My name is Anna Mathias. When I was twenty-two months old I was diagnosed with a malignant neuroblastoma, located in the nerves along my spinal cord. I soon underwent a twelve hour surgery that resulted in ninety-five percent of the tumor being removed. I then was given several rounds of chemotherapy, in hopes of killing the remaining cancer. However, when I was four years old the tumor started to grow again. I received another extensive surgery, this one with the intent of removing the entirety of the tumor. There was a fifty percent chance I would be paralyzed from the waist down if something went wrong with this surgery.
Fortunately, my surgeon was able to remove all of the tumor, and I have been cancer-free for about fifteen years now. My family always tells me how incredible it was that I was able to stay strong throughout the whole endeavor. My doctor constantly calls me her “miracle patient” whenever I go for my yearly check-ups. I come from a very religious family. Growing up, praying as a family and going to Mass was always a regular occurrence, so much so that it started to feel as if I was going through the motions. I did not feel a fire burning in my heart for God, there was no real passion behind my beliefs.
When I was about twelve years old, my grade school religion teacher said to me, “There is a difference between knowing of God and knowing God.” This simple phrase truly changed my life. I realized in that moment that I only knew about God. I did not have a strong, individual relationship with Him. It was as if God was solely a figure I read about in a book and had to take tests on, I never viewed Him as a Father who loves and forgives me unconditionally.
After this realization I was able to truly open my heart up to God. It is hard for me to envision a time in my life when I did not have this deep love for Him. Whenever I feel sad, stressed, or scared – I turn to Him. Whenever I feel alone or desperate – I turn to Him. Whenever I feel like my world is crashing down and I just need someone to hold me – I turn to Him, and I can always feel His presence. I remember that He is there for me, that He understands me, and that there is nothing I could ever do to make Him turn away from me.
I want to spend my life bringing other people to God. This past summer I spent a week at Notre Dame University as part of a religious retreat. At the retreat, I was put into a small group that I would participate in activities and share my thoughts with. One girl was very vocal about how she struggled to form a relationship with God. One day, as I was talking to her privately, she explained to me that part of the reason she had trouble coming to God was because she had been physically abused by her long-term boyfriend. The abuse went on for months before she ended the relationship, and she told me I was he the first person she confided in about this. She did not understand how if God loved her, why would He let such an awful thing happen to her?
I told her how God granted every human being free will, and unfortunately, He could not have controlled her boyfriend’s actions. I continued to say that, despite this, God protected her during that time. He helped her to survive and to come out on the other side of that experience, and He was by her side the entire time; just like how when Jesus was being crucified for our sins God never left Him. She told me that this conversation truly changed her outlook on God. I believe that she was the first person I was able to bring to God, and I want to continue showing people His love every day of my life.
I genuinely experienced God in my life. From the time I was diagnosed with cancer, to now, as I am losing my senior year to a global pandemic. He has always been there to comfort and guide me. I know that God will help me through this next chapter of my life, and with Him by my side I have nothing to fear. After all, if God is for us, who can stand against us?