Friday, April 24, 2015

CANCER: You can do hard things!

Back in December 2014, I was at Cardon's Children hospital with my daughter Emma. She was giving service for the kids who had cancer.  Meanwhile, while I was watching her sing "Let It Go" from the movie Frozen, a friend of mine came out into the hall and was surprised I was there. My friend told me to come and visit her son who was also at the hospital having surgery on his knee. So me and my husband along with my friend and her husband started having a discussion about how hard life can sometimes be. (At this time, no one knew I had cancer as I didn't want to tell anyone until the holidays were over.) While all four of us were in conversation, I remembered something I had done 30 years prior that was a hard thing I had accomplished in my life.  Now it was a choice I made on my own free will, but was it truly was an experience that would prepare me to face the hardship of cancer that I would have in the future.

On September 16, 1982 I embarked on an experience of a lifetime!  I chose to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Yes, I'm a Mormon.  I'm sure most of you have seen the young men missionaries riding their bikes around with their white shirts and ties. Well I too served as a sister missionary for 18 months in Costa Rica and Panama.  In the beginning of my mission, I went to the Mission Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, for two months to learn Spanish.  This is where you learn to speak a language you most likely have never spoken and you also learn to draw closer to the Lord spiritually.  We also spoke our new language 24 hours a day. Boy, that was interesting and fun! LOVED the MTC!  One of the traditions at the MTC is to take a picture of where you'll be serving.  Here's my famous picture!

Hermana (Sister) Pennington pointing to Costa Rica and Panama

I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica on November 15th, 1982. I was 21 years old.  I thought I learned Spanish so well at the MTC. Guess what?  I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying! I thought to myself, "Will I ever learn how to speak Spanish?"  After a few days of orientation, I was assigned a companion.  Her name was Hermana Pinto. The word hermana means sister in Spanish. Just thought you should know that.  As missionaries, you are always assigned a companion that you stay with 24 hours a day.  I'm serious, 24 hours a day.  We work together as a team supporting and helping each other and helping those who want to know more about The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I grew up in the deserts of Arizona. Arriving in Costa Rica was like going to heaven!  It was so beautiful and green! The people were so humble.  I have never seen poverty like that in my entire life. Living on dirt floors and washing my clothes in a river was definitely a new experience for me.  But I LOVED it! Except for one thing...I could NEVER get over how huge the cockroaches and rats were!  The insects that I saw were out of control!  Right in the middle of teaching someone, I would jump up and start screaming when a huge bug would come flying at me!  And NEVER wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or you'll find all sorts of things crawling on the walls! Even though it was hard, I LOVED my mission! After about three to five months, with God's help, (and I really mean that) you learn to speak, read, and write the language you're learning fluently. I feel so blessed that I still speak Spanish today. Here is a picture of me in my first area Tibas, Costa Rica.  This is one of my favorite pictures.

Hermana Pennington

When you serve a mission, you serve in your area anywhere usually from two to five months. After serving in Costa Rica for three months, I was transferred to Las Lomas, Panama.  I'm talking pure jungle.  Pythons at night that ate the chickens, and rats the size of cats.  But I LOVED it! Six days a week you serve 16 hour days and live by very strict rules.  No dating, no music (gospel only) and pretty much no nothing. However, on preparation day (P-Day),  which was usually on Mondays, we took the time to write letters, wash our clothes, and buy groceries. Sometimes, we would do something fun like visit volcanoes or go hiking. One time I even visited The Panama Canal. At the end P-Day, we would have a district meeting.  Here is a picture of my district in David, Panama.  I'm the one in the center front with the almost white blonde hair. Everywhere I went people would call me "La Barbie." (Trust me, they wouldn't say that anymore, but it was fun at the time!)  One of my favorite areas to serve was Las, Lomas, Panama.  My companion was Hermana Sunilda Andreve. She was "mi companera de oro." (A "golden companion" means she was very awesome and we had tons of fun serving together!) I just wish I had a picture of her while we were companions!

David, Panama District

This was my Mom's favorite picture of me on my mission.

The Jungle.  Las Lomas, Panama

There is a story behind this last picture.  We would pass these cows everyday.  Then one day they wanted to charge us!  So off we ran as fast as we could!  Laughing our heads off the whole time! Luckily, they didn't catch us!

I later served with Hermana Frandsen (coolest sister ever from Firth, Idaho) in Panama City, then back to David, Panama with Hermana Parra, and then back to Heredia, Costa Rica with Hermana Anderson.  

The experiences I had on my mission were so amazing and at the same time so difficult that I knew there had to be a greater reason for why I went through such spiritual and yet such hard times. Sometimes, our life experiences and trials are so challenging that we think we won't survive! But we do!  We always do!  On that December day, watching my daughter sing to kids that had cancer and knowing that I, too, had to face my own battle of cancer, made me reflect back to my mission. That's it! My mission was a necessary experience that would prepare me to battle cancer. Being diagnosed with cancer would be one the most difficult trials of my life.  I then realized I could do hard things! All of us can!! You too will learn from difficult experiences in your life! Go forward with faith! Trust in God and know that anything is possible! NEVER EVER GIVE UP!!  

One more thing...This is my handsome husband who also served a mission in The San Bernardino, California Mission 1982-1984.  I just had to throw this in!

And my son Josh serving a mission in Fortaleza, Brazil  June2006-June2008