The author captures a faith testimony of Gepsina Fernandes, a widow and a cancer survivor.
With churches in Mumbai and elsewhere finally re-opening to worshippers, there is rejoicing in various quarters that we are now able to take part physically in the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian faith and life.
And so, I would like to share with all and sundry the wonders the Lord has worked in my life as a firm believer in the saving power of Jesus, especially in recent times.
At the very outset, I would like to thank God for the innumerable opportunities He has given me to praise Him and to testify to His goodness and faithfulness in my life. With Him by my side, I have surmounted tragedies galore.
Born in Goa and educated in Karnataka, I was married in Mumbai in 1980 and had two lovely children – a boy and a girl. Unfortunately, in 1987, 7 years into my marriage, I lost my husband, Emerciano, in a drowning accident. I became a widow at the early age of thirty-one, my children just 4 and 5 years of age, respectively.
A graduate at that time, I taught in a private school in Malad East. But my priest brother-in-law motivated me to do my B.Ed. to qualify to teach in a school nearer home in Malad West. And so it was that I did my B.Ed. as well as my post-graduation before being appointed as a Teacher at Saint Anne’s High School, Orlem [now retired since 2014].
To supplement my income, I gave tuitions (coaching classes). How I missed the presence of my husband all through my children’s academic life and through my own steady growth? By the grace of God, my daughter, Friya, finished her post-graduation and my son, Nolan, joined the Merchant Navy, where he now Captains a ship.
As a single parent, I found it challenging to look for a suitable boy for my daughter in marriage. But again, with the intervention of God’s grace, she got married in 2007.
However, as luck would have it, the same year, I was diagnosed with rectum cancer. Radiation and Chemotherapy at the Tata Memorial Hospital involved travelling alone to Parel, with Firya expecting her first child.
Though deeply missing the presence of my spouse, who would have been a source of great solace, I do believe that my awesome God was with me. I didn’t even lose my hair as chemo was in tablet form.
However, the aftereffects of the month-long radiation were unbearable. Painful ulcers developing on my thighs and made walking difficult. Even during chemo and radiation, I continued to serve God by proclaiming His word as a Lector and assisting at the distribution of His Eucharistic Body to the sick and the aged in their homes.
After the surgical removal of the tumour, I was greatly disheartened as the procedure involved ‘colostomy.’ A colostomy is the surgical opening called a stoma, i.e., a path from the large intestine to the outside of the abdomen. This helps solid waste and gas exit the body without passing through the rectum into a pouch worn on the outside of the body.
With my rectum sutured permanently shut, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would dress, wearing my trousers with the bag attached to my abdomen and so on. But God’s ways are marvellous. He ensured that advanced medical science offered me a viable option by way of a procedure called ‘irrigation’ (in simple terms, ‘enema,’ to be done at night whereby I could do without using a bag. Now I can dress the way I choose and am happy to call myself a cancer survivor.
The Holy Bible says: “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). In 2012, I was diagnosed with a ‘brain tumour’ just when I thought that all was going well. I knew in my heart of hearts that my God, that great and mighty Healer, who had shown His faithfulness in the past, would not let me down this time around, too. His words, “I have come so that you may have life in its fullness” (John 10:10b), gave me due strength and confidence in Jesus. My post-surgery biopsy indicated a benign tumour – praise God.
When loneliness led me into severe depression, I felt it was the last straw on the camel’s back. Completely dejected, I looked up to my Lord and asked Him, “Why me, Lord! Why me? Please take me to yourself as I have completed my mission on this earth, and I am now ready to be with you!”
This time God spoke to me through Jeremiah 29:11 - “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity, not disaster. Plans to bring about a future you hope for.” I claimed that promise, and now, I am hale and hearty, free from all illnesses.
Joy fills my heart when I recall how the first wave of COVID-19 gave me two specific reasons to further glorify God for His goodness to me. First, my mother was admitted to the ICU with Pneumonia and there were fears expressed about COVID-19 affliction being a possibility. But the Lord healed her within seven days, promptly putting to rest all doubts and fears, setting her free from all ill-health.
Next, when I was due to fly to Goa, the mandatory RT-PCR Test report landed me in a COVID Care Centre on the faulty premise of having contracted COVID-19. Imagine the discomfiture of having to sleep, eat, drink and do all medical tests in the open company of some 200 to 300 strangers, all Covid patients. To cut a long story short, after further tests, I was finally declared COVID free.
Nevertheless, many feared that my close four-day, three-night-long exposure to the virus could eventually have its effect. But my Jesus was with me. With his hedge of protection around me, I have remained hale and hearty, Covid free.
A widow for the last 34 years, I know firsthand how difficult journeying through life without my spouse's company and coping with its vicissitudes can be. But my beloved Lord, Jesus Christ, is constantly by my side.
Not for nothing have I tattooed my right hand with the declaration: “I BELONG TO JESUS!” Overcoming life’s challenges and trials merely clinging to Him, I have triumphantly proved my God victorious! Jesus, my Healer, is my Protector, my Provider, my Spouse, loving and caring like no other.
His words assure me of His abiding presence—“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (cf Deut 31:6); “I have carved you on the palm of my hand!” (Isaiah 49:16a) How I love you, Jesus! Praise you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Hallelujah!