For the last five years, Jana Robey has battled a rare form of cancer. Her cancer may be one in a million, but so is she.
At first, surgery for a tumor on her spine seemed like a blip for the strong, athletic 15-year-old who loved running from goal to goal in fast-paced field hockey games and hanging out with friends at church and at school.
Only it wasn’t just a blip.
Robey has been through chemotherapy, 37 radiation treatments, surgery, endless tests, the ups of clear scans and the downs of new tumors, always praying for radical healing.
Among Christmas trees and lights, Robey, 21, rolls her wheelchair up to her grandmother’s piano in her home, rests her hands on the keys, closes her eyes and sings one worship song after another.
She wrote words and music to each one.
Listen to the words. They are not about suffering, though she’s been through too much of that. They’re not about loss. She’s been through plenty of that, too. She lost her long blonde hair, sight in one eye, hearing in one ear, her ability to walk. And the list goes on.
She sings about the peace God has given her, tenacious faith that God is good even when news is hard to hear. About God, who is her doctor, teacher, her best friend. About joy.
Her voice echoes through the room.
“His love is strong, His love is true, He’ll carry you. He holds us now. Our God is good. His love is strong.”
“I could sit here all day long,” Robey said. “Sometimes the words come first from what I’m reading in the Bible, sometimes it’s the melody.”
Like most kids, Robey fought piano practice when she was young. As an adult, she’s glad her mom persevered. Now music is her voice. Nothing silences her song.
“I wrote my most recent song for people I see at the Novak Center getting chemo,” she said. “I’ve shared my songs with them and asked them to come to church with me. I tell them Jesus loves them. I wrote ‘This God I Know’ for them. He’s not just for me. He’s holding out His hand to them, too.”
Robey’s theme through this journey is Exodus 14:14: “‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’”
“We chose that verse because the Israelites faced impossible odds,” Jana’s mother Jackie said. “They had to let God fight for them. Jana had to be still through chemo and radiation. We believe He’s fighting for her.”
From the beginning, the Robeys chose not to ask why. They do ask how God can be glorified in what happens every day.
Over the years, thousands at Southeast Christian Church, friends and family have prayed for Robey’s healing. They wear #pray4Jana bracelets.
Bible verses are posted everywhere at the Robey home—reminders of who God is and what He’s already done. “I am your Healer” is tucked into Robey’s picture in the family room. “I am the Bread of Life” is posted on the toaster.
Jana’s father Jeff often says he wishes he could trade places with her.
“I would let you,” Robey said one day with a smile.
Robey is more serious about faith than the “stuff” of life. She laughs at herself, teases her brother, dyed her hair blue before it fell out during chemo. She grabbed for normal when scans were clear. She took a mission trip to Honduras and spent time with kids with cancer at Camp Quality. She moved to Ohio to attend Cedarville University.
Of course, there are days Robey wishes for a different journey.
“There are days I feel sorry for myself. If this hadn’t happened, I’d still be playing field hockey. I’d still be in college,” she said. “But I’ve learned so much through this. This causes me to lean on Him. I can’t imagine if I weren’t this close to God. I’m thankful for that.”
Merryll Loy, who is part of Southeast’s Worship Ministry, has known Robey since they were kids—long before cancer.
“Jana loved God her whole life,” Loy said. “She had faith before her diagnosis. Her faith has changed me and so many others. She talks with me about the peace God has given her through all of this. I believe it’s changing the way people see life with God.”
Robey is busy creating one-of-a-kind gifts for Christmas.
“I think about how Christmas is Emmanuel, ‘God with us,’” Robey said. “I feel Him with me a lot. He’s moving in my life.”
Robey’s most recent scan showed no progression of her disease. Following a longstanding tradition, the Robeys will celebrate Christmas with family in Florida.
“We celebrate the birth of our Savior with joy in our hearts,” Jackie Robey said. “What an amazing God we have and what love He has for us to send Jesus to redeem us so we might have life to the full.”
There are nine things Robey wants people to know about going through hard things:
>God is still good even when we don’t understand His ways.
>While you’re waiting, “Be still and know He is God.”
>God is in the pit with us, even when hurt is excruciating and even when we can’t fix what’s broken.
>We can seek God in the midst of sorrow.
>When we’re overwhelmed, look for every small thing to be grateful for.
>God gives us exactly what we need for each day. That causes us to learn to trust Him more.
>The darker it gets, the brighter the light of Jesus.
>God promises strength for the day. Don’t try to look ahead.
>God will use your story for His glory if you let Him.
To hear more of Robey’s story, listen to Kyle Idleman’s One At A Time podcast at www.oneatatimepod.com.