In honor of breast cancer awareness month, I have produced my first podcast where we’ll be hearing a story of cancer, community, and the God who comforts. The book is called “Warrior in Pink,” and my guest is author Vivian Mabuni.
Vivian and her husband Darrin have been on staff with CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) for twenty five years. They serve in Epic Movement, the Asian-American ministry of CRU. Vivian is a mom, a speaker, and a cancer survivor. To learn more about Vivian, you can visit her website at www.vivianmabuni.com.
We will be offering a free giveaway of Vivian’s book, “Warrior in Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community, and the God Who Comforts” for those who leave a comment and share this post. So don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the post to comment and hit share! 🙂
You can also pick up Vivian’s book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and CBD. In addition, her publisher, Discovery House Publishers will be having a special discount on “Warrior in Pink” during the month of October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Vivian through this interview as much as I did. She is warm, engaging, and inspiring! I pray her insight and encouragement anchors your heart in a God who’s personal, in control, and who cares about you!
The transcript for the podcast is below, if you’d rather read the interview.
Bethany: Welcome Vivian, thank you for joining me. This is a story so many women can relate to. So Vivian, tell us about that first day when you received the diagnosis. It was only a couple days before Christmas, wasn’t it?
Vivian: Yes, two days before Christmas.
Bethany: What a terrible time . . .
Vivian: Oh yeah, that winter was, we live in Southern California so normally it’s sunny and bright, and that winter it was incredibly stormy. And I remember that day even, the rain, it was raining sideways and it sounded like a broken sprinkler kept whipping around because of the wind, hitting our glass doors and windows. And so I felt like that was what it felt like on the inside to me, I was really struggling with the very likelihood of my biopsy coming back as cancer.
So I was just edgy and I think during the holiday season, too, we tend to pack out our schedules, at least I do, and try to do too much in too little time, so there’s a lot of stress in our home And I was probably having some kind of conflict with my husband at the time, because I just remember feeling like my mood matched the weather. The doctor finally called and, it was, I took the call in the garage because we have three kids and at the time they were 15, 11, and 6, so my husband and I decided we were going to wait until after Christmas to tell them anything. So we knew I had gone through and gotten the biopsy done and we were waiting for the results.
So I took the call inside the garage in my car and the doctor was very matter of fact about it. He said, “You have invasive, lobular carcinoma,” and those were three words I had never heard before.
I remember just sitting there trying to find a piece of scrap paper, and circling with my pen to get the ink flowing, and asking him, “Could you tell me again what that was?”
So he told me, “You have breast cancer.”
It was at that time my husband walked out into the garage, and as soon as I opened the door of the car and told him the doctor said it was cancer, I just broke down sobbing. And he prayed, right then and there, and the amazing thing was that when we opened our eyes, I felt peaceful inside, but we had this little glass windows on my garage door and there was a sunbeam that came through and rested right over us as we opened our eyes. And I felt like God very sweetly, in a way that I could understand was trying to assure me of His presence and His commitment to us, to our little family to walk us through the storm.
Bethany: What a beautiful picture that He gave you that He was there and there was light in the middle of that dark place. In your book you talked about surrendering your life to God as a young woman after your family moved to Hong Kong. And you said, “From that point on, God had showed Himself trustworthy in countless ways through the years as I made choices to trust Him. Now I would need to remember and recall and draw on His character as I moved ahead into a new area to trust Him; battling cancer.”
So how did God meet you along the way? You had the diagnosis, that year of treatment, and then that whole, I think it was a year, of the aftermath.
Vivian: I found that in my years of walking with God, when we approach any battle, even in the Scriptures, I’ve noticed that even in the Old Testament, when people are faced with a battle, God delivers His people in different ways each time. Even Jesus would heal different ways each time. And I’ve come to realize He doesn’t want us to rely on a formulaic way of approaching trials, but He wants us to rely on Him. So the battle will look different each time.
So when I think back to all those different phases, there were different places where I felt like, you know, God very much showed up and the sunbeam came in the window and those were places I could hold onto, but that wasn’t going to be the way He would meet me each time. So there were times when I remember getting treatment where He seemed kind of silent, you know, I was suffering, I was in deep pain, and felt like morning would never come and crying out to God, “Would you please wake everybody to pray for me?” because I was just desperate. And His answer came later. It wasn’t as immediate as His sunbeam . So I think, I just realized that God met me in different ways at each point in time, and His timing wasn’t always my timing, and yet, I look back and He was faithful.
Bethany: And that is so true. Because I think a lot of times we’re looking for the sunbeam to sustain us through the whole thing, and there are, there are dark corridors where’s it’s just pure faith and pure trust.
Vivian: Yes, you know I’ve noticed even in Psalm 23 which is such a famous Psalm, you know, everyone knows its it. “The Lord is my shepherd,” it goes on to explain how God is, how “He leads me beside still waters” and all that, and then the tone changes when David writes about “when I walk through the valley of the shadow,” You, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” And so God becomes, He goes from “He” to “You,” and I think He becomes personalized “in the valley of the shadow of death.” So that when we have to walk through the really, really dark hard times, I think that’s when our faith becomes even more personalized. And God’s character doesn’t become cognitive like a, “He is this way,” but actually “You are this way,” because I’m experiencing having to dig a lot deeper to really experience God’s character rather than cognitively knowing about it.
Bethany. Right, there’s a big difference between talking about God and actually experiencing Him. And I love, yeah, I love how you highlighted that in the Psalm, it does change. And just, God’s personal contact when you’re in those dark valleys, it just makes all the difference. You can know a lot of things, but that doesn’t get you very far when you really hit those hard places.
So, in your book, you also talked about, something that I noticed, you talked a lot about community and the way that God uses that to love us through those dark times.
In the beginning of your book, you told a story about a woman who’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and you called her the “Asian Martha Stewart.” Would you tell us about her?
Vivian: Sure. I had been meeting with a group of women for Bible study and several of them were brand new believers so I was really trying to unpack the Scriptures with them. And as we spent time together we began to trust each other more–I love that about women’s ministry, that we have the ability to really learn to trust and share the darker parts of our lives with one another–and that’s what was happening in this group. So one of my friends shared about this woman that had this reputation that everyone knew as the “Asian Martha Stewart.” And everything about her life looked perfect. Her food, the clothes she wore, everything looked flawless.
And then this woman was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my friend tried to help, just like all of us, you know, when we hear of someone going through a hard time, we’re offering to help. The woman refused, she just said, “No, no, I can handle it. I can take care of this.” And she shut everyone out and kind of went inside, and she went through her cancer treatment and her body changed, and her hair fell out, she could not hold her perfect world together any longer. And then tragically, she committed suicide.
She left behind her husband and her two kids, and when I heard that story I remember we were sitting in a food court in a mall. And it was like God had my full attention, because I’d never met this woman before but I could relate to wanting to be the strong one, and you know, being in ministry I wanted to be the one with the answers, to help others and to be the one to bring the gift, the meal, rather the one to receive help. And I just prayed right then and there, and just said, “God, if anything like this ever happens to me, I purpose right here, right now, I will let others in.” And that was in October, two months before I was diagnosed. And I look back and think, that made all the difference for me as far as being willing to allow people into the raw and unprocessed parts of walking through a hard time.
Bethany: Well, and it really highlights God’s sovereignty, that He’s in control and that He, He knew what was coming down the pipe and He prepared you for it. God is so good to us.
Vivian: He is. I think He is working all the time and often I’m just too busy to even stop and notice. But I believe He’s always at work.
Bethany: Well you also told us this beautiful story, there are many in this, this is just a short little book really, but it just has, it’s so packed with vivid illustrations of how God loves and you told this beautiful story how you’d had your initial surgery and they called you to tell you that your cancer had spread to your lymph nodes. And you’re talking about Darrin walking into the room and helping you in to bed and, and then just wrapping his arms around you.
How did God reveal His heart to you through your husband?
Vivian: You know it was, there were, I think back and my husband and I have been married 23 years. We’ve had good times and lots and lots of hard times. Marriage is honestly one of the places that [God] keeps us grounded in our understanding of our need for God because the relationship can be so fueled, emotionally charged, and I think fatigue and stress amplifies the same issues every marriage has. It was no different for us. But I do see how Darrin really, he remained steadfast in his commitment to me through out the treatment. It wasn’t like it was perfect, where he was always the super hero, but there were times when I just think back and kind of fill my little mental photo album of these times when he really demonstrated God’s love and His concern for me through action.
And one of them was in fact that time of, you know I had made it through the first surgery and felt like I was finally getting stronger and coming off the narcotics and the pain medication. And to find that I have to go back into surgery and all, you know, all that that would entail, just, it just, took the wind out of my sails. For Darrin to just put his arms around me and to pray for me at that moment, I just remember thinking, “Gosh, I wonder if this is really what happens when we pray and God wraps His arms around us” and we don’t often realize His presence as we pray. But it’s, I believe that He does, I believe that He is so with us–Emmanuel, God with us–that He does in fact, grieve with us and suffer with us because He loves us so much. That was really one of the ways, of many ways, that, yeah, that Darrin really was a conduit showing me about God’s love.
Bethany: Yeah, God comforts us in our spirits, but it’s so, He knows when we need human arms to wrap around us.
Vivian: Yes, yes.
Bethany: That was just such a beautiful picture of God’s steadfast love. I love that word you used there, “steadfast,” ’cause that is what God is in those hard times.
I also noticed in your book there’s an ongoing theme throughout it that I think a lot of us in our struggles have a really difficult time with, and that’s receiving help. And receiving from people instead of always giving, and feeling like we’re not worthy of interrupting people’s time or, you know, being a burden to them and just that, that whole theme. And so as you went through the book, the way you transformed that reluctance to receive into the power that God uses through community.
One particularly powerful point in the book I thought that really highlighted how God powerfully uses community to meet us in really vulnerable places when we’re in the middle of struggle, was the story of the day you shaved your head. Do you want to tell us about that?
Vivian: Yes, you know I ended up getting a double mastectomy because of the type of cancer that I had, and that was a, was a very difficult process to go through, but even harder than that was losing my hair. Realizing that going through chemotherapy would mean that my illness would enter the room before my personhood. People would, would just know something wasn’t right by looking at me. So I think that it stirred up a lot of insecurity and I think, you know, my husband again, Darrin came through and he, at that time I didn’t personally know people close to me that had gone through cancer treatment so I didn’t have anyone else I could really relate to in this area in particular. So Darrin offered to shave his head bald with me so we could be bald together.
Bethany: What a guy.
Vivian: Yeah, he was so great! And it just, I just loved that, I loved that we were, you know this kind of dates me, but we were like Saturday Night Live with the Coneheads.
Bethany: Yeah, the Coneheads. (Laughing)
Vivian: (Laughing) That’s what we were, the Coneheads together! But it was interesting because as a man. Darrin looked very handsome bald. There are a lot of bald men . . .
Bethany: Yeah, it’s a trend!
Vivian: Yeah, it’s kind of a trendy thing, so he didn’t turn heads necessarily, but when I as a woman being bald, I think that just put it on a whole different level. So one of the things, what ended up happening after I received the diagnosis was I made a, I texted three of my friends who lived within ten minutes of me and asked them to meet up with me at my Starbucks because I needed to process what had happened after that diagnostic mammogram and they, they really knew how to meet me in just, the, the reality of, you know, my life was about to be derailed.
They didn’t try to fix it. They didn’t try to quote Bible verses to me. They didn’t try to talk me out of my feelings. They didn’t try to hyper-spiritualize anything, they just sat with me and they wept with me. And they were with me. And that was just such a gift. And I learned that there was a difference between transparency and vulnerability. Transparency is sharing hard things that have happened after the fact and lessons you’ve learned. Vulnerability is sharing raw, in real time without the lessons learned, and learning to open up to them like that was the beginning of vulnerability. So in that, they understood that losing my hair was going to be such a big deal for me, so I just said, “you know, I don’t want to keep watching my hair fall out and go through the mangy dog stage. I, I want to be the one to determine when I go bald, not the chemo medicine.”
So I asked them if they would be willing to kind of potluck it, and we could just do it together in community. So we had, you know, my three friends, we called “The Awesome Threesome” and their husbands and their kids, and my hairdresser of eleven years . . (Laughing) They just all came over for a potluck dinner, and it was like, it was like kind of a party atmosphere. Darrin had shaved his head the day before, and then all of us, just surrounding me in the living room while my hairdresser shoved my head. And that experience for me felt very much like, I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t end up crying about it even, it was, it was so much better than I thought it was going to be, because I think, I was bringing people into what was the scariest part for me.
And I wanted my kids to be a part of it. I wanted there to be an openness in communication throughout it. I knew there were going to be other hard times, but this particular place was one I really wanted to choose to bring people into rather than suffer through it on my own.
Bethany: Wow. And that really is, I really liked how you described the difference between transparency and vulnerability because I think, you know, it takes something to finally get us to be transparent. But being vulnerable, that’s a whole ‘nother level, you know. It’s hard to go there! And just the fact that you not only went there, but you went there at a really, for a woman particularly, at a really vulnerable place, and turned it into a party! I was so struck by that. I thought, you know, what a picture again of God and what can happen when we really do trust Him, and we do enter into that community. God is not alone, you know, He’s God the Son, God the Father, God the . . . He’s never alone. And He doesn’t want us alone.
You know, the Martha Stewart, the “Asian Martha Stewart” story shows you what happens when we isolate ourself. And just the, the vivid contrast of what happens when we do it God’s way and we’re making ourselves vulnerable and we’re not trying to, like you said, go through some formula to deal with pain or, just, just making ourselves vulnerable. I was so struck, I think that was one of the most powerful stories in the entire book of what God can do when we’re really willing to join hands with His people, and you know, operate like we really are a community.
So that was an incredible, it was just really incredible.
As we were going through this I was thinking about your kids, because I know that my kids would probably be one of my first thoughts. How was your kid’s perspective of God affected by your cancer, and the journey, and just kind of the whole thing?
Vivian: Oh yeah. You know I think my first thought, it was really the kids. Especially my youngest daughter at the time she was in first grade, you know. So it was just a little six year old, barely lost any teeth yet, just really, such, such a tender age. And you known my husband and I have been in Christian ministry all these years and our biggest prayer has always been, I think most Christian parent’s, that our kids would own their own faith. And they would make choices to walk with God apart from us. That they would choose Him.
And I was actually worried about how this would affect their view of God, and my middle son, Michael, when we told, we told the boys separate than Julia because we wanted to use the right terms and we wanted to make it age appropriate for them, so the boys we figured they could hear more at the time. And we wanted to be very honest with them and we asked them after we told them, “Do you have any questions?”
And my middle son, Michael, he was eleven at the time, he just looked at me and said, “Did, did God give you cancer?”
And so it’s like there are all these categories that are being shifted around in terms of their understanding of the sovereignty of God. “Is God good? And if He is good, why does He allow hard things to happen?” All of those kind of things came out, so, so in that time we decided we would be as honest as we could with what we knew so the kids wouldn’t have questions and be wondering what was going on. So we just told them what the doctors had told us, as much as we knew, we just informed them along the way.
After, you know, I think as we were going we were processing it, but I’m realizing now as I look back afterwards that they in fact, God did really meet them, and continues, continues to meet them in the aftermath. And so my son, Michael you know, he struggled, “I just didn’t understand why. You and dad have given your lives to serve God vocationally and you know, why would He give you cancer? ” And then he , he broke his wrist during football and realized that he, his physical body wasn’t, may not actually hold up, hold out for him.
So I think that God used these different events to shape his understanding of who really is the One that’s going to be unchanging. It wasn’t going to be his physical body, it was actually going to be God, was the One who was going to be unchanging. So now my oldest son has reflected when he got baptized shared how seeing how our church family came along side to help us during such a hard year, really opened his eyes to understanding that God loved us and was with us and community was part of living as a believer.
And so I’ve seen the positive that has come out of, out of this trial, but again, it’s one of those things that I realized, you know, I had to really wrestle. I’d taken Jeremiah 29:11, everyone’s memorized that, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not calamity, a future and a hope,” and I had to wrestle through like, “What is my plans of welfare verses God’s plans? And it may actually involve my, my going home to Him before I deem the right time. So my plans for welfare you know, would be to see my grandkids and even my great grandkids and we’d have this happy, little Christian family, you know, free from pain. And I had to wrestle with God with His plans, could I trust Him, that my kids would actually know Him through even my death? And I think I had to work through that it wasn’t even so much the focus on the plans for welfare and all of that, but the first three words of the verse, “For I know the plans ” and so God is the One that knows, and leaning again into His character.
I love, just the theme that you have of just this anchoring idea, you know, in the character of God. That’s really where peace lies. It’s not necessarily in the outcome of what I think is my “Plan A.” And I think cancer really, you know, rattled, rattled our whole family in different ways to having to lean into God’s character, rather than our picture of, you know, a happy life.
Bethany: And that’s, those questions that your kids had, those things you pointed out in Jeremiah, what “prosper” actually looks like, these are all questions that we struggle with. That we think we know what they mean, but then when we encounter them personally, we do end up wrestling with God, and hopefully continuing to wrestle until we’ve come to a meeting with Him in our heart and our spirit where we are saying, “He knows” and that’s good enough.
As you look back over the whole thing, the whole experience, the whole journey, what was the biggest thing you learned about God from it?
Vivian: I think I learned, I think I understood what it is to lean into His sovereignty, like experientially. I always knew that God was in charge of everything and in control of all things, but as I look back, I realize that this diagnosis, treatment, everything that’s happened since then, is part of a much bigger picture. That I don’t even realize, that He’s weaving together, and it utilizes every aspect of my little life, my little quadrant of my little world. It’s actually greater, I believe that God will use it in greater ways, of ways I don’t even understand at this point. Things that I may not understand until I’m in heaven, but that He is sovereign, that He sees the beginning from the end.
I love Isaiah 25 , it says, “Oh Lord, you are my God. I will exalt you, I will give thanks to your name for you have worked wonders, plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness.” And I think that picture of God’s sovereignty, these plans are formed long ago with perfect faithfulness, and is probably something that I understand today in a way that I didn’t understand before this, this particular trial in my life.
Bethany: And you have that beautiful verse about God bringing you out into a place of abundance on your website, and on your book and it’s just, your story is such a great illustration of the way that what we think is abundance, is oftentimes the first abundance God wants to bring, is that spiritual abundance. And bringing us to the fullness there and just the beauty of God giving that to you on the front end of this so that that could be part of the sustaining love of God throughout your whole experience. A beautiful verse.
Well, Vivian, if you had one thing to share about God with other warriors in pink, what would it be?
Vivian: Oh, one thing . . . (Laughing)
Bethany: I know, (laughing) isn’t that hard? We’re not “one thing” women are we?”
Vivian: (Laughing) We’re not “one thing” women. We could spend hours talking over coffee! I would probably encourage women, any “Warrior in Pink” wherever you are in your spiritual journey–everyone really is on a journey–I would encourage women to lean into God wherever you are in that. Because God is big enough to hold our anger and our confusion, our bewilderment, our fears, our sorrows, and our joys. That He, it doesn’t scare Him for us to be raw and real in wherever we are.
And I think for a long time as a Christian I always felt like I needed to get my act together. And you know, do my little devotions, and attend church regularly, and do these Christian things in order to really feel like I could, you know, meet with God. I would say just be raw and real and cry and scream and cuss if you needed to, you know, but to lean into God and to allow others in, as well. Allow Him into this, into the hard parts of life, and if there’s a Warrior in Pink into their cancer journey, to allow others to be in there with you, is my one thing,
Bethany: Well, and I wanted to let the listeners know for this podcast, you have some extra little goodies in your book that you offer. Do you want to tell the listeners about that?
Vivian: Sure! At the end of the book, I have three appendices. I think I’m saying the word right. (Laughing) But one of them is thoughts for caretakers. My husband was like the primary caretaker, and I think that really, that role is so overlooked. You know, it’s an exhausting job to be a caretaker for someone who is going through a health battle I think, so there’s an appendices of his response of what he did, things he wished he would have done differently.
And then I have a section for people, who have kids still at home, who are battling cancer, so that’s for parents with kids still at home. Some of the thoughts that we had and just some perspective on that. And then I have a letter written to a newly diagnosed cancer patient from the perspective of someone having just walked through. Kind of along the lines of what I just shared about the “one thing,” just some ideas of advice for people who are newly diagnosed. Those are at the end of the book, too.
Bethany: Ok, well thank you, Vivian. What an inspiring message of hope and how personal and present God is with us in our struggles. Thank you so much for joining us.
Vivian: I’ve just loved having this time. Wish it was in person.
Bethany: I wish you didn’t live so far away!
Vivian: I know!
Bethany: We’ve been listening to cancer survivor, Vivian Mabuni, author of “Warrior in Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community, and the God Who Comforts.” You can pick up Vivian’s book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD, or Discovery House Publishers who’s going to be having a special discount on it in the Month of October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness.
Thank you so much for joining us, this is Bethany Macklin with Bethany Macklin Ministries, Anchoring in God’s Heart.