Before the diagnosis, life was “pretty normal” for Kristi and Joe Arns. They spent their time keeping up with kids (JT, 14, Adri, 19, and Jeremy, 22), family, work, and their neighbors’ tennis team and enjoying the beach on weekends. “Normal” also included being a part of Access Church, serving in Waumba Land and Guest Services and going to Community Group every week.
When Kristi got a callback after her routine mammogram this past July, she didn’t think too much of it. It had happened before and turned out to be nothing. “It was when I realized they were not looking at the same spot as they did the last year that the fear started,” she said.
A day after her follow-up tests, she had two biopsies. When she and Joe talked with her doctor, the fear grew. “I really tried to find peace in knowing God was in control and that he does not make mistakes, but negative feelings continued to grow inside me,” she said.
Five days later Kristi and Joe got the news no one wants to hear: “You have breast cancer.” Suddenly “normal” changed. “My worst fear became a reality,” Kristi said. “We were on an emotional rollercoaster, trying to process everything and make hard decisions. Joe kept positive while I was focused on the worst-case scenario and trying to prepare myself.”
As they moved toward surgery and treatment, everything in their world was affected. “Cancer seemed to have control of my life,” Kristi said.
Every day was redefined. “A bad day was when Joe and I just did not see eye-to-eye, when I did not empathize with the fact that this was taking a toll on him just as much as it was me, just in different ways,” she said. “A good day was when I saw his raw support and positivity even when I was broken down, and I was able to keep focused on Jesus and his Word, which spoke encouragement, peace, and love to me.”
When Joe and Kristi told their Community Group that Kristi had cancer, the power of community went to work. “We were surrounded with love and support,” she said.
Group members sent messages of encouragement, brought meals, and circled around Kristi and Joe in any way they could. While Kristi underwent a double mastectomy, two reconstructive surgeries, and ongoing immunotherapy, the Arns felt the difference the group’s prayers made. “Having a group of people you can ‘do life’ with is something like no other,” Kristi said. “Even when that means fighting cancer.”
The Arns have been a part of Access Church Community Groups for four years. “Church was a great place to receive an applicable message, but group was a way to help us apply it to our lives,” Kristi said. “We have stayed committed because of the relationships we made.”
Like every busy family, the Arns have felt the cost to their schedules. “It may be hard to take the time to get to group, but we always walk away saying, ‘I’m so glad we came!’” Kristi said.
Community Groups are for connection. Connected, you know you are not alone, whatever you are facing. “Group is for ‘normal,’ whatever that looks like in your life, the good days and the bad,” Kristi said.
Connection is what changes you and changes those who stand with you. “I’ve changed,” Kristi said. “I realized that this world is not my own, that God has his plan for me and will keep me in the palm of his hand as those plans come to pass.”
Joe and Kristi’s Community Group members have changed as well. “The Arns’ journey with cancer drew us closer together,” said Group Leader Aaron Ellinger. “It allowed us to grow by serving Joe and Kristi. We saw them grow through receiving, even though it’s not natural for either of them.”
Today Kristi’s tumors are gone, and her lymph nodes are clear. She considers herself cancer free, and her group celebrates answered prayers together. “We’ve celebrated together as Kristi moved through each milestone with success, including when she got back to tennis practice!”
Connected, we are stronger. We remind each other what does not change, even when “normal” does: God’s love and faithfulness. “As horrible as cancer is, it cannot cripple love, cannot shatter hope, cannot corrode faith, cannot eat away peace, cannot destroy confidence, cannot shut out memories, and cannot silence courage,” Kristi said. “I truly believe it was the support of my family, friends, Access, and our Community Group that kept me strong during this journey.”
Whatever comes, whatever “normal” looks like, connection makes all the difference in the journey. At Access, we cannot tell you enough how important community is. If you’re not in a Community Group, coming up this Sunday, January 29, is a chance for you to get into a group and experience this kind of connection. Our GroupLink event is designed to make the process of joining a group comfortable and fun. Register for GroupLink online today, and join us Sunday at 6:00pm.Posted January 24, 2017