She probably had breast cancer.
Immediately, we arranged to send her to our provincial hospital in the city of Goroka for further evaluation, but the doctors there dismissed my discoveries and sent her home without even performing a biopsy.
By the time she came back to our clinic, not only had her cancer spread, but I was alarmed to discover she was pregnant.
I considered the dilemma. Lillian had a very progressed stage of cancer and her chances of survival were already low without adding in the complications of a pregnancy and delivery. On top of that, the increased hormone levels associated with her pregnancy would only accelerate the cancer growth.
When I could find the words to tell Lillian about her pregnancy, I had to be honest about the risks involved. But I also had to be honest about the precious life growing inside of her and God’s perspective on the sanctity of life.
Obviously, Lillian was overwhelmed by the news, but she agreed to have an ultrasound so I could introduce her to her little baby.
What began as shock quickly turned into determination when she saw her baby for the first time. In that moment, surrounded by the rhythmic beating of her baby’s heart, she decided his life was worth the sacrifice of her own. I promised I would help her walk through this journey in any way I could.
Through the pain of cancer and the discomforts of pregnancy, Lillian bravely carried on. But as her baby grew, so too did the deadly cancer consuming her from the inside out.
Nine months passed slowly, and Lillian’s suffering grew more and more each day. When the time came for her to give birth, she was overwhelmed by an intense, searing pain from a massive tumor in her chest. It was obvious how much the cancer had weakened her body. Terrified for her, I held her, praying encouragement and strength over her until her precious son was born into my arms.
That day, we named the healthy, baby boy Able—because God is Able!
Knowing that nursing would extend the hormones accelerating her cancer growth, Lillian asked that I take Able home and care for him while she traveled to the hospital for radiation treatment.
The goal was to decrease the size of the tumor and relieve some of her pain. But when Lillian saw that all the other radiation patients died despite treatment, she became scared and stopped radiation.
When she returned to our clinic, not only had her cancer started taking over her entire body, but I discovered another “little something” during an examination. She was pregnant again.
I gently broke the news to my sweet friend, and a distressed look fell across her face before she fainted.
Lillian knew the last straw of her life had just been plucked from her hand. Her last pregnancy had exploded the cancer growth, so we could only assume that this pregnancy would do the same. Again, she was faced with the impossible decision between her life, or what little was left, and the life of her baby.
Tears filling her eyes, Lillian bravely chose her baby. The two years she had spent with us had begun to change her. She saw how precious her young son was and deeply knew the value of human life. If the baby inside of her was like Able, she could not kill it.
So we dove deeper into God’s word together, as her health continued to decline. She attended all the ladies’ meetings where I was a guest speaker and teacher. As her hunger to know more about God increased, he slowly changed her heart.
A few months into her pregnancy, our fears came true. The cancer had spread into her lungs and brain. Lillian began to have intense and terrifying seizures. Sometimes her whole body would fold into a fetal position, and eventually she lost her ability to walk.
I sent out an urgent message to her family, telling them this was most likely their last chance to come visit Lillian. She was in agonizing pain that was almost unbearable to watch. The tumor had grown very large, and open sores covered her body.
Watching her convulse in pain broke me. With tears in my eyes and agony in my heart, I told her that I could give her stronger pain medication, but it may injure her precious baby. I was sure that there was no way Lillian would survive long enough to deliver. But even with the knowledge of her looming death, Lillian was determined to protect her baby, despite her crippling, all-consuming pain. She chose not to take the medication.
I believe that God saw and honored that choice for life, because there’s no medical explanation for what happened next, other than miraculous grace. Lillian began to improve.
One day, I was scheduled to speak at a ladies’ conference, and Lillian was determined to attend. She started pulling herself from the bedroom, down our hallway, into the bathroom, refusing a wheelchair or any assistance. Slowly, the pulling became a crawl. Then, she started to force her weight onto her feet, turning them from an inward position to stand flat on the floor. Step-by-step she forced each foot forward, until she was walking.
By the time the meeting started, she was there, patiently waiting. The whole time, she was completely focused on me, intently listening to each word of each session. God was at work in her heart.
Through some miracle, Lillian did carry that baby to full term, and I had the joy of delivering precious baby Joyce, who was named by Lillian after my own mama. I took Joyce immediately after the birth to care for her. Then, I began to watch Lillian slowly slip away.
It was at another ladies’ meeting, just months after Joyce’s delivery, that God answered our heart cry. When I invited people to give their lives to Christ, Lillian’s hand immediately went up. As tears poured down my face, I held both Lillian and baby Joyce in my arms as Lillian came to accept Jesus as her Savior.
Lillian had nine precious months with Joyce, which was longer than any of us had dared wish for. But eventually the day we’d been expecting for years finally came.
I held my dear sister in my arms as she struggled for each breath.
We gazed into each other’s eyes, making a silent promise, a mama oath between us, that I will always look after her babies.
And then she was gone.
Her face finally relaxed, free from pain and suffering, as she entered into the glorious arms of her Lord and Savior.
To this day, I still care for Able and Joyce with the help of their pastor uncle. We are working together as a team to make sure they attend school, have clothes and food, and learn about Jesus.
But most importantly, we make sure they know how much their mama loved both of them.
Lillian made the ultimate sacrifice for them, but in the end, their lives are what brought Lillian to eternal life! It was a beautiful example of sacrificial love, and an incredible journey to watch, as Lillian learned to love our Lord through deep suffering and pain.
Lori Smith and her husband Bill have been serving in Papua New Guinea since 1990. Together, they are church planters, using the tools of medical evangelism, baby care ministry, and theological education. Lori works alongside nationals at Seigu Baptist Clinic to provide quality healthcare to the surrounding areas. Since it was founded, the clinic has flourished, serving 22,000 patients in 2021 alone. The clinic also cares for 678 pregnant women and delivers 68 babies annually.
Time is short and eternity matters—which is why we started the Global Gospel Fund. It empowers missionaries like Lori committed to evangelism, church planting, and pioneering new fields. One gift supports the work of 1,000 missionaries.