5 Things Cancer Taught Me and Their Ministry Applications

My friend and women’s leader Leighann McCoy shares with us her journey and how that has impacted her ministry. Think about what God has allowed you to experience and the difference it has made in the way you serve.

I am the women’s minister at Thompson Station Church, and have been for a very long time. My husband is the senior pastor (and also has been for a very long time). What I’m about to write will be especially applicable to those in our somewhat exclusive club of women who serve as both women’s ministry leaders and pastor’s wives but these things are also applicable to anyone serving  in leadership and ministry.

Since 2010, cancer has been part of my life—in my own body. It started in my colon then traveled to my liver. I have had 2 surgeries and a full round of chemotherapy. I’ve been scoped, scanned and tested. I’m hopeful as I write this that we’ve removed that cancer clear through to the root. Last year when we discovered the cancer that invaded my liver I talked to God about it and this is what He said, “This cancer is purposeful. If you knew what I’m doing with it, you would eagerly agree to suffer through it.” I decided to take Him at His word and trust that I was enduring purposeful cancer. As I suffered, I chose not to even try to imagine what great purpose was coming through. But now that I’m 6 months on the other side of my last chemo treatment, I’m beginning to recognize some of the blessings God was delivering to me. And the great thing is that there are five things cancer taught me that have direct application to the way I do ministry.

I hope that one of the purposes of my cancer was so that you could learn these five things without having to be scoped, scanned, cut upon and filled with chemo.

  1. Cancer taught me that the fear of death is a big blubbering bag of bluff (for the believer). I wrote a book about David and Goliath and called Goliath a big blubbering bag of bluff—for although he threatened the Israelites for days on end, he was taken down with a shepherd’s well-placed river rock. Goliath’s power was nothing compared to God’s. Death is the same for the believer. As I faced my own mortality I rested in the truth of God’s Word and the certainty of eternal life.  Because I’ve stared death in the face, the crises that used to stir me to worry don’t have that effect on me anymore. I am not that terribly concerned when someone criticizes my man nor am I too terribly ruffled when a leader falls in sin. I am compassionate and eager to partner with God in restoring relationships and helping the fallen but I don’t tremble, I don’t wring my hands and wonder what to do next. I simply remember that God is on His throne and this (whatever this might be) did not catch Him off guard.
  2. Cancer introduced me to my limitations. Actually chemo did that. You’d have to know me to understand how profound this lesson was. I was the kind of person who would have walked up to Humpty Dumpty all splattered on the ground, and I would’ve thought to myself, “even if all the kings horses and all the kings men can’t put Humpty together again, somehow I can figure this out.”  When chemo began to have its’ affect on my health, there were days when my husband said, “Leighann your only job today is to breathe.” And that was what I did. I was so sick I didn’t really have a choice. Now that I am healthy again, I choose to remember that I am not super woman. There are limits to what I am able to accomplish and when I choose to live inside those boundaries I free others up to live inside theirs. This makes me a better team player and a more humble leader.
  3. Cancer increased my compassion for others. I now know what it’s like to be sick. I know what it’s like to hear the doctor say, “I’m sorry but it’s cancer” and feel my world spin so fast that I lose my balance. I slow down now to really listen when women need to share their pain. I look them in their eyes and even though I’m not a hugger by nature—I give them a hug and assure them that I know God will walk with them every step of the miserable way. Because I’m not distracted by Humpty’s demise, I can really love the people God places in my path.
  4. Cancer taught me that it’s not my job to meet the never-ending needs of others. As I was going through cancer I began leading a small group for women. Everyone in that group was going through something big; divorce, alcoholic husband, wayward children, death of their husband…big stuff! We nicknamed ourselves the island for misfit toys. My pre-cancer self would have left each gathering burdened by the pressure of having to somehow help each woman overcome. But since I was dealing with my own stuff, I took on the role of a come-alongside wounded warrior who insisted on believing that we were going to win the war. As my health has returned I’ve continued to embrace this mindset. And together our little group is learning to trust God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
  5. Cancer set my priorities in order. One of the hardest things for women is living a balanced life. When I first heard the word “cancer” as it related to me, my thoughts quickly wandered over to the place where I took a good look at what I was doing as compared to what I wanted to do if I only had months to live. I adjusted my priorities and began living for what mattered most to me without any worry over what others might think I should be doing. A few years later when that dreaded “spot” returned I rested in the fact that I would not change a thing even if I were to be headed to Glory in less than a year. This is perhaps the greatest blessing of all. Jesus put it like this in John 17:4 “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” What a powerful testimony! Don’t you want it to be yours?


You don’t have to suffer through cancer in order to apply these truths to your ministry. I’m sure that you’ve experienced your own trials and learned some purposeful lessons as well. As you continue filling the call God’s placed on your life, find confidence in knowing that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.


Leighann McCoyLeighann McCoy, graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the senior pastor’s wife, Thompson Station Church, Thompson Station, TN, mother of three and grandmother of one, as well as a writer and speaker. Currently, she serves on staff at Thompson Station Church as the prayer and women’s minister, and is a frequent speaker at women’s events and prayer conferences. Throughout her ministry, she has served in several denominational positions relating to children and women’s ministries. She is the author of nine books including A Woman’s Guide to Hearing God’s Voice and  Spiritual Warfare for Women published by Bethany House.


  1. Kristi says

    Thank you for sharing these 5 points. God worked with me for 7 weeks this summer after He placed something on my heart at a You Lead event in Rhode Island. I had a secret that needed telling so He could begin to develop a ministry in my area through it. All the materials I needed to begin were given to me at the conference. I did not really want to go there with Him as I had kept this secret for a long time. But knowing and trusting His plans are always for my growth and good I agreed with Him on it. Well, He allowed me the privilege (for 7 weeks) of reliving all the feelings of shame, grief, sadness, guilt, condemnation, you name it, that all these as yet unknown women are living in. He allowed my heart to be totally broken in love and compassion for them. I now know He needed to be sure there would never be one ounce of judgement or condemnation for them in me. I must say I was very relieved when He revealed His purpose in my suffering as I didn’t understand why I was feeling all this. It was then that I became free to share my secret with those closest to me. He is so very faithful to prepare and equip us for what He asks us to do just as 1Thess 5:24 says He will. I love your attitude and will look forward to hearing from you more on the blog.
    May God bless you richly today. Kristi

    • Chris Adams says

      God is SO good to take our lives, change us and then use us to impact others. Thank you so much, Kristi for sharing your journey. So grateful you were at the RI YOUlead and that God used that to minister to and now THROUGH you to others!

      • Kristi says

        Oh Chris,
        He surely did. I feel pretty inadequate so it is a good thing it is when we are weak that we are made strong. The funny thing about the RI YOUlead is that I went so I could gift a friend with the conference. I never expected to be impacted. I believe sometimes God has a sense of humor in His sense of timing. I appreciate the time you take away from home and loved ones to do what you do, Chris. You make a difference. Kristi

  2. says

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this with me. There is such encouragement in hearing how God works through our suffering. I’m beginning to understand that there truly is NOTHING that can separate us from His love; His power and His desire to pour His love and power in and through us. Understanding this changes the way I pray and the way I minister. Now, rather than stress over the hurts people are enduring, I ask God to reveal Himself to them every step of the way. “Oh the peace we often forfeit!”

    • Kristi says

      That was very well put. You are so right. Do you not just long for all the women you work with to be able to grasp that for themselves? That is exactly how I pray for them, too! Kristi

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