.

The aggressive and invasive breast cancer called for the removal of 4.8 centimeters of tissue. Hensley said the surgery reduced her chest size from a 42 DDD to a 42 A, impacting her emotionally and physically.

“I was truly thankful that God had been with me through the diagnosis and surgery. I was thankful for many, many things, but when the Holy Spirit spoke to me that I must be thankful for the cancer, I was stunned,” Hensley said. “How could I possibly be thankful for such a thing? I couldn’t immediately and sincerely do that. There was no use faking it. God knew my heart.”

Hensley said she hated the inconvenience her circumstances were causing for others, but she came to realize the waiting rooms at all of her appointments “were full of people who needed hope, prayer and words of encouragement,” just the right job for the people who drove her.

“I thought I’d be able to pick myself up, dust myself off and be back to normal in a matter of weeks. Even though the love of God surrounded me, and His peace never left me, it has been a much longer journey and a bigger challenge than I anticipated.

“As time passes, I believe I will be counted among the survivor statistics long range. I recently underwent my one year 3-D imaging mammogram which showed that I am cancer free. I am a survivor!”

Although her road to recovery was longer than she expected, Hensley said she started to feel better physically and mentally around the one-year mark of being cancer free.

“There is still room for improvement, but I am thankful for the return of physical and mental strength. I am truly blessed. This interruption, this inconvenience, this challenging season is not the end of me. It is a speed bump in my life. My personal goal is that my love and relationship with God remain steadfast in all of life’s journey, just as His love for me is and shall remain steadfast.”

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