Mary drove down Route 1 in Scarborough with her young daughter in her car seat. She smiled with pleasure hearing her daughter recite the alphabet for the first time. Mary’s smile became a frown as she turned her gaze toward my office off to the left. That is when it hit her like it never did before: “It was really awful what I went through. I could have died. I could have never had my daughter or hear her recite the alphabet.” She took a deep breath as she turned into the parking lot.

During her appointment that morning, Mary sighed as she remembered: “Imagine my surprise returning to my Ob doc after having a small node in my neck biopsied and finding out the node was not ‘inflammation’ as everybody assumed, but Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I then ricocheted from one office to another, one lab to another, one X-ray to another until I plopped into your office. But that was not the end. Then came THE CHEMO!”

Fortunately, Mary was far enough along in her pregnancy that she could receive the chemotherapy she needed and deliver a healthy baby. With a job, a husband, a son, a house AND chemotherapy, there was little time to think about the future. “Future?” Mary was taken aback when she first learned of what she had to endure. “The future was today, getting through today. There was no time to think.”

Going to my office for a follow-up three-month appointment brought it all back. Mary was now living a normal life with a normal schedule, so she had time to appreciate the horror of what she went through and the uncertainties that she had pushed to the back of her mind. Mary exclaimed, “It was overwhelming. I only made it by having something readily available to fall back on.”

That something, Mary told me, was trusting God. Mary felt her greatest strength was knowing she was in God’s hands. She did not have to think about it. Her faith was there when she needed it. Mary’s faith was deep inside her and readily available, nurtured by her parents early in life and practiced regularly over the years with prayer and religious services.

One of Mary’s favorite stories about faith in the Bible was that of the widow of Zarephath. The story took place during the days of Elijah the prophet in the ninth century B.C. Israel. During a time of great famine, a widow was approached by the itinerant prophet who asked her for a cake of bread. The widow told Elijah, “I don’t have bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it – and die” (1 Kings 17:12). The widow acted on faith. Trusting she was in God’s hands with the prophet telling her that “the flour will not be used up and the oil will not run dry” (1 Kings 17: 14), the widow provided the prophet with the cake of bread. Later, when her son abruptly became ill and died, she called upon Elijah again and her son’s life was returned to him by Elijah’s actions (1 Kings 17: 17-24).

The widow’s faith in God was well known in her day and remembered through the ages. Jesus remarked about her faith 1,000 years later (Luke 4:26-27). In the Book of Hebrews written after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the widow is also included in the list of the great women and men of faith (Hebrews 11: 35).

The widow of Zarephath inspired Mary because the widow’s faith was readily available for her to turn to God for help when she needed Him: “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). “That’s what I needed. Who has time to search for faith when you’re going through a crisis?” Mary advised. “It’s best to have faith even before you get sick, so you can call on it when you’re hurting. Otherwise, you’ll shop around looking for something to believe in, and may not find anything.”

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist, and consultant to the Department of Spritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.