Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that for outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV

After walking out of the operating room, just having performed a bilateral mastectomy, I thought about the journey that had led my patient to this point. I also thought about all that she yet must go through to even hope for survival beyond the next five years, a marker that most cancer patients know. The difficulty of diagnosing two sisters with breast cancer on the same day was hard enough. One sister, though, would have it much worse.

It was to have been a normal day for me in the office, but that day would end differently that I anticipated. It would also end differently for two sisters. I had two females on my schedule, and both were flagged as “breast conferences.” This title was set aside for special hour-long sessions during which I would discuss a new breast cancer diagnosis. And this day, I would have this conference with two sisters and the same immediate and extended families.

Both sisters, that day, would receive their diagnosis of breast cancer. I told them this with some familiar faces sitting around that conference room table. I had seen them crowded into the exam room prior to the biopsy. It should be explained that sometimes breast cancer runs in a family; but to diagnose two sisters with breast cancer on the same day, and have to explain the exhausting treatment regimens and the expectations for both, was overwhelming. There was not a dry eye in the room.

One sister, however, would have a much longer course. The older sister received her diagnosis first. She had a localized cancer, and most likely would need just a small portion of the breast removed, followed by radiation therapy. The younger sister, however, would then receive the news that she had a very advanced and aggressive disease that would require multiple rounds of chemotherapy, major surgery, and a longer stay in the hospital. And after that, she would need radiation therapy to the entire breast and armpit.

As a physician, I was able to explain, medically and surgically, everything that was about to happen. But how do I help put this experience into the context of God’s undying love for each one of us? I was blessed to have spiritually uplifting conversations with my two special patients, and we often had time to pray together.

Probably the most encouraging work to me, the surgeon, was the presence of a chaplain immediately outside the operating room, praying. The importance of this gesture was immeasurable, both spiritually and in its meaning to the family. Seeing the patient and the patient’s family receive physical, emotional, and spiritual care, to me, is the difference that Christ can make as He uplifts His people to be closer to His image.

“The Savior is present in the sickroom, in the operating room; and His power for His name’s glory accomplishes great things” (Ellen G. White, Manuscript, 1899, p.159).

– Stephen Waterbrook, LLUSM class of 2004, is a surgeon in Kettering, Ohio. This story was written in honor of his wife, Katie, and those affected by breast cancer.