Stories of Loving Our Neighbors Part 3: Finding Community in the Mist of Cancer

Emily Leighton, a member of Grace South Shore, recently shared her story about her battle with cancer, and the ways her congregation and community have showed love through this difficult time.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am coming up on my 40th birthday, and have been married to Matt for nearly 20 of those years. We have 3 children, Amanda 12, Noah 10, and Rylee-Mae 13 months.  I grew up Jewish (even had my Bat Mitzvah), but became a Christian after meeting my husband in college.  We were baptized together on February 9th, 1997 when I was 19 years old.  I have been an ER nurse for approximately 15 years.  

How are you doing? At what stage in the treatment are you?

I am in my chemo stage and I have 5 weeks left of that.  Then, I will have to have surgery and 6 weeks of radiation, followed by 5-10 years of hormone therapy (because my cancer is hormone receptor positive, related to the hormones of having a baby and nursing).

As a nurse, what has it been like to go from the caregiver to the one being cared for?

It was actually quite difficult to be the patient after taking care of others for so long.  It was humbling for me and convicted me to do my job better in the future.  As an ER nurse, I come into contact with people at their worst and sometimes I don't respond with love.  Being on the other side of things has a way of showing you that.

It sounds like you and your husband both have excellent communities in which you work and people at church and in the community who love and respect you. Was it hard, at first, to let these people who care for you help with meals, babysitting and fundraising? Is there anything you can share to encourage others who are hesitant to let others help them in difficult circumstances?

Matt and I do have wonderful communities that have helped us tremendously.  Every single need that we were confronted with, was fulfilled.  It was hard at first, being the one in need.  Many people told me that "I was helping them by allowing them to help."  They wanted to "do something" and were looking for ways to help.  When put like that, it was certainly easier.  I would advise anyone in a similar situation to let others help you and that if you feel beholden, use that in the future to help others.

How did you get involved with Grace and what has it meant to you during this time, in addition to helping with meals and child care?

I found the Grace community about 4-5 years ago.  I was at work and one of the physician assistants and I started up a conversation about this new church plant.  I had been looking for a church to attend that was a good fit for my family.  I couldn't start going to the services because of timing and my work hours but I started going to community group at her house.  Less than a year later, I was able to start going to the weekly services when their time changed to 11am.  I have grown so much closer to God since joining Grace!  I know that God has a plan for us!  He was drawing me closer, giving me the tools to bear the trials of cancer with an infant.  In addition to meals three times a week for two months and a babysitting email list, I have been prayed for and prayed for and prayed for!  The same PA that set up the email list and meal list, also sends me devotions and encouraging emails!  Pastor Troy brought our family in front of the congregation and prayed over us and we were prayed for at our community group!  Sometimes, the amount of love and support showed to us has felt overwhelming!  

In the story that ran in The Enterprise, I was struck by your boldness in sharing the meaning of grace with the reporter, and also their willingness to include that in the story. Could you describe the interview with the reporter and how that conversation went?

I did a phone interview with someone from The Enterprise a few days after the fire station open house.  He called me and asked me questions.  I answered them as honestly as I knew how and I prayed that my words would not be twisted.  I was very happy with the article as he quoted me directly and didn't leave out God's part in my story.  I think he could identify with my story as he has a young girl himself (which he disclosed to me) and a parent with cancer.  

Is there anything else you would like to share about your family or about you? 

I would like to add that having a baby in my late 30's when my other two children were 9 and 11 years old was not my plan.  When my doctor told me that I was pregnant, the first words out my mouth were, "It must be God's plan."  This whole journey has shown me how important it is to trust God!  This is going to be a long journey but I know that God will be with me the whole way!