Angela Strong makes the most of her time during rounds of chemo treatments. (Courtesy photo)
By Gaye Bunderson
In view of her circumstances, her name takes on greater meaning. Angela Strong is battling cancer. Staring into the face of a health struggle, she thankfully has a wide network of acquaintances, friends, and family to support her. Along with that, she’s got faith. Put it all together and Angela Ruth Strong is very much strengthened.
During an interview in a coffee shop on February 27, Strong looked well. Wearing a pink cap to cover the baldness caused by medication, she showed no sign of the worries that gripped her when she first heard her oncologist’s words over the phone. Now 42, Strong was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in 2019 at age 41. “I got the phone call in October,” she said.
When the oncologist laid out the facts of her cancer diagnosis, her first thought was, “I’m not going to see my kids’ weddings.” She has three children — two daughters and a son, ages 20, 19, and 17.
But in the coffee shop, she was ready to talk about the help she’s getting from all kinds of people all over, and she opened up about how she’s coping and being loved through her medical trial.
At first, Strong kept the news of her cancer from her parents. One Friday late last year, she intended to take a trip to California to meet with a movie producer about one of the many books she has written, and she planned to stay with her paternal grandmother. When she had to cancel the trip due to a scheduled biopsy, she explained the situation to her grandmother and word passed through the family grapevine until her parents were ultimately told of her illness. They said to her, “We’re so glad we know because we want to be praying for you.”
News travels fast and even goes beyond family. When a pastor’s wife from a local church heard that Strong had breast cancer, she sent her a Breast Cancer Bible; it has special verses highlighted in pink, and women who’ve survived breast cancer have written in the margins of the Bible, sometimes leaving their emails so they can be reached for wisdom and encouragement.
Strong also got on the social network site CaringBridge, an online non-profit that allows people with various medical conditions to stay in touch with family and friends. Strong, who describes herself as “transparent,” went beyond the reach of people who know her and allowed people she’s never met to connect with her on CaringBridge. It’s been a two-way street; she shares her faith along with medical updates, and strangers tell her they’re praying for her.
It has been an amazing outlet for her, and she’s gotten a lot from it. She’s received rides to the hospital and said people have made her meals. Along with posting updates, she lists things she needs prayers for. “It’s been good for me,” she said.
Her husband Jim is a football player and biker and is a member of a biker group. Surprisingly, some of the other bikers made Strong some stained glass butterflies. It’s just one of the kindnesses she’s experienced.
“Tragedy brings us together,” she said, “from bikers to businessman. We are in a divided country, but this has taught me that people are amazing.”
She’s received care packages, and contents have included a special lotion designed to help her sleep; a 52-week prayer journal that she and husband are writing in together; dandelion tea, purported to be a cancer fighter; and a hand lettering kit that is akin to calligraphy — something else she and her husband the football player and biker have enjoyed together.
She has a wide collection of hats and socks. A friend from church who had had breast cancer organized a hat party for her, and she now has at least 30 hats of all varieties, including one that says in an understated way, “Bad Hair Day.” Both her daughters and her mom have the same pink socks and shoes as she does, and they wear them in unity.
Regarding the whole online, social media thing, Strong said, “I know there are negatives too; but for me, my mission statement is to ‘inspire, create, and encourage hope in myself and others.’ I try to use this as an opportunity to share hope.”
She said her husband has also been moved by the responses she has gotten from so many. “All the people supporting us have been an answer to prayer for him,” she said.
Strong has a part-time job at the Boise Airport, but one of her passions is writing; she’s published children’s books and writes for adults in the following genres: romance, romantic suspense, and mystery. One of her books, “Starlight Christmas,” is set to be made into a movie for the 2021 Christmas season through a cable channel.
Her illness has presented challenges to her work as a writer. While she explained she’d so far had no dire adverse physical effects from her medications, she said, “I’m frustrated with the brain fog.”
She also said it takes more energy now to do her writing than previously. At first, she was determined to power through. “I thought, ‘I’m sick, but I can still do my career.’” Then, some powerful words from Scripture started to speak to her, especially the words “be still.” Exodus 14:14 came to mind: The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.
“Anything that happens in my career right now is God opening doors. I’m in a place of dependence and a place of ‘being still.’ I have to be still and look for Him to move,” she said.
When she went through a different crisis earlier in her life, she kept a spiritual image in her mind of touching the hem of Jesus’s garment. It is an image found in Scripture, and it gave her comfort. Now, another image eases her mind. “I see my friends lowering me through the roof to Jesus,” she said, recalling Luke 5:17-39, when friends of a sick man lowered his bed through a hole in a roof so Jesus could heal him.
At the time of the coffee shop interview, Strong was weighing her surgery options: a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. The last treatment of the first medicine had been completed the previous day. She acknowledged that her cancer has also been hard for her family and said she prayers regularly for them. She also told a story about how they feel about her:
She had a pizza and game night with her parents and daughters, but her son wasn’t there. In fact, he wasn’t even in town. She wished he’d been able to attend the get-together and tried without success to get hold of him via phone and text. What she didn’t know was that her family and a close friend were planning a surprise. It came off without a hitch when the next day her son walked through the door at Strong’s home. She wasn’t expecting that — but everyone else was. “I have never felt more loved,” she said.
Angela Ruth Strong isn’t the only person with cancer, and she knows that. It’s one of the reasons she continues to share her faith online, in her work, and wherever she is able.