The Union Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas is lucky to have Joyce Montgomery, a living testament to the power of prayer.
Her faith is incredibly strong.
Montgomery is a peritoneal mesothelioma survivor who was told six years ago she had only 10 months to live.
When her cellphone rang unexpectedly earlier this month, she was having a pedicure while sharing stories at her local salon. You could “hear her smile” from a thousand miles away.
“I’m feeling great right now,” she said with obvious pride. “I really am. Miracles happen. You don’t always understand why or how, but they happen. I’m proof of that. God can work wonders, if you believe.”
At the time of diagnosis in 2010, this incurable cancer already had spread from the abdominal lining, where it started, to her liver. The prognosis was grim. Hospice was called, and the family knew what that meant. Her younger sister had passed just two years before, a 38-year-old victim of breast cancer.
“I believe God gave me a second chance, and he did it for a reason. And that’s to do what I do now: Encouraging others and helping as much as I can,” she said. “I believed that God would heal me, and he did.”
Montgomery, 49, has turned her cancer fight into a personal awakening, providing her with a new purpose in life, and a joyful determination to spread the word.
She underwent an aggressive, 10-hour cytoreductive surgery at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas and a two-drug chemotherapy cocktail regimen in 2010. Together, they made the tumor cells disappear, and hopefully, never come back.
She talked about the surgeon’s hands that did the work, but she also talked about God’s hands that made it possible.
Regular imaging scans throughout the past six years have shown no signs of recurrence.
Peritoneal mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos, is a rare and aggressive cancer that starts in the lining around the abdomen. The diagnosis typically comes with a prognosis of 9-24 months, depending on a variety of factors.
“It’s amazing, even the doctors are really surprised. Most people who get this cancer just assume they are going to die soon,” she said. “But I’m a living witness that doesn’t always happen. I cried when they diagnosed me but just decided that even though I had cancer, cancer wasn’t going to have me. I knew I had God on my side. I was ready to fight. And I prayed.”
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Her prayers were answered, and six years later, she is spending much of her time spreading hope to others. She does regular ministry work for the Baptist church in Dallas, speaks at local cancer centers and meets with cancer patients in groups and individually. She tells her story convincingly, and she encourages relentlessly.
Peritoneal mesothelioma has pushed her from being an almost shy, more casual believer to a vocal leader within the church, presenting herself as an example of God’s good work.
“She was involved before but was never the take-charge kind of person that she is now,” Dr. Charles Martin, longtime pastor at the Union Missionary Baptist Church said. “The bubbly you see now is what has come about from her walk with the Lord, and how he was there in the midst of her struggle with cancer.”
Martin’s wife and co-pastor Earlene Martin is a cancer survivor, too. She and Joyce talked and prayed together at length after her diagnosis. Her faith grew considerably. The entire congregation prayed for her. They lifted her. And she has inspired others in return.
“Some people don’t know or believe much about God as a healer until they find themselves in a situation where they need his healing power,” Martin said. “Joyce sees now that not only did God heal her, he healed her with a purpose.”
She talked about the importance of her support group and staying in a positive environment. Her two grown children, five older siblings and husband have been at the center of it all, but there have been so many more.
“I had an unbelievable support team, and that’s so important with something like this. You surround yourself with people who are positive,” she said. “I always believed, but that belief grew stronger through this journey.”
Montgomery doesn’t just attend prayer groups regularly. She leads them most of time. She has stayed in touch with the nurses who cared for her, turning some of them into believers, too. Her mother is a longtime breast cancer survivor who attends the same church. Together, they are a powerful force.
“We’re so glad to have Joyce with us, and how she was able to stand tall and come through this situation. That’s the most incredible thing,” Martin said. “That in the midst of all this, she stood and demonstrated what it means to be victorious.”