From Fear to Joy: A Short Story on Breast Cancer

In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would like to share a short story of one of the strongest and bravest women I have been blessed to know, my oldest sister, Gertrude, who loved to be called ‘Gina’. My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. A vibrant young 55 year old black woman who loved God and worked relentlessly building a soul food restaurant on the South side of Chicago in order to support her 4 children, two girls and two boys. She was a faithful mom, lover of God, and people. When I would visit her in Chicago at the restaurant, I often witnessed her patrons greeting her with such love and respect, as she did them as they entered the door. She truly had created and established for her community a family-friendly restaurant, where all were welcomed. Indeed it felt like home away from home. Some years passed, however, before I was able to visit Gina again, although we kept in touched by phone.

One day I received a call from her that would forever be imprinted in my memory. After our normal greetings to each other, and having some good sisterly conversation, her next exact words to me were “I am a little sick.” I asked, “What do you mean, a little sick?” Do you have a cold or something?” She replied with a simple, “No.” Would you believe I could not get this young lady, my dear sister, to voice what her ‘little sickness’ was! She would only say, “Guess.” And then she would say, “Guess again.” And, there go I, guessing (playing her game), naming every small kind of illness I could possibly think of. Imagine that, will ya! I finally gave up and screamed, “Girl, what’s wrong with you, you don’t have cancer or something, do ya!!!” Although no way in my wildest imagination was this a possibility, you can imagine I was beyond stunned when she whispered with a trembling voice, “Yes, I have cancer: I have breast cancer.” Whoa!!! I literally froze. I could not utter a word. Finally, after she repeatedly called my name, I managed to somehow hear her voice again. I responded, “Girl, you gonna be alright! We got this, okay? And God’s got you!”

In my mind, however, I was thinking she must have just found this out. And since this is early detection, and early detection proves promising, my sister would be okay… anyway, I thought. But to my surprise, near the end of our conversation she revealed to me she’s known almost an entire year yet was afraid to do anything about it. She said she was ‘too’ afraid to go back to the doctor.” So, she instead, kept going to work and not seeking medical attention. Then I realized my dear sister had become frozen in fear because of her diagnosis, and that fear was keeping her from seeking medical intervention. Learning of this, I immediately assured her I was coming to Chicago to be with her. And I did.

While in Chicago I was determined to convinced my sister to seek treatment. Thanks be to God, she finally agreed. But still she did not want to share her struggle with any member of our family, not our mom or our sisters and brothers. When I approached her about this again, she would say, “I’m not going to do that!” and that she was a bit “baffled” because she had modeled a healthy lifestyle and took good care of herself. Her words went to the effect of… What would they think now that she had cancer! How could that happen! (Mind you, I’m referring to nearly 20 years ago; but still the conversation is so fresh in my mind).

I can’t tell you how much we prayed together for strength and healing as she began her treatment regimen. Also, every now and then I would lovingly and cautiously, but firmly impress on her to please let our family know; being that I could see the load was heavy on her, and I wasn’t strong enough to carry that load with her, alone. She needed God’s intervention of peace and comfort, and she needed her family. So we prayed, day in and day out.

Finally, a breakthrough!!! I can only attribute my sister’s breakthrough to the power and compassionate intervention of God Almighty. One late night as I was sleeping peacefully in my sister’s other bedroom, she came in, called my name, and said out of the blue, “I’ve decided to call mom and our sisters and brothers to tell them I have breast cancer.” Mind you, I’m still half asleep at this point. I thought I was dreaming. Then I realized I wasn’t dreaming when I hear her say… “I’m not afraid anymore.” That woke me up! In that instant we started praising and thanking God as tears of relief flowed down both our faces! I felt the load had lifted. I felt the tide had changed. What a relief that was to hear her say… “I’m not afraid anymore!” I believe in miracles, and I believed God performed one in my sister that night. Words could not express the joy I felt!

After suffering nearly a whole year alone, the following day I was proud that Gina kept her word. She did make that call home to inform the family. Our mom, being a strong woman of faith, gave my sister so much assurance, love, and encouragement that that was all Gina needed to jump start her “living” again, beyond the fear (or… through the fear) which had captivated her mind for almost a year. So thankful was I that my sister was no longer a prisoner of fear.

After that phone call, however, I witnessed a new attitude in my sister. She had gain a new perspective about her situation. I heard hope in her voice again. I saw joy in her face and a smile on her lips and a little pep in her steps. Although she was aware that she had a battle ahead of her, she was also determined to face it with all she had. And she did. She never gave in, nor up.

Then there came a time when she needed a mastectomy. After her surgery, she freely spoke of it, and shared how afraid she was in the beginning from hearing her diagnosis, and that she was not afraid any more, She encouraged us as her sisters / and women to speak up and do something about our situation before it gets out of hand; to not let fear suffocate us, no matter what we may go through,… as it had once did her. I was so happy to witness her share that experience with the family. At this point, I could hear real strength in her voice. Please note, I’m not suggesting in any form that my sister did not have other struggles after she came to terms with her fear. Oh, yes, she did. But by holding on to her faith in God with the hope and joy she found in Him gave her strength beyond measure.

Finally, there came the time when she received that dreaded prognosis; a word no one wants to hear. One that said ‘the doctors had done all that they could do’, and that she had only so much time left. I couldn’t imagine how my sister must have felt. But she did not waver in her faith. This young energetic lady surprised us! She put on a brave face and demeanor and did not stop living! She was determined to be productive in the time she had left on this earth more so than in building her restaurant in Chicago. She was persistent in holding on to her faith in God and not giving up. She got moving, literally, all the way back home; settled her affairs in Chicago, packed her bags, and moved back home with mom. At that time, our mom wasn’t doing so well. I remember my sister saying beforehand, “I’m coming home to help our mom.” She desired to be near and of service to our mother and for our mother, despite her prognosis. When time permitted, I also joined her back home.

As I previously implied, my sister didn’t simply lie down and die. She kept being involved. She made herself available to family and friends, and even strangers in our small community. No one was a stranger to her. She often wore a big smile on her face, one that would light up a room. Somehow God was giving her the courage and strength we’d prayed for after all. And we could see it. At times, she spoke in our hometown church encouraging others on their Christian walk to hold on to their faith in God, no matter how bad things seemed. She often said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I truly believe that it was the joy of the Lord in Christ Jesus that kept her so positive, focused, and determined to not give up, no matter what happens. We give God all the glory for keeping her moving right on through her fears! It also didn’t appear that she was worried about the outcome anymore, just that she could still make a difference in the lives of people while she had a chance. I was so proud of this brave woman, my sister, who sought God and managed to move out of that place of stifling fear and walked through it to discover a place of genuine joy in Christ.

Now to all who reads this story, my sister Gina wanted me to one day tell the world how grateful she was to have the love of God, her children, siblings, friends, and her entire family as her support team during her plight. She wanted you to know that the love of God, and the support of her family played a big part in her journey. And I can proudly say, by the grace of God, I thank Him for giving me the strength to finally write about some of her experiences and mine in a book entitled, Something to Thank About from A to Z. For it was my sister, Gina, who influenced me to further my writings of gratitude and thanksgiving; thanking God for who He is and what He has done. She often thanked the Lord and indeed so do I.

On one occasion, Gina’s very words to me were, “You need to write a book and one about sisters” to thank God for the love and care she received. So there it is, though not a book (right now), but a short story about my brave sister, Gina, and her courageous journey through breast cancer, “From Fear to Joy.” I pray it has encouraged your hearts that no matter what you’re going through, what the diagnosis might be, to never give up. Keep holding on to your faith in God, and know that the Joy of the Lord also can be your strength if you trust Him and rely on Him to get you through, His way.

Although it’s been almost two decades since my sister Gina has passed on from labor to reward, her legacy continues to resound in my heart today that… indeed Gina did not possess the attitude of living her latter days as being a victim of breast cancer, but a victor! Also in her impending days, she left me a letter inspiring me to never give up on my dreams. She went on to write, regarding her faith in God, “I am not afraid anymore. I’m free! I’m free!” She continued to write, “If someone would have told me I would have JOY while having breast cancer, I would have thought they had lost their minds!” And lastly, she wrote, “I HAVE JOY.”

And I say to you, to me, and others, we can have joy in Christ Jesus, which is still available today to everyone who may be struggling.

“…And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” Nehemiah 8:10

“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Psalm 94:19

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” John 15:11

Please pray with me: I will keep on thanking God for His joy which gives me strength everyday, in Jesus name, amen.

May the blessings of the Lord be with you always!

By Hertistine Washington /

2 thoughts on “From Fear to Joy: A Short Story on Breast Cancer

  1. Hertistine, Hertistine, Hertistine! What an inspiring & all so moving, & touching story. For the Love of God, Gina left such a rich inspirational God given legacy to us all, through your story, “From Fear to Joy: A short story on breast cancer”. Sweet Jesus! To God be the Glory! Thank you Hertistine, and even more, that you Gina! As you Rest In Peace🙌🙏🏽😇

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeannine, Your words mean much! Thank you for being there to support me in my writings, as I endeavor to bring words that will inspire us all as we envelope ourselves in the strength and joy we find in Christ Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray that every woman be inspired, as you are this day. Yes, glory to God on High!


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