How's this for a birthday message? You have breast cancer.

That was the devastating news Kelli Beckman, of Denham Springs, received 10 years ago on her 36th birthday, days after taking a routine mammogram. No symptoms. No signs. No family history. 

"It basically turned my world upside-down because it came out of nowhere," Beckman said of the diagnosis that required a bilateral mastectomy and several other surgeries.

Beckman's world didn't stop turning there. In 2011, she was diagnosed with a Stage 4 tumor in her skull. And in October, she had a recurrence in her femur.

"I know I'm on borrowed time," said Beckman, wife of Episcopal High School basketball coach Chris Beckman and the mother to four boys ages 11, 20, 21 and 23.

The head tumor that Beckman calls "Big Daddy" came with "Big Daddy's babies" — another tumor on the left side of her head, three lesions at the bottom of her head, a tumor in her spine and another in her pelvic bone. She is waiting on more testing to determine if she will need to do chemotherapy.

"At that point (in March 2011), they told me they couldn't remove the tumor. Their goal was hopefully I'd be able to see Christmas," she said.

But it was Beckman's faith that enabled her to express her feelings to God like never before and to her enemy cancer — in a letter.

Radiation treatment for her head tumor required Beckman, a claustrophobic, to wear a mask and have her head bolted to a table. Through the treatments, Beckman got over her fear of being in closed spaces and got closer to God.

"I thought I had a good relationship with God. I went to church and prayed. But it was more of an everyday this is what I'm supposed to do. I wasn't as close as I thought I was," said Beckman, who attends Live Oak Methodist Church in Watson. "By the end of doing those 36 treatments, that was such a time for me to meditate and have some one-on-one with God, and it became a daily friendship. … I recognized there was more to being in a relationship with God than asking for the same things."

God also provided answers .

"When I was first diagnosed, I brushed off the Bible and started searching for answers," she said. "It took some time for me to recognize and figure things out. The Bible has reassurance in it if you're looking for it."

Beckman also found a release by putting some of her thoughts on paper. Beckman said her "Letter to Cancer" was her way of getting the "ugliness" out of her life to make more room for blessings and put her battle in perspective.

Dear Cancer,

When I think of you, I envision you as an evil being, much like the devil with a grotesque body, malicious smile, and wicked eyes. I imagine that you are sitting on your makeshift throne and pointing a staff at random people inflicting them with your toxic disease. … I know that you are probably smiling as you are reading this, thinking to yourself, Yes, I have done my job. But there is something that I think you should know. This letter that I am sending you, well, it is a letter of gratitude. Please give me an opportunity to explain. …

At first, I thought you had won; especially the other day, when I began to list all of the things that you had stolen from me. These things weighed heavily on my heart but it's funny, because the more I began to pray to God about these things, the more I recognized that I was looking at this the wrong way.

I am utmost grateful to you for this as if you hadn't zapped me with your rod, I would have never known how wonderfully, loving, caring, supportive this world could be. … You have given me the opportunity to learn to trust and let go and live. …

The letter along with being able to help and share with others have given Beckman a sense of purpose.

"It gives me an opportunity to talk to people about God and talk about all of the blessings and how not to just dwell on the negatives out of what's going on. It's not going to cure your cancer, but it'll give you a more meaningful life," she said.

Cancer is a horrible disease, and Beckman said she has a responsibility to help others cope with it.

"Once you have it, you instantly know their fear and know their thoughts," she said. "It's nice to have someone who knows exactly what you're going through. It's hard to speak to new people, because I hate it for them. I hate anyone has to endure this."

Beckman said she's complimented often on her strength.

"It's not about strength," she said. "It's about knowing what your purpose is. I really truly feel that our purpose is to help other people. That's what we're supposed to be doing anyway."

She wants to be strong for her husband and blended family.

"Although we've been together a long time, this isn't what he signed up for," she said of husband Chris.

Beckman said it's been a blessing for her to have compassion for others and believes her boys have learned through her example.

"I hate for them go through this and watch their mom at her darkest moment, but at the same time, they have been spiritual and compassionate and giving humans. What more could you ask for your children," she said.

Through highs and lows, Beckman has been thankful.

"Every morning, I walk outside to the back porch, and I start thanking him. I thank him for allowing me to wake up," she said. "Even during my darkest moments of chemo, it would start out with me thanking him for allowing me to get out of bed."

Beckman credits her husband for supporting her decision to retire at age 46 from her financial position to spend more valuable time with family.

"I decided to retire early and enjoy life and do the things that I want to do, not saying that I'm dying. But I feel good and don't want to have those regrets," she said.

She admits the journey has been difficult at times.

"I'm six years out from Stage 4 where I didn't know if I was going to have another year," said an emotional Beckman. "I wasn't sure I was going to be around for my child's first birthday. I bargained with God. He knows we're only human. I struggle that I probably won't be here to see my youngest son go through all kinds of things. So take every moment to enjoy every single little thing with my children and husband; I know that has him. I know God has a journey for each one of my children. As much I trust him with my life, how can I not trust him with he's doing with them."

Beckman's life of hope for herself and others is exemplified by one of her favorite scriptures: Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

"I do have hope. The journey I'm going through — there are trials, things that happen to me — but I gain so much more than what I lose," she said. "This isn't heaven. If everything were perfect here, there would be no heaven. (Jeremiah 29:11) speaks to me because it reminds me that this plan God has for me is to better me and has bettered me. … I'm honored God has used me as vessel to give someone else hope."

Another day. Another blessing.

I let out a big cheer after the final play of Super Bowl LII as Philadelphia beat New England. But I let out out a bigger cheer and a hallelujah after the game when the winning Eagles coach Doug Pederson had a shoutout to his "Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa expressed similar thoughts after winning the national championship.

I don't always agree with players, entertainers and other well-known people taking opportunities on big platforms to express their faith because many people say it for show and is no reflection of their lifestyle or faith walk. But from Pederson I believe it meant something because I've heard stories about his love for Christ and the faith of so many of his players.

The Eagles regularly hold prayer meetings and Bible study. Quarterbacks Nick Foles (the Super Bowl MVP) and Carson Wentz have been faithful leaders. In fact, Wentz's motto is "Audience of One" because he says no matter what he does in life, he is living for an Audience of One — and that is Jesus Christ. His AO1 Foundation shows his love of God by helping others in need.

The best witness we can be for Christ is showing his love and just being good to all people. We don't have to beat people over the head with our "religion." But we do have a responsibility as believers and should always be prepared to tell a dying world about a risen Savior. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, "You will be my witnesses," and 1 Peter 3:15-16 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

Pederson gave credit to God for blessing him to be in a position to win a Super Bowl. He knew where all his help came from and he wasn't afraid to give God the glory in front of millions of people.


Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.