Written by: Thy Cameron
Article source: JOY! Magazine
Thy Cameron, former Christian radio journalist and wife of a South African pastor, shares about the heartbreaking but hope-filled journey that led to her writing a book to relate a God-glorifying story that her daughter, Shirley, set out to tell a week before she died of lung cancer at the age of 39.
My country bleeds and suffers. So why this book at this time? I don’t know – but I ask God to use it to bless and encourage. Five years ago, in my fresh grief, as Shirley had just died, I had a dream. It was a relay race. At the baton exchange, I realised that it was Shirley running. And she passed the baton on to me.
A week before our only daughter, Shirley, died of lung cancer at the age of 39 – she had said: “I want to do one last thing for God. I want to tell my story to glorify Him.”
So, two media students from Oxford had moved in to video her testimony, told haltingly as she needed many, many breaks to breathe and rest. I understood my dream to mean that I was to help her tell her story, and to do it by writing the book.
Often Shirley would say: “There really isn’t any hope, is there?”
‘Please help me die’
About six weeks before she died in her home, she called me over. “Mum,” she said, “you are not going to like this. You know I am dying?” I don’t know how, but I said: “Yes”.
“Mum,” she went on,” please help me die.” Of course, I promised to do everything I could for her, fully knowing that I couldn’t do it in my own strength, but confident in God.
Preparation for book launch: Brian and Thy (Dad &Mum) open the boxes for the first time!
A difficult childhood
Shirley’s story begins in 1975 when, much to the surprise of our gynaecologist (who believed conception was impossible for us), she was born to two delighted parents. Her dad, who is a pastor, had to preach the day she arrived and he did it in a daze. To be a mother was so wonderful to me but, sadly, not too much later a shadow appeared. She found life really hard, was always crying. She suffered more deeply than others when childhood relationships proved beyond difficult. She always saw the glass as half full and struggled, it seems, with either bipolar or clinical depression.
Hit and miss
Although she had given her heart to Jesus at the young age of four, her relationship with Him was “rather hit and miss” – in her words. While at Stellenbosch University, she decided that the cause of all her misery and the reason she ditched religion was because she perceived God’s stern demands for her to perform well, “or else.”
Years later she fell in love with a man she met whilst skydiving in Citrusdal, got married, and moved to the UK. After four years of marriage – Mark ended up leaving her in February 2004 because she was such high maintenance. Nine very troubled years followed. I was at the receiving end of very many long, dismal phone calls.
Often she would say: “There really isn’t any hope, is there?” She had begun praying again and would ask God to take her, and then be very disappointed when she was still alive in the morning. I knew she wanted me to say: “No, there isn’t,” but I kept pointing her to the clichéd truth that at the end of one’s tether is God.
Shirley felt God’s presence and that He was holding her hand.
‘All you have left is God’
One gloomy night she came home so distraught that she flung a tumbler against the wall in her kitchen and slashed her wrists with a glass sliver. The next morning when she phoned I knew immediately what she had tried to do. Totally aware of the six thousand miles between us, I also knew that all I had was words. So I shot a prayer to heaven and said: “Well, now you’ve tried everything, so all you have left is God.”
Many had prayed and prayed for her with me over the years. In desperation, I prayed: “Lord, whatever it takes.”
A horrible message
Early in 2013, Shirley bumped her leg on her desk. Because her physio didn’t like how it looked, tests, scans, and biopsies followed. Her right thigh began to swell – ominously.
Her Dad and I were in the Kruger when she sent the text – the only form of communication we had. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you,” we read, “but I have osteosarcoma, stages 3 and 4, and also many mets in my lungs.”
We were beyond devastated. Not surprisingly, we threw in the holiday and came home to Cape Town. We were hardly through the door and being licked by a happy Labrador when Shirley phoned. “Mum,” she says, “I’ve decided to factor God into my life again.” The best phone call ever.
Six months of very radical chemo, plus an operation to remove her diseased femur and replace it with a titanium prosthesis, lay ahead. How was she going to handle all this?
Always by her side
Her dad had to stay home as he was working, but I spent 8 of the next 11 months with Shirley in her home in Wokingham. I experienced not only changes in myself, but the steady transformation taking place in Shirley. From a hit and miss relationship with God, she moved to true dependence on Him. “Is God trustworthy?” she asked herself. “Because if He is, I can believe all the promises He gives us. I can stand on those promises.” And that’s what she did, especially when fear came in to cripple and to maim.
Finding love and acceptance
I saw her slowly abandon her belief that she was not lovable as God poured in love – through friends, all the caring, and loving, praying, as well as bringing meals and flowers. “Don’t worry,” they told her, “When you can’t concentrate we’ll do the praying for you – we’ll hold up your arms.”
One night in hospital God miraculously woke her up. Somehow, her drip had been switched off which, if undetected, could have ended her life. Caring people flooded her with scriptures. When she was woozy from the morphine and couldn’t concentrate, she felt God’s presence and that He was holding her hand. Her friends sat on her bed and worshipped with her, which she loved. All of this so that in her last days she kept saying, “God loves me, God loves me, God loves me.” What an illustration of the verse, “Love drives out fear”!
Shirley on the couch, ready to record her testimony videos.
I watched her become happy. I’m so aware of a conversation in 2012 when I asked her about being happy. She said, “Five years ago I was unhappy. Now I’m just five years unhappier.” And now? Her friends and I marvelled every time she said: “I’m so happy.” She kept saying it and we could see it was true.
Journey of acceptance
What I found truly amazing was her journey as far as accepting death was concerned. Of course, she wanted to live – at first. She had been devastated when her close friend Nick suggested God might not plan that.
God confronted her on this again when, after the operation on the leg, her consultant left us with the clear understanding that she was aiming only at winning more time for Shirley. Then, on January 18th 2014, after dreadful results of scans, we drove home from Oxford weeping and, once home, Shirley got into bed and did not move for the rest of the weekend.
I felt the huge struggle going on for her soul and prayed and prayed and prayed. On Sunday afternoon I crawled in behind her and put my arms around her. She said, “It’s okay, Mum – if God doesn’t want me to live, I’m okay with that.” What a struggle, what a surrender, what a triumph!
Out of her love for Him, Shirley had her story videoed a week before she died “because I[she] want[ed] to do one last thing for God and glorify Him.”
In more love for her, God had her dad, her friend Nick, a close friend and mentor Christine, and myself sing, pray, talk lovingly, kiss Shirley, and play her beloved worship songs to her as she slipped further and further away. She died in the early hours of the morning of May 6th 2014. Her ashes are scattered on Middlefell beside Wastwater in the Lake District because she said: “It’s on the mountains that I meet with God.”
Nothing can beat God
In a bleeding South Africa, we need a story that shows that not even the very worst things can defeat God. Jesus said, “It is finished” and that is His triumph – complete and perfect. Not a single thing can happen – even in South Africa — that can make victory for Him impossible. So, shall we not rejoice in the Lord – always? Even here and even now?
With His help on the tortuous journey to get to this point, we can. Shirley did, and said at the end of her life: “I’m busted and broken on the outside, but inside I am whole and know peace – it is well with my soul.”
The book is available in SA
You can get my book and the videos recorded a week before Shirley died on my website: www.mumpleasehelpmedie.co.za. Copies of the book are also available from Takealot, CUM Books, Christian Book Discounters, Onwards and Upwards Publishers, and Amazon and other online book sellers. The cost is R200.
Date published: 19/11/2019
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