By Niki Hardy
God's Brave Women - Niki's Story
When life stinks worse than a two-week-old tuna sandwich left festering under the Texan sun it can feel like we’re out of luck and out of choices. Maybe you’ve been there or you’re there right this minute, looking around not knowing where to begin, the weight of it all making you feel small and timid. I get it.
Losing your mum to cancer is hard. Watching your forty-two-year-old sister fade away from the same disease is soul destroying. Being diagnosed yourself just six weeks later? That rips the ground from under you. So yes, I get it. I felt out of luck, devoid of choices, small and afraid.
"Losing your mum to cancer is hard. Watching your forty-two-year-old sister fade away from the same disease is soul destroying. Being diagnosed yourself just six weeks later? That rips the ground from under you."
It was like being a cancer puppet, pulled around by bouts of nausea, never-ending rounds of
doctors’ offices and blood work, and, for me, a (ostomy) poop bag. Yes friends, my cancer was rectal cancer. Go figure!
Yet, in reality I had to make hundreds of choices, big and small, every day. Some were important choices about my medical care. Others felt more tender, like when and how to tell my still-grieving dad and sister, or how vulnerable to be with our church. Then there were choices I had to make instantly, like whether or not to punch the lady who told me her uncle had just died a painfully agonizing death from rectal cancer. (I’ll leave you guessing what I chose on that one.)
Early on, the biggest choice we faced was how to tell our kids. It loomed overhead like a piano swinging from a balcony, waiting to drop and destroy the safety of our family. The easy choice was to run from under its shadow and keep quiet, to put it off and tell them later. We knew it would freak them out. Having lost their grandma and auntie to cancer, as far as they knew people who got cancer died, and died quickly. The thought of telling them the same heat-seeking missile of death was now locked on their mum’s rear end filled us with dread.
Should we keep it to ourselves for a few more weeks, or maybe just tell them I’m sick but leave out the “c” word? Perhaps they’re too young? But no, they weren’t too young, and our family has never operated in half-truths and white lies. If we were going to get through this, we’d do it together—as Team Hardy.
Our worn and well-loved kitchen table traveled from England with us, and over the years its solid pine top has been graced with Christmas dinners, Lego castles, glitter creations, and math homework. Now, as we sat around it in our usual dinnertime places, about to share life-altering news, I was grateful to lean on its sturdy, familiar strength. We told them doctors had found a large tumor and although they weren’t certain what it was, they were pretty sure it was some kind of cancer.
Until that moment, my colonoscopy—with its preparation that had confined me to within a ten-second sprint of the loo and left my insides as clean as a whistle—had been a family joke. But as we broke the news, no one laughed. We shared what we knew—the plan for radiation, chemo, and surgery—and what we didn’t, what this new reality would look like and
how the days ahead would unfold. Once they heard the words “mum” and “cancer” uttered in the same breath, any reassurances it wasn’t the same cancer that Ma (my mum) and Auntie Jo Jo had were lost. Their mum had cancer. Period.
Sophie’s voice, soft and fearful and so different from her usual boisterous confidence, broke the silence, asking the million-dollar question I hadn’t even dared ask myself.
“Are you going to die, Mummy?”
Inhaling deeply, I leaned in, smiling, our brown eyes locked on one another. “Yes, darling, one day I will. But I pray not now, not from this.” I exhaled, turning my gaze to include James and Emma. "I hope to be around for a long, long time. But whatever happens, God is good, we can trust him, and he’ll be with us every step of the way." The faith pep talk was as much for me as it was for them.
"I hope to be around for a long, long time. But whatever happens, God is good, we can trust him, and he’ll be with us every step of the way."
By stepping into that conversation, we set the scene for how the Hardys would roll on this one: together, with no blindfolds, work-arounds, or white lies. As hard as it was, I have no regrets. It created an environment where the kids could be honest, ask questions, and share their fears, secure in the knowledge we’d tell them the truth. It brought life into a deadly situation and drew us together rather than dividing us with the illusion of half-truths.
At the time, we didn’t feel brave. We were scared—really scared. Telling them was risky. What if we were doing the wrong thing? What if they couldn’t handle it and we couldn’t handle their not handling it? There were no guarantees, and an easier option was there for the taking, even if we didn’t believe it was a better one. It was right to tell them. Hard but right.
But isn’t that always the way? The intentional, hard right choice always leads to a fuller, richer life than the one found down the easier path of least resistance. Leaving an abusive relationship, forgiving the guy who left you at the altar, seeking family counseling when you discover your teen is self-harming, or admitting your credit card debt is out of control are all brave choices. But so is going to work when your boss is a jerk, getting out of bed when your depression hits hard, showing up for a blind date because you’re fed up with being single,
or saying “Yes, I’ll build a fort with you” when the new baby kept you up all night.
"Choosing brave isn’t always big, but it is always intentional, and as we move ahead with intention, secure God is with us, we can steer ourselves into the abundance he has waiting for us."
These are all brave choices, friend. Choosing brave isn’t always big, but it is always intentional, and as we move ahead with intention, secure God is with us, we can steer ourselves into the abundance he has waiting for us.
*** Part of this post is an excerpt from Niki's book Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart, published by Revell and is published here with permission.
Brave Woman Manifesto
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Niki Hardy is a Brit in the USA, a rectal (yes, rectal) cancer survivor, church planter, tea drinker and teller of bad jokes. As a speaker and the author of Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart, she’s all about meeting you when life’s not fair and helping you discover that with God, life doesn’t have to be pain-free to be full, then go live it. Grab a couple of free chapters of Niki’s book and say “Hi” over on Instagram and Facebook.