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One young mother, faced with a devastating diagnosis and an unexpected pregnancy, hopes the power of one prayer chain can save two lives.
Stacy Roorda was a busy 37-year-old mother of two young daughters when she went to see her naturopath for annoying arm symptoms in late November 2006. For a number of months, she could feel a lump in her left armpit. Having just moved into a much larger home, she attributed the pestering symptom to the strains of moving.
But the naturopath was immediately suspicious of something more sinister. She sent Stacy for a battery of tests. The devastating results arrived the day before Thanksgiving: Stacy had stage four breast cancer, and it was aggressive.
Although stunned, Stacy trusted her strong faith to carry her through.
A potent treatment plan was formulated, until more bloodwork revealed a second shock that halted everything. And tested her faith like nothing else: Stacy was pregnant. And the cancer was feeding on the very hormone her baby needed to survive.
Frightened, she again turned to God for comfort.
“I immediately got an image of a harness that race car drivers wear. The feeling was instant. ‘Sit down and buckle up. It’s going to be a rough road, but you’ll be fine.’ I grabbed onto that thought and never let go,” shares Stacy.
Finding her case beyond his scope, the local oncologist sent Stacy and her husband Matt to Seattle.
Because the pregnancy hormone was the cancer’s food source, the team of big-city specialists offered few options. Stacy’s best chance for survival depended upon an immediate termination of the pregnancy followed by aggressive treatment. The doctors told her it was her only hope. The cancer was too advanced, and there was no time to waste: it was either Stacy’s life, or the baby. They couldn’t save both.
The news of Stacy’s plight spread rapidly in her small hometown of Lynden, Washington. With a 2-year-old and 4-year-old at home, and the very lives of Stacy and her unborn child at stake in Seattle, family and friends sprang into action. Meals were brought, childcare was juggled, and a church prayer chain was started.
Stacy was known for her devout faith. And her stubbornness. Despite pressure from the best oncologists in the state, she refused to terminate the unexpected pregnancy. The doctors wanted to know why.
[sharequote align="center"]I wouldn’t give up my other two children, I’m not giving up this one. They needed plan B[/sharequote]
“I wouldn’t give up my other two children, I’m not giving up this one. So you need to figure out a plan B,” was Stacy’s emphatic reply.
The entire team of specialists walked out of the conference room, leaving the young couple alone with their decision.
“Matt and I just sat there. We were newly pregnant, fighting cancer, and in total shock. Just as I was beginning to wonder if this was the right choice, one of the resident radiologists snuck back in to the room. She quietly said, ‘I’m a Christian too, and I want you to know that it’s a baby, not a fetus, and you’re making the right choice. I’ll be praying for you.’ Both Matt and I burst out sobbing. It was exactly what we needed to hear at that moment,” she said.
An older, less effective chemotherapy that was safer for the developing baby was planned. Nicknamed Red Death, the goal was to slow down the cancer and buy Stacy some time until the baby could be born. Treatment began immediately.
Back at home, news of the family’s troubles spread. So did the prayer chain. While bolstered by the many petitions, Stacy wasn’t about to be left out of the prayer party held on her behalf.
“Before every round of chemo, I would go into the bathroom by myself. I would take a few moments to look directly at Jesus. You can always look around in the world and listen to the negative stuff, but if you look up to Jesus, that is where you find peace that surpasses all understanding. And I prayed that Jesus would fill the room with angels. And I felt as long as Jesus was there with me, I could do it,” she said.
But after five rounds of Red Death, the baby started showing signs of distress. They had to stop. And things went from bad to worse.
An MRI showed the cancer had advanced to Stacy’s spine, and was marching downward. At 32 weeks gestation, they needed to deliver the baby before the cancer reached the womb.
“Once again I was totally shocked. I thought back to the image of the seat belt. I had a very serious conversation with God. ‘I don’t remember signing up for this part. I’ve done everything you’ve asked and I’ve trusted you. You brought us through an amazing journey and we’ve been lifted up in prayer by loved ones and complete strangers around the world. How could this be?’ But once again, I got the feeling God was indeed there and would bring me through it. He gave me a peace that surpassed all understanding, all I had to do was keep praying,” she said.
By this time, reports of Stacy’s dire situation had spread far and wide.
“I heard that my story reached missionaries, and that people all around the world were praying. That was the most humbling part, is that people were praying for me who had never met me. That is what carried Matt and I through the whole thing,” she said.
With news that such a premature delivery was imminent, the prayers that surrounded Stacy and her family took on a new urgency.
Less than 48 hours later, Jazmine Stacy Roorda was born. Weighing just 3.5 pounds and lacking the sucking reflex that hadn’t yet developed, their new daughter was otherwise perfect.
The announcement of the baby’s birth spread along the prayer chain, but the petitions on their behalf didn’t stop. With the pregnancy behind her, two young daughters at home, a preemie far away in the NICU, Stacy now faced the cancer treatment head on.
The intensity of the prayer chain that now stretched around the world fortified Stacy's determination. For she believed without a doubt that the positive, loving energy contained in a prayer chain is a force that cannot be denied.
What happened next is what some might call a miracle: the treatment designed to buy Stacy a bit more time with her family instead, and inexplicably, brought the cancer to a standstill. And it hasn’t budged since.
Today, Stacy’s story is now nearly 8 years old. The once premature baby is now a thriving 7-year-old second grader who holds her own against two older sisters.
With metastases in her bone, Stacy will never be considered in remission. But with the devastating prognosis in her rear view mirror, and the best oncologists in the state optimistically watching, Stacy’s cancer has shown no metabolic activity for over seven years. And Stacy gives much of the credit to the prayers that came from strangers across the globe.
“The power of prayer is how God works in this world, is through people and their petition. Their desire to pray for a complete stranger is out of their love for Jesus. Love trumps everything,” she said.
Stacy Roorda is aware that skeptics are still waiting for proof in the power of prayer. But it doesn’t phase her. The prayer party that spanned the world on her behalf is all the proof she needs.
Lynda Cheldelin Fell is a humanitarian, creator, producer, and international bestselling author.
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