You Must Be Brave, by Carla M Zwahlen, Published by Guideposts Books, 2007
“You must be brave,” said my beautiful husband. You must be brave? He must be
kidding. The peril we faced suffocated me. Being brave was about as far
removed from me as the life we knew and the future that fast slipped from our grasp.
Where would I find brave in the midst of this nightmare?
Werner’s oncologist appointment ended and staggered us with the diagnosis, stage III
esophageal cancer at the stomach junction, with a few lymph nodes adjacent to the tumor
affected. The treatment protocol included months of chemo and radiation therapy,
followed by a massive radical esophagectomy, the likes of which I can’t begin to
comprehend. Brave, I wasn’t brave, I was numb.
Eighteen years ago, there were other hospital stays and hours Werner, and I spent sitting
In the grip of nerve-wracking waiting room chairs. Then, our eight-year-old son, Stefan,
Underwent neurosurgery to remove a brain tumor. Three years later, Stefan’s
neurosurgeon removed another brain tumor. Here we were again, hospital bound, for
more waiting and wondering. This time for Werner’s fight.
The long day of doctors’ consults and tests finally ended. Exhausted, we headed for the
exit doors through the busy hospital rotunda. Although I didn’t see exit doors, I
saw flashbacks of Stefan’s fight merge with Werner’s battle, and my
emotions, like the worn seats on those waiting room chairs, slid down. I lagged
behind Werner hoping to harness my crumbling mood before I faced him.
I thought my external expression masked my inward turmoil. It didn’t.
Werner saw through my mask.
I looked ahead among the steady stream of people exiting the huge glass doors and watched Werner walk out onto the noisy portico sidewalk. The hum of car engines idling while
people helped patients get in and out of their vehicles, created quite an echo din under the high
I caught up with Werner and followed behind for only a few paces away
from the big doors, when Werner stopped abruptly in the middle of the people traffic.
When my private husband, not known for courting public attention, turned to face me, the
sheer determination expressed in his eyes jolted me. I didn’t know his intent, but his
action was surprisingly uncharacteristic. He had my utmost attention. He placed his
hands on my shoulders and said, “You must be brave.” His brown eyes along with his
four words pierced my heart.
Time can stop for seconds. People moved past us in slow motion. Noise
muffled and ground down like the sound of an old phonograph record played at the wrong
speed. No one passing us on the sidewalk under the portico noticed time stop, except Werner and
me. Captured in that time-frozen moment, he met the first challenge of the fight for his life,
me. He needed to rescue an avalanche of fear crushing me before it buried him.
I felt the soul of our wedding vows spoken thirty years ago, through sickness and in
health, and to love and to cherish until death parts us, come alive. Did it mean and be brave too?
I felt his eyes plead with me. Promise me you will be brave. I am forced to
attempt the most threatening and difficult climb of my life. We are roped
together to climb this mountain. If you let go of the rope, I cannot fight. I will suffer
enough, but my suffering will be unendurable if I must watch you suffer too. Just as
sudden as he stopped me under the portico, he dropped his hands from my shoulders,
turned away from me, and walked toward the parking lot.
Did I respond to his request? I must have said yes, I will be brave. Of course, I said yes. I
don’t know if I said yes. I don’t know what I said or if I said anything at all.
His sudden and unexpected public show of emotion to face me and its abrupt end nailed me to the spot. Yet at that moment, I had absolute clarity that courage defined the way in which he wanted to deal with his cancer. Knowing this would be pivotal for my choices in the time to come.
I shook myself out from the daze. As I followed after him
down the sidewalk, I wondered how I would honor his request. When I caught up with
him, we did not speak. I just felt his fingers wrap themselves around mine.
I drove towards home along the narrow winding mountain road. Darkness covered the road
and my thoughts. Werner slept. At least driving prevented the tears, but nothing could erase Werner’s
plea, “You must be brave,” repeating in my ears. When I didn’t hear his plea, ominous visions and
questions took root in me like the uninvited weeds that grow in my garden.
Who will help me to be brave in the face of esophageal cancer’s death threat that
assaults Werner’s strong athletic body?
After Werner endures months of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation that will kill
his healthy and diseased cells, who will hold my hands on the rope with him?
Where is the hope against the odds of Werner surviving this Beast? Brave, what brave?
Brave means I must be fearless and bold. It’s more my character to worry. Where is bold
As the miles flew by, panic waves built around me. I held my breath against the
black sea of suffering this cancer portends for Werner. I feared I’d soon drown in those
thoughts until somewhere in that angry sea, I heard a quiet voice, Look at Jesus.
Tired and battered, I was desperate for a lifeline, so I looked at Jesus.
The quiet voice spoke again. Your terror, like Peter’s, is keeping your eyes on Jesus
What lesson did the Lord use to teach Peter to trust Him, when Peter and the other
terrified disciples were at the mercy of a midnight storm on the Sea of Galilee? When
Jesus appeared out of the mist like an apparition and said to Peter, come and walk on the water
with me, did Peter say, I don’t trust you to keep me from drowning. What did Peter do?
I remember, I said. Peter fixed his eyes firmly on Jesus, stepped over the boat rails, and
against all the laws of physics, stood firm upon the waves.
The quiet voice spoke, Trust Jesus! Nothing else will work. Keep your eyes on Him. He
will keep you from drowning in your own maelstrom. He will show you how to be
Yes, of course, I told myself, God will supply the brave I need. I will trust God.
Really? A voice mocked. You are going to ask God to be your
Now the mocking voice had my attention.
Isn’t God the one who allowed this cancer’s threat upon Werner’s life? You should be
angry with God. Remember, your son’s brain tumors. You thought after the first brain
tumor it wouldn’t get worse. Who allowed the second brain tumor to grow?
Yes, God allowed those awful circumstances, but he also
said do not be afraid or surprised when life hands me trials. It’s you, with your mocking voice,
who manipulates misery in the world. You try to make me doubt my trust in God.
I can’t choose my circumstances, but I can choose whose voice I will listen to and whose
directions I follow.
I heard a quiet voice. Nothing can separate you from God’s love.
That’s true, God promised never to leave me no matter what my circumstance.
Again, the quiet voice spoke, Keep your eyes on me, like Peter did when he trusted me
to stand him on the storm waters.
The mocking voice was silent.
I asked myself, would my anger against God help Werner’s fight? The answer was clear.
Not likely, if I chose to handle Werner’s illness with bitterness and despair, he’d see my
discouragement, and then, he’d be forced to expend more energy to fight under my dark
cloud. Certainly, my anger would add to his misery.
Yes, I was sad and weary when I turned the car into our driveway, but the despair was
gone. God had replaced the fear with the promise of Himself. He chose to tell Peter’s story.
However difficult the climb Werner and I are forced to attempt, I can
trust God for the courage I needed to honor my husband’s request, “You must be brave.”
Keeping my eyes on the Lord, I was ready to begin.
Little did I know the mocking voice was not finished with me.