One year to live – the story of Esther Childress

One year to live

In the late summer of 2011 Esther was diagnosed with bone cancer.

She was only 12 years old and had just over one year to live. She died in December 2012. But she died in Christ and ‘her hope in God was incredible’, says her sister Miriam.

As a child of the manse, the daughter of Pastor Gavin Childress and his wife Kathy of Grace Baptist Chapel, Tottenham, in North London, Esther did not take to church to begin with. ‘Before I became a Christian’, Esther said, ‘I came to church because I had to, not because I really wanted to. I’d rather stay at my friend’s house or at home.’

The family had six children, including Esther. But ‘I was slowly moving away from God and my family’, said Esther. ‘I was never at home. I would bunk off school and deceive my parents. It wouldn’t really bother me that I was sinning against God and I was gradually becoming not a very nice person.’

But God…

But, through what happened in August 2011, God stepped into Esther’s life. Esther explained: ‘I remember going to St. Ann’s Hospital for an X-ray. I had been getting bad pain in my right leg and I wasn’t able to sleep. I was sent to North Middlesex Hospital for more scans and, shortly after having a biopsy, I was diagnosed with bone cancer’. This came as a great shock to Esther and everyone around her. It had been thought that the problem was simply down to some severe growing pains.

Over the next year or so Esther had six different types of chemotherapy, two operations to remove tumours, radiotherapy and an operation to give her a metal knee. But none of these treatments worked and the cancer eventually spread to her lungs. ‘It was hard going to hospital and keep hearing bad news’, said Esther.

As this terrible crisis broke upon young Esther, God met with her and she turned to Christ. As she gave her testimony before she was baptised last September, she said: ‘I have never felt angry with God or questioned him about why I am going through all of this. I feel like God is testing my faith and this illness was supposed to, and has, brought me closer to him. Over time, as I have needed God more and more, it’s made me put him at the centre of my life, and has made me into a changed person. I know that I am in God’s hands and I’m ready for whatever or wherever he wants my life to go, however hard it might be.’

Amazing Saviour

This sense of confidence in Christ came to pervade Esther’s life. ‘I have put my trust in God and I know he will do what’s best for me in my life. I have realised that Jesus is my Saviour and I’ve asked him to forgive me for all my sins. It is so amazing that someone can wash away all my sins, so that it’s like I never sinned in the first place.’ She also said: ‘I don’t expect God to heal me. He may have other plans for me. But, whatever happens, it’s amazing to know where I’m going to end up on judgment day. God has given me so many blessings in my 13 years of life. In this last year I went on a Mediterranean cruise, I have been able to spend time in Dorset and I’ve got a dog called Hope.’

Fruits of faith

Through her cancer and her hospital treatment God began to open Esther’s eyes to the needs of other people. Esther explained: ‘Before I got saved I was quite a selfish person. I always did what I wanted to do, even when I hurt someone else’s feelings. It wouldn’t bother me because I was not that person’. But she changed. Faith produced the fruit of love. ‘During this last year I’ve had to put myself in other people’s shoes because I turned into that other person. For example, because of having different operations on my leg, I have had to go around in a wheelchair. People look at you differently. It has made me realise how much other people have to go through in similar situations.’

And Esther’s sensitive thoughts became more than good intentions. They were turned into acts of kindness. It was this aspect of the change in her which particularly struck her sister Miriam, who describes some of the practical projects in which Esther got involved. ‘She raised lots of money for the homeless people of central London by selling Christmas decorations. Despite being in and out of hospital and in severe pain, she went out in the cold last November to distribute sleeping bags and hot food and drink to the homeless. And she wrote a will leaving her savings of about £12,000 to homeless charities, Water Aid and Christian Aid’s mosquito net appeal.’

This practical kindness reminds us of the apostle Paul’s words concerning the nature of genuine Christianity: ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5.6).

Changed for the better

At her baptism Esther summed up her experience like this: ‘It may sound crazy, but, although this illness has brought me a lot of pain and discomfort, and although I can’t do everything I would like to do, in some ways this illness has changed my life for the better. I don’t know what I would be like if I hadn’t got ill. I don’t know that I would have got saved or appreciated life, or realised that every day that I live is a blessing from God. I thank the Lord for making me ill. It made me recognise all these things. It made me accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.’

She concluded: ‘I’m so grateful that God has given me 13 years of life, loving parents who have supported me, friends and family who have continued praying for me and, most importantly, his Son Jesus Christ, who died for me’.

Esther lived to see her 14th birthday on December 3 last year and went to be with the Lord on December 27 at her home in Tottenham.

John Benton

(This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057)