Faithful Through Hardships: College Friends Battle Cancer

Nov 19, 2021 | Faithfulness Stories, Summit Magazine

Christy (Hoffman) Howard (’06) and Chelsey (Hoffman) Martin (’09) are sisters who grew up in Northeast Ohio. They met Michigan-born, Becki (Price) Robison (’06), as students on CSU’s campus. They lived in the same residence hall and shared unforgettable college moments. Yet, they had no idea their futures would weave another common thread—life-altering leukemia diagnoses. In the coming decade, Martin and Robison would face the disease personally. Howard would endure pain and uncertainty as she walked alongside her daughter, Addi, who was diagnosed with the disease.

Chelsey’s story

Late in 2010, newlyweds Chelsey and Chris Martin (’09) were working full time, with dreams of buying a house and starting a family. All that changed when Chelsey Martin’s leukemia diagnosis brought their plans to a screeching halt.

One of the hardest initial struggles was, “letting go of our plans and of what we thought the next years of our life were going to look like,” she reflected.

Abruptly thrown into a storm of medical tests, physical pain and emotional turbulence, Martin’s two-and-a-half-year chemotherapy journey began with six weeks of intense in-patient treatment. In those long, dark nights surrounded by the sounds of beeping monitors and hospital smells, Martin would lay awake battling a million “what if” questions that now replaced the dreams they had discussed. 

Taped to her the pole of her IV was the verse, Isaiah 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you,” a verse she clung to for hope. 

Nothing was easy about the subsequent years as Martin’s cancer went into remission. She and her husband adapted their lives in ways they never imagined, but now, years later, she recalls ways God was working behind the scenes. “Looking back, we see so much of God’s faithfulness and grace in the way He orchestrated the things that happened in our lives, and we can recount over and over again His faithfulness.”

One of the beautiful outcomes was the passion the Lord ignited in the Martin’s hearts for the world of foster care and adoption. The path they have walked post-cancer has held moments of heartbreak and pain. Yet, step by step, God provided the grace to move forward and say “yes” to the good He planned to come from the broken.

Martin explains how God reshaped their entire outlook on life, “This life isn’t about us, and God will use hard things in our lives for His glory. So many of the lessons we learned during that time were preparing us for the next season. The key to moving forward is remembering God’s faithfulness in the past.”

Living in Ohio, Martin continues to give God the glory for piecing together a life she could not have imagined alongside her family that continues to grow and touch the lives of those around them.

Becki’s story

Having just returned home with their daughter, Ellie, adopted from China in September 2017, Becki and Nathan Robison already faced plenty of questions as they transitioned to a family of five. The Robison’s expected to embark on a medical journey for Ellie, who had special health needs, but within a few short weeks, the scope of what they were facing drastically changed when Becki was diagnosed with leukemia. 

Robison’s physical journey included a 30-day hospitalization and isolation from her family, followed by a five-month out-patient program. Another step of her recovery included a bone marrow transplant, with God providing a perfect transplant match through her sister Laura.

As Robison recounted the horrifying pain of weekly spinal infusions, the loneliness of isolation and the steroids that robbed her of sleep, she recalled the lonely hours of a specific night she cried out to her Father in utter desperation. “I held nothing back, I told Him exactly how I felt, and I didn’t try to hide anything,” Robison described her grief and pain in vivid detail more than four years later. “He brought me peace that is beyond anything I could ever imagine or explain and gently walked me through each step of the agonizing process.”

A poster hung in her treatment room proclaiming, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). With her body forced to remain perfectly still as chemo ran through the spinal needle, she would mediate on each word of that verse while crying out to her Heavenly Father. “He met me on that table and held my hand when nobody else could be there with me.”

The Lord used Martin to encourage and relate to Robison in ways that can only be found in shared grief and pain. As God was strategically placing people to breathe hope into Robison’s life, He was also preparing her to be used in a similar manner in the future.

“You never want to experience a cancer diagnosis, but when Addi (Howard) was diagnosed, I felt like this was one small way that God could use me to weep with those who weep and mourn with my friend over all the things lost and all the future struggles,” says Robison.

While nothing in Robison’s timeline appeared ideal from a human perspective, she and her husband praise God for the blessings sprinkled into their lives throughout their journey—deepening family bonds, outpouring love from the Church and orchestrating treatment for their newly adopted Ellie in close proximity to Robison.

“Every part of the process was painful,” Robison reflected honestly. “I’m thankful God’s timing was perfect; the blessings were all around us.”

[Editor’s note: The Robison family is seeking to adopt again! Read more and give here.]

Christy’s story

Leukemia struck outside of Christy Howard’s body. Yet, her heart was shattered when her second child, Addi, faced cancer at 7 years old in the spring of 2019.

In a gut-wrenching span of days, Howard and husband Josh (’04) went from cheering for their spunky Addi on the sidelines of the soccer field to sitting by her side while doctors inserted a port to treat the cancer that had invaded her bone marrow. Mapping a two-and-a-half-year treatment plan left them reeling with more questions than answers.

As her child’s primary caregiver, Howard battled overwhelming emotions of helplessness and guilt, overcome by the thought that somehow she could have changed the diagnosis. Seeking biblical counseling through their church resulted in an outlet for Howard to release herself of that false guilt and, instead, focus on truth.

“Watching my child suffer is the most painful thing I have ever experienced, and I needed truth to be spoken to me to remind me that God loves Addi even more than I do, and He has a plan for Addi, and for me,” Howard explained. 

While finding support from Martin and Robison, Howard also saw first-hand just how difficult the road ahead would be. When Addi’s journey included complications such as steroid-induced diabetes, Howard clung to the truths of II Corinthians 12:9-11 while learning to administer life-saving shots and daily medications. Piling on medical responsibilities in addition to the emotional weight threatened to break Howard; yet time and again God sustained her with strength to perform unthinkable tasks.

“This could only be the power and strength of the Lord getting me through weakness,” she says, recalling collapsing at the end of each day, feeling completely depleted.

Living one day at a time is a learned approach Howard now emphasizes. Grasping the truth found in Matthew six, Howard repeatedly surrendered her worry of the future and learned to anticipate the grace God provided to face each day.

In a beautiful depiction of the body of Christ, Addi bonded with her Aunt Chelsey in a way that could only come because each uniquely understood what the other was facing. Allowing that bond to blossom provided comfort to Howard.

Led by heartfelt writings of Josh, the Howard family embraced the phrase, “Nothing is Wasted” and have seen the beauty of moving forward, claiming faith over fear for Addi as they made decisions regarding her daily life. 

During this time, Addi chose to pursue believer’s baptism and publicly testify of her personal commitment to her Savior, and her testimony has been used by God to draw others to Himself.  

“I would never have chosen for Addi to go through this, but our faith has grown, and we are so thankful,” Howard candidly shared the day before Addi celebrated the end of her treatment by ringing the bell at her treatment clinic in September 2021. 

The on-going struggles from a battle with cancer do not simply cease with the declaration of remission, and each of these women know their lives will forever bear these scars. From continued health monitoring, mental and emotional trauma, and walking alongside others whose journeys will both reflect and differ from their own, there is no returning to life as they knew it before cancer. 

Yet, from the ashes of the pain, the grieving of the loss and each subsequent step into an unknown future, the testimony of these three women continually points to the eternal hope of a faithful Father who loves them, holds them and has ordained each moment of their days.  

By Leah (Redfield) Sintic (‘06)

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