Hope in the Valley
About the Guest
Cancer is no respecter of persons. Cancer survivor Vivian Mabuni shares how she first came to faith in Christ as a teen. Mabuni recalls how she reacted when she received the faith-rattling diagnosis of breast cancer many years later. Hear how she rallied her prayer warriors-"the awesome threesome"-along with her family, to help her in the fight of her life.
Vivian MabuniVivian Mabuni joined staff with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) over 26 years ago and has served on the UC Berkeley and UCLA campuses and currently serves on the Epic National Executive Team (Epic is the Asian American ministry of Cru). An international conference and retreat speaker, Vivian also enjoys writing for SheReadsTruth. Her first book, Warrior In Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts (Discovery House Publishers) released April, 2015. Married...more
Cancer is no respecter of persons. Cancer survivor Vivian Mabuni recalls how she reacted when she received the faith-rattling diagnosis of breast cancer.
Hope in the Valley
Bob: Vivian Mabuni remembers getting the call from her doctor’s office—the call that caused her stomach to tighten up.
Vivian: I remember taking that phone call out in the garage because I needed privacy. The doctor said, “You have invasive lobular carcinoma.” Those were three words I had never heard before—I didn’t even know how to spell them. I said: “Excuse me. What does that mean?” She said: “I’m so sorry. You have breast cancer.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 5th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
Vivian Mabuni joins us today to say, “If you’re going to do battle against something like breast cancer, you can’t do battle alone.” Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. Now, we’re going to get a chance to spend time today with a very courageous young woman. In fact, we can call her a fellow warrior; can’t we?
Dennis: Well, she’s written a book called Warrior in Pink.
Bob: And we may not be in pink, but we’re warriors alongside of her.
Dennis: No doubt about it. Vivian Mabuni joins us on FamilyLife Today. Vivian, welcome to the broadcast.
Vivian: Thank you so much for having me.
Dennis: The fellow warrior reference that Bob was speaking of is—Vivian and her husband Darrin are veteran staff members of more than 26 years on Cru® staff.
Dennis: They have three children, live in California, and serve in a new ministry that I want you to explain to our listeners. It’s called Epic—the Epic Movement. Explain to them what Epic is all about.
Vivian: Epic Movement is Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ®’s ministry to Asian-American college students and their community and families.
Dennis: How many colleges across the country are you operating in?
Vivian: We currently have about 50 movements across the country of Epic.
Bob: And in spite of the fact that Vivian and her husband have been on Cru staff for 26 years, you look like you could be a graduate student at one of these schools. Your background—you’re Chinese American; is that right?
Vivian: That’s right.
Bob: What about your husband?
Vivian: He is half Japanese/Okinawan—so Mabuni is an Okinawan last name.
Vivian: He’s also Portuguese Hawaiian.
Bob: So you had quite a mix going on.
Vivian: Oh yes. All three of our kids look very different. You would never know they are related.
Bob: But nobody has blonde hair and blue eyes; do they?
Vivian: No, we don’t. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, share with our listeners how you came to faith in Christ because you didn’t necessarily grow up in a home of faith.
Vivian: Right; I did not. I grew up in a non-Christian home in Boulder, Colorado.
Boulder is known for its sometimes whacky beliefs. I was definitely one of those. I remember writing papers in high school about UFOs and Ouija boards. I always knew that there was a spiritual realm—I just didn’t understand how to reach that plane of existence.
I had a friend in high school. She started to change, right before my eyes, enough that I noticed something different about her. So I asked her, “What happened to you?” She said: “I began a personal relationship with Jesus. I became a Christian.” She was one gal that I really respected because she was intelligent and she was funny. I just thought, “How could you sell out to these Bible-thumping Jesus people?” But it started me thinking about eternal things.
What ended up happening was—I ended up with a list of questions about God: “If God is so good, why does He allow pain in the world? Why the Bible? How is it that we can trust the Bible as the Word of God?”
Vivian: “What about all the other religions?” Those are the types of questions I had as a high-schooler. My friend took me to a youth group. I had most of those questions answered in such a way that I knew that there was an intellectual basis for the Christian faith. Between my sophomore and junior year in high school, I placed my trust in Christ.
Bob: And what happened at home when you came to Mom and Dad and said, “I’ve had this spiritual awakening in my life.”
Vivian: Well, you know, I think that they probably just, at the time, considered it to be a phase I was going through because teenagers—we go through phases.
Dennis: Sure; sure.
Vivian: To be honest, it felt like a phase for me too. I didn’t have a Bible—so I drove to the mall, and bought my first Bible, and tried it, and it didn’t make sense. I tried praying—it didn’t make sense. Honestly, I just thought, “Well, maybe this God-thing is just another phase I’m going through.” I think that’s what my parents thought—it was a phase.
Bob: But it lasted longer than a phase for you. How did you get through those kinds of opening thoughts of, “Maybe it’s a phase”? How did it start to deepen in your own life?
Vivian: Well, what happened was my dad went through mid-life crisis—he did the sports car / then he came home one day, before my senior year in high school, and he announces that we are moving. We weren’t moving across town, and we weren’t even moving to another state. We were moving from Boulder, Colorado, to Hong Kong—right before my senior year. They literally dragged me, by my ankles, all the way across the ocean to Hong Kong.
Dennis: You wrote about this in your book. You were not that happy about what God was doing in your life at that time.
Vivian: No. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed. I just said: “I am so angry with You right now; but, in my heart of hearts, I really want to know You. So, I need a church. I need a youth group. I need some Christian friends. If You do that, I will give you my whole life / I will hold nothing back. Otherwise, I’m going to go out and get drunk and do something I’ll probably regret, but I’m never talking to You again.” That was this prayer—this ultimatum prayer that I prayed in Hong Kong.
Dennis: And so—
Bob: How did God answer that prayer?
Dennis: —what’s the rest of the story?
Bob: I’m guessing there were Christian friends and a youth group?
Vivian: Oh my goodness! I mean, I grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese. Cantonese is an entirely different dialect. So, I did not understand what was being communicated; but I ended up going to a school and getting involved in their debate team because they debated in English.
At a debate tournament, shortly after this prayer, one of the guys came up to me and said: “Excuse me. Are you a Christian? Would you like to come to our youth group?” I literally looked up into the sky and thought: “Oh my goodness. God heard my little prayers from that little bedroom.”
Vivian: It was a great little church in Hong Kong, where I learned about the Spirit-filled life. I learned about what it looked like to be a surrendered Christian / a yielded one. I followed through on my part of the deal—gave Him my whole life.
Dennis: And you ended up moving back to Boulder to enroll at the University of Colorado, back in Boulder.
Vivian: That’s right.
Dennis: You ended up becoming a part of what Cru was doing on the campus, and you had a campus director—who’s a friend—
Dennis: —his name is John Lamb.
Vivian: That’s right.
Dennis: You made an interesting observation about John and his wife that really opened the door to the possibility that you might want to be married someday.
Vivian: That’s right. Well, I, in my youthful zeal, had thought: “I’m going to be a missionary. I’m going to serve God with my whole life. It’s just going to be me, and a yak, and my Bible in Mongolia,”— that’s kind of the picture that I had of really being sold out for God.
I remember sitting there, as a freshman, in this weekly meeting of probably about 400 college students. John Lamb—we called him J.L.—he started to share about his relationship with his wife. The way that he described Nancy was so different than any way I’d ever heard a man speak of his wife before. I remember thinking, at that point, “If that could be a possibility for me in the future, I would want that.”
So, my now-husband has become good friends with J.L. We dated three months and got engaged. By the next following summer, we were married.
Vivian: Twenty-four years.
Dennis: Well, you’ve written a book—it’s about a journey that you had around a major health issue.
Dennis: You start the book with a story about a woman that you called an Asian Martha Stewart—
Vivian: That’s right.
Dennis: —and how she handled a health issue, as a woman.
Vivian: Yes. I had been meeting with a group of women for a Bible study. They were brand-new believers—so we were taking a good long time learning about the Bible—the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. As we met together, we began to trust one another.
One of the women in this group shared with me about this woman—her friend, who was the Asian Martha Stewart, and had this reputation of a perfect home. She always looked put-together—her children looked perfect / the food that she made—everything about her life was flawless.
Vivian: And then this woman was diagnosed with breast cancer. My friend found out and a few other people in the neighborhood found out. They all tried to reach out to help her, and she refused help. She was like: “I can take care of it. Don’t bother helping me. I’ll be fine.” She just shut everybody out, and went through all the harsh treatment of breast cancer, and could not hold her perfect world together. Tragically, she committed suicide; and she left behind her two kids and her husband.
Honestly, when I heard that story, we were sitting in a food court; but I felt like everything froze. God had my total attention—it was like, “You don’t even know this woman, but you can relate to being the one that likes to be the strong one—the one that likes to help others.” So I just prayed, right then—I just said, “God, if anything like this ever happens to me, I purpose, right here/right now, I will let people in.”
This was in October—two months before I received the phone call that I had breast cancer.
Dennis: I guess the message that you’ve written in your book is that, when we get news like this—and this is what you’re contrasting with this woman who committed suicide—is: “How we respond to tragedy—
Vivian: That’s right.
Dennis: —“how we go through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ [Psalm 23:4] will determine how we come out on the other side. We can either be isolated from people or we can be a part of community and engage with others.”
Take us back to when you first discovered you had some medical issues, and what caused you to go to the doctor in the first place?
Vivian: Yes. I had found a lump that was suspicious. I had gone to see my doctor, and she checked it. She wasn’t worried—she goes, “But just in case, I’ll give you a diagnostic mammogram.” It was right during Christmas season, where it’s crazy busy.
I was up until 1:00 am, trying to address those Costco® Christmas cards to all of our friends. My husband was on the elder board, at the time—so we had an orchestra concert and an elder board Christmas dinner. It was just the throes of Christmas. It was the Friday before school got out—so we had two Christmas parties at the elementary school—my daughter in first grade and my son in sixth grade in the elementary school. I ran out the door with my bag—with my Bible and my journal—and a scone, and my coffee, and ran out. I was going to go get the mammogram done, and then go to these two Christmas parties, and then go pick up my son from high school. It was this Friday before the break.
Vivian: I went in for the mammogram, and the technician was kind of troubled. She said: “You know, I really think that we need to get an ultrasound done. This is concerning me.” I remember sitting back in the waiting room, waiting for that ultrasound room to open. I just had my Bible and my journal. I had been reading through the Psalms at the time.
I think this is one of the things that I’ve appreciated—was just having a foundation, where I was in the Bible pretty regularly. I knew that God was speaking to me because it was just a part of that reading that I was doing regularly. It was in Psalm 66, verse 12—it said, “We went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out to a place of abundance.” I just felt like God just put on my heart—I’m sure this was a psalm written thousands of years ago—but “This, for you right now, is what’s ahead.” I just clung to that verse—and went from ultrasound to a core biopsy—and then to the grueling waiting to get the test results.
Bob: The ultrasound and the core biopsy all on the same day?
Bob: This was all on the same afternoon? You had gone in, thinking, “This is going to be my quick mammogram and there’s nothing wrong with me.” Was there any anxiety in getting this mammogram?
Vivian: You know, not really. Honestly, I fully intended to just get going with my day. I think that sometimes we get side-swiped.
Bob: And when they came back and said, “We should probably do the ultrasound,” did you start to get anxious then?
Vivian: Yes. At that point, I did. I remember that’s why I wanted to grab my Bible. I knew I needed to be grounded in the truth in the midst of instability with my circumstances.
Bob: And then a core biopsy—is that a needle biopsy that they did?
Vivian: Yes. They take samples of tissue—it’s kind of like when you picture Discovery Channel®—when they do the core into the earth, and then they pull it out, and you can see. They took tissue samples to find out the size of this mass and to determine if it was cancer.
Bob: And how long from the procedure until you got the news?
Vivian: Well, it felt like a thousand years. It was actually over the weekend. Living in Southern California, it never rains; but it was raining that Monday. It was raining sideways.
It was loud and cloudy, and it matched how I felt on the inside. I remember Darrin and I had had some fight about whatever it was, but there was just tension in the air. I remember taking that phone call out in the garage because I needed privacy.
What happened was—I got the call. The doctor said, “You have invasive lobular carcinoma.” Those were three words I had never heard before—didn’t even know how to spell them. I said: “Excuse me. What does that mean?” She said: “I’m so sorry. You have breast cancer.” She put through to set up another appointment and another appointment.
Then my husband came out to the garage. I think he could tell—I probably just looked pale—but he came and he went around to the side of the car door and stood outside and waited for me. I got out of the car and just told him—I said, “The doctor says it is cancer.”
I just broke down and just started sobbing. He took his arms and he just held me, strong as an oak, and he prayed. He prayed very simply—something along the lines of: “God, we are scared, and we don’t know what’s going on; but we trust that You’re with us. Please help us.”
It was a simple prayer; but, when I opened my eyes—we have on our garage door these little windows at the top of the garage door—and for that moment, the sky cleared. There was a sunbeam that came right through the windows, right where we stood. It was like the Lord was saying, “I’m with you, and I’m going to walk you through this.”
Dennis: Vivian, you, of course, would have no way of knowing this; but in the past three years, both Bob and I have held our wives in a similar situation. In Bob’s case, his wife didn’t have cancer—but a very serious tumor in the brain—and Barbara did have a less invasive form of breast cancer.
I think, for husbands—they need to understand, at those moments, what that is going to mean for them, along with a wife needing to know what that means to her—but would you kind of explain what a husband needs to know, at that point, because it’s not just a hug at a point in time.
Vivian: Right; right. You know, I’ve often said that Darrin is the strongest man I know, like a modern-day Jean Valjean because he carried our refrigerator a set of stairs when we first moved in our apartment, back when we were on staff at UCLA. You’re right—it’s not just a hug. In that moment, his embrace represented the strength and assurance that he was going to be there with me—I needed that.
Dennis: And also a reminder, spiritually, that God was going to be with you too.
Vivian: Yes, yes; exactly.
Bob: You had, over the weekend between the biopsy and the diagnosis—you had enlisted the prayer support of some key friends—
Bob: —that turned out to be a significant part of your journey; right?
Vivian: Yes; that’s right. I got back from that first doctor’s appointment, after the core biopsy; and I decided to compose an email to the women I would ask to be my bridesmaids, if I were to marry Darrin all over again. There were a number of women there, but three of them lived within ten minutes of me—I texted them, after that first email was sent out—I just said, “Hey, can you meet me at my Starbucks®?” I have a Starbucks down the street—people affectionately term it, “Oh, we’ll meet at Viv’s Starbucks.” “Can you meet me at my Starbucks? I really need you.”
The three of them showed up that Saturday. This was before I even knew the outcome. There was a part of me that felt a little bit foolish, like, “Maybe I’m overly being dramatic.”
They knew me well enough to know how hard it was for me to ask for help and to ask for that kind of support. They affectionately became known as The Awesome Threesome—Leila, and Kelly, and Debbie came alongside—and they knew how to hold my emotions without trying to fix them. They didn’t try to share Bible verses or talk me out of how I felt. They were just with me, and they gave me such an incredible gift.
I had learned, earlier, that there’s a difference between transparency and vulnerability. Transparency is an ability to share hard things you’ve gone through / some of the lessons you’ve learned—vulnerability is sharing raw, in real time, what’s going on / without any lessons learned. In that moment, I was choosing to be vulnerable. They knew how scary it was for me, but they were just such good friends to me.
Dennis: You chose to do the exact opposite thing that the Asian Martha Stewart did.
Vivian: Yes. In fact, that story was what came to mind before I texted them.
Bob: Your relationship with these three women, prior to this meeting at your Starbucks, would you say you guys were sisters-in-arms? Were you close prior to this?
Vivian: Yes. Several of our kids had grown up together / we had been in ministry at different points together. There was a deep trust and a track record of some hard things that all of us had gone through.
Bob: So you had community established that you could go to the bank and make a withdrawal on in this moment. It wasn’t like you found yourself, in this moment, trying to scramble to put together community. You had been investing in that prior to that weekend.
Vivian: Yes; yes. Any time I have an opportunity to speak with college students, especially college women, I’m always trying to encourage them to build into their female friendships because they really will go the distance, regardless of your marital state. Those female friendships are so key.
Relationships take time, and trust takes time. In the same way that God can bring together community, I think, quickly; but I think the investment and the constant development of those relationships made it.
Bob: I think, Dennis, for Vivian, the battle she was about to face—to have both the loving support of a husband but also to have the Awesome Threesome available—
Bob: —to not have either one would have taken a significant block out of the support structure that she needed.
Dennis: No doubt about that. You don’t build a roof in the middle of the storm.
Dennis: The roof needs to be in place before the storm clouds gather, and you had done that. You had done the work of establishing friendships and relationships without any dramatic need—just the need of one human being to another.
I think, sometimes, in our self-sufficient American way, we can communicate to other people we don’t need friendships and somehow get deluded ourselves into thinking we don’t need those. I don’t care who you are, from the top of the heap to the bottom of the heap—it doesn’t matter—you need friendships / you need community. You certainly need it when you go through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
Bob: Well, it’s one of the reasons why it’s important to be connected to a local faith community / to be a part of a church—and not just somebody who shows up on occasion and consumes a worship service—but somebody, who is engaged and doing life with other people, who are a part of that faith community / a part of that church. I think it’s also helpful to have the wise counsel of folks who have been down that path before you.
You may know somebody, as a listener, who would benefit from reading Vivian’s book. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” There you will find a link to Warrior in Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community, and a God Who Comforts by Vivian Mabuni. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order the book from us, online; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, thinking about the times in life when we need help and hope—if you were to put into two words what FamilyLife is all about, those are the words—practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and for your family.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to find out more from Vivian Mabuni about the journey that God had her on and the people who walked that journey with her as she battled breast cancer. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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