Can I Face Hard Things Even When It’s Cancer? With Niki Hardy [Episode 231]

Face Hard Things Even Cancer Niki Hardy

When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, they get all sorts of extras right along with it, like fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.

Well today’s guest, Niki Hardy, had already lost her mom and sister to cancer when she got her own diagnosis of cancer. But she decided early on that she wouldn’t put life on hold because of the dreaded C-word. Instead, she chose to be a thriver, not just a survivor.

She discovered that she didn’t have to wait for the storm to pass to start living. Instead, she could experience abundant life right then and there, right smack in the middle of the storm.

I really appreciate Niki’s willingness to share her story because she not only brings hope and encouragement to those fighting cancer, but she also shares how family, friends, caretakers, and even friends of caretakers can help too.

So whether you’re the one who’s in the thick of the battle or a spectator who feels paralyzed to help, Niki will equip you with her many resources.

One of those resources is her book, One Minute Prayers for Women With Cancer, which is the book we talk about today along with several other free resources.

So, if you’ve received a cancer diagnosis—or if you love someone who has—then you’ll find this conversation so helpful. With wisdom, insight, empathy, and yes, a little humor, Niki will help you transform fear into faith as you navigate the ups and downs of a cancer journey too.

Meet Niki

Niki Hardy is an author, speaker, podcast host, and cancer thriver. As the author of Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart and One Minute Prayers for Women with Cancer, as well as host of the Trusting God Through Cancer Summit and the Chemo Chair Prayers podcasts, her goal is to help you discover that life doesn’t have to be pain-free to be full.

[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]

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Episode Transcript

4:13 Podcast: Can I Face Hard Things Even When It's Cancer? With Niki Hardy [Episode 231]

Niki Hardy: I'm a Brit. I've got a stiff and perfectly waxed upper lip, and I was determined to survive. And we keep calm, we carry on, and I was really determined to stay positive and be strong. And I went through chemo and radiation, and then I went through surgery where they completely replumbed me. I had an ostomy bag, I went through more chemo. And, Jennifer, it got to the point where surviving was all I was doing. And I was in this place of survival mode, of just feeling like, well, if and when this is over, that's when I'll be able to live life again.

Jennifer Rothschild: When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, they get all sorts of extras along with it, you know, like fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, just to name a few. Well, today's guest, Niki Hardy, had already lost her mom and sister to cancer when she got her own diagnosis of cancer. She decided early on, though, that she would not put her life on hold because of the dreaded C word. She chose to be a thriver, not just a survivor.

So if you've gotten the same diagnosis or if you love someone who has, with wisdom, empathy, and a lot of humor Niki is going to help you transform fear into faith and navigate the ups and downs of a cancer journey. God's peace and provision are on the way, so let's get started.

K.C. Wright: Welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and biblical wisdom set you up to live the "I Can" life, because you truly can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Now, welcome your host, Jennifer Rothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, hello, our people. We're so glad you're back with us again. That was K.C. Wright, my seeing eye guy. And it's just two friends, one topic, zero stress. I'm Jennifer. My goal is to help you be and do more than you feel capable of --

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- as you live the "I Can" life of Philippians 4:13. K.C. said it well, it is true, you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.

Well, I'll tell you this, though. I recorded this early because I am on the way right now to Cumming, Georgia, for a Fresh Grounded Faith.

K.C. Wright: Woo-hoo!

Jennifer Rothschild: So if you're near us, there are still tickets available. We would love for you to come. And guess who's going to be there? Annie F. Downs.

K.C. Wright: Oh, wow.

Jennifer Rothschild: Uh-huh.

K.C. Wright: Wow.

Jennifer Rothschild: That sounds fun, right?

K.C. Wright: and Jennifer Rothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes. And --

K.C. Wright: That's a dynamic duo.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- Katherine Wolf.

K.C. Wright: Wow.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: She's a sweetheart.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, it's going to be such an inspiring, good weekend, and we're going to talk about grace, grace, grace. So come on if you're nearby. There is still time, and there is always room for you. And on your way, you can listen to this conversation we're going to have today with Niki Hardy. Because she really gets honest about something that way too many of us have to deal with, and that's cancer.

But, K.C., you've even -- just recently your mom went through a major surgery. I mean, you've had to deal with the uncertainty and fear that any kind of diagnosis brings.

K.C. Wright: Right. I've walked through some storms with my mama recently. And I'll tell you, I got to brag on the love of a mother. I walked into her room post-surgery -- this was not too long ago -- and the woman looks up at me -- now, I'm pushing -- I'm getting there. Okay? I'm middle aged, I guess.

Jennifer Rothschild: You are a grown-up adult.

K.C. Wright: Hold on. I'm in denial.

But anyway, I could not believe the words that fell out of her mouth. She said, "Honey, did you get something to eat?" "Did you get something to eat?"

Jennifer Rothschild: After she's been through major surgery.

K.C. Wright: Post-surgery. I said, "Mom, what in the world? It's about you right now, not about me." But I had sat with her in the lobby from 10:00 until they wheeled her back at 5:30. She knew I had a coffee and a Kashi bar. And so bless a mama's heart. She comes out of this fog and looks at me and says, "Did you get something to eat?" I will treasure that. That is powerful.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's the heart of a mom.

K.C. Wright: It is.

Jennifer Rothschild: And you know what? It fits your mother, too, because she is not self-absorbed.

K.C. Wright: No.

Jennifer Rothschild: You know what I'm saying?

K.C. Wright: No.

Jennifer Rothschild: And it's interesting you said that, K.C., because it reminds me so much of Niki Hardy, because, you know, she chose to be a surviv- -- a thriver she calls it, not a survivor.

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's your mom too.

K.C. Wright: Right.

Jennifer Rothschild: Your mom is looking for life. Not like how to just get by, but she's focused on others, she's focused on joy. She's a thriver like Niki. So I'm grateful you shared that. I'm also super grateful -- we all are -- that your mom is doing well.

K.C. Wright: Yes, she's doing great.

Jennifer Rothschild: We so are grateful for that.

All right, let's get to this conversation with Niki, because you just gave us the perfect segue.

K.C. Wright: Niki Hardy is an author, speaker, podcaster, and cancer thriver. As the author of "Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart," "One-Minute Prayers for Women with Cancer," and host of the Trusting God Through Cancer Summit and the Chemo Chair Prayers Podcast, her goal is to help you discover that life doesn't have to be pain free to be full; then go live it.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, Niki, I'm so happy to have you back with us again. You've been on our podcast before and you've told your very powerful and difficult story before, but there's some who may not remember or have heard that episode. So let's start kind of with a review. Because two of your family members you lost to cancer, and then you were diagnosed with cancer yourself. So take us inside that really hard season.

Niki Hardy: It was a hard season, you're right, Jennifer. So I lost my mom to cancer, to lung cancer, small cell aggressive lung cancer; and then six years later, my sister Jo was diagnosed with the same thing at just 42 years old. And she passed away on New Year's Eve. And just six weeks later, it was my turn, I was diagnosed. Now, mine wasn't lung cancer like theirs, Jennifer, mine was rectal cancer. And it really felt like the family heat-seeking missile of death had locked in on me, or more specifically, locked in on my rear end.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Niki Hardy: And, you know, as you can imagine, it felt like to our children, and even to me and my husband, that people who got cancer died, and died quickly, because both my mom and my sister had survived about 14 months. And so it rocked our world. It really rocked our world. And, you know, we were leading a church at the time, and so there was a very visible element to how we were walking through it and to how we were navigating our faith at the same time. So it was a complex time as well as a difficult time.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, I cannot imagine on so many levels, so many layers. And do you mind me asking about how old were you when this hit?

Niki Hardy: Yeah, great question. I was 42. I was 42. So I wasn't at the age where colonoscopy is, and those glorious things are standard. So I was fortunate that my doctor encouraged me to go for one. And as I always say, you're never too young to love your bum.

Jennifer Rothschild: That is a great saying.

And you had young children at the time?

Niki Hardy: Yes. They were about 14, 12, and 9, so they were old enough to really understand the gravity of what was happening.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, they were.

Niki Hardy: And they had had friends whose parents had died of cancer, so -- and obviously they'd just lost their grandma and their auntie, so...

Yeah, I remember my nine-year-old saying to me, "Mommy, are you going to die?" and her big brown eyes just looked at me. And I said, "Well, one day, darling, but hopefully not from this."

Jennifer Rothschild: And now listen to your story. And we know clearly that you did survive.

But that's not what you call yourself. You call yourself a cancer thriver, not survivor. So explain why that's what you call yourself, and how does that relate to your mantra? Because I read that your mantra is, "Life doesn't have to be pain free to be full."

Niki Hardy: Yeah, that is the mantra I go by. You're right.

So, I'm a Brit. I've got a stiff and perfectly waxed upper lip, and I was determined to survive. And we keep calm, we carry on, and I was really determined to stay positive and be strong. And I went through chemo and radiation, and then I went through surgery where they completely replumbed me. I had an ostomy bag, I went through more chemo. And, Jennifer, it got to the point where surviving was all I was doing. And I was in this place of survival mode, of just feeling like, well, if and when this is over, that's when I'll be able to live life again. And it was as if life was on pause.

And then I found a cancer community online where I met people who called themselves Cancer Thrivers. And what I loved so much about that wasn't so much that it felt -- they didn't seem to be faking it. It wasn't that they were glossing over anything and pretending that life was happy skippy when it really wasn't. They were saying life is hard, life is really hard, but we are jolly well going to enjoy what we can, squeeze the juice out of it and thrive, and not just survive in this difficult time.

And I realized faith-wise that I had been doing a similar thing. I had been saying, well, God said that there would be storms in my life, and so I'm in a storm right now and I've just got to ride it out, then I'll be able to experience the full, abundant, overflowing life that he has for me. And I realized that I had put that on hold, and not only that, but assumed that it would look Facebook fabulous and I would be healthy and wealthy and that's what an abundant life looked like. But I realized that I don't think he meant for the storms in the abundant life really to be separated in time and space, that we can experience this abundant life right in the middle of those storms; it just looks a little different. It looks like connectedness and intimacy with him and with others. It looks like seeing the rubies in the rubble of our life and not waiting for life to get better. So that's why my mantra is life doesn't have to be pain free to be full and that we can thrive and not just survive.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, you live it well. You live it well.

And there's people listening right now who know what it feels like to be in a storm -- their storm may not be cancer -- but that I really believe speaks to all of us. Because even post-cancer, of course your life is not pain free. That's part of living on this fallen planet. But you are thriving.

But you did say something, Niki, that I want to circle back to. Because you talked about being connected to God, finding the rubies in the rubble. So sometimes it feels like the hardest part of going through a hard thing or a hard season is how it affects our perception or our relationship with God. So tell me how your faith was affected by the loss of your mom and your sister and then your own diagnosis.

Niki Hardy: It really did shake things up, let's just say. I got to a point -- well, when I was first diagnosed, it was a shock reaction of, "Are you kidding me, God?" You know, we had moved from London, England, to Oxford to go to seminary, and then we come here to Charlotte, North Carolina, to plant and start a church. And I had this after all I've done for you, this is what's -- you know, there was this indignation. And it felt like an injustice. It felt unfair. And I'd always believed God to be good and fair and just, but it didn't feel that, and it didn't feel like the work of a loving Father.

And so it sent me into a time of questioning. And I knew I wanted to trust him, and I knew that I needed to trust him. And I would try and trust him, and it was like I would squeeze all my might together and go, "Oh, I'm going to trust you," and then I'd just kind of relent and say, "No. Actually, I'm still rather miffed at you, God, and" -- or, "I still got questions." And I realized I was believing certain things about him or about me, that I wasn't good enough, that he was angry at me, or that he was off helping more spiritual people than me that didn't, you know, shout at their kids on the way to church or things like this.

And I realized we believe all these lies about God and I needed to replace them with truth. And I also needed to lean into him rather than lean away from him. Even if I was leaning in with anger or questions or doubt or just a sense of disconnectedness from him, it was better to turn towards him than turn away. And the other thing that I discovered was that I needed to have a plan to trust him. Because however much I wanted to and needed to and tried to, it was still hard. So I'm all for being super practical, so I made myself a little five-step plan that was kind of -- you know, I plan to trust and then trust the plan.

Jennifer Rothschild: So what was it? Do you mind sharing that? What is that plan?

Niki Hardy: Oh, no, not at all. And actually, if people want to grab it, I have a set of free eBooks that they can download, and one of them is "How to Trust God When You Can't Stop Worrying," and that's over at

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. We're going to have a link for that, by the way, on the show notes, so the listeners don't have to freak out at the moment and write that down. It will be on the show notes, my dear people.

Niki Hardy: Yeah, as you're driving.

Jennifer Rothschild: Exactly. Exactly. Good. I'm so glad you have that resource. Okay. But share it with us briefly.

Niki Hardy: Well, first off, I really think we can check out God's credentials. Before we trust anyone, from a plumber to a hairdresser, we read the reviews. We ask our friends, you know, Have they done a good job? Did you enjoy the experience? Did they show up when they say they were going to show up? Did they come through on what they promised? And I decided to check out God's credentials. Was he who he said he was and is he a Promise Keeper, as we say? And I looked to the Bible, I spoke to friends, I read memoirs of great men and women of the faith, and I really checked out whether I thought he was trustworthy from an intellectual point of view.

And then I asked him for help. And I think God loves nothing more than when we say, "Lord, I want to trust you, but I'm really struggling. Would you help me?" It's akin to the prayer that the father prays when his son is sick, "I believe. Help my lack of belief." And so I would pray, "Lord, I trust. Help my lack of trust." And then we do actually, unfortunately, need to choose to trust. I realized that nobody could trust God for me. My husband couldn't, my Bible study couldn't, my friends couldn't. I had to be the one to say, "Okay, I'm going to do this, I'm going to trust you."

But then I had to let go of what I knew I was trusting over and above him. And I'm not saying don't trust your doctors, I'm not saying don't trust other people. But it's when we are trusting things and people, and even ourselves, over and above God, that I think it exacerbates the worry. And so when we say, Okay, I'm going to let go of all that and I'm going to trust you.

And then finally the piece of the puzzle that I found really helped and kind of fueled this trust-building muscle that I was trying to grow was actually keeping a record, big and small. Anything where I saw God show up, I would write it down. So whether it was an encouraging conversation, an answer to prayer, even a beautiful sunset, a reminder of his presence and that each day is fresh, I would write it down, and that would build my personal bank of credentials where I had seen him move. So it became this -- almost like a flywheel, if you like.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. Yeah, it was a virtuous cycle that kept building upon itself. I love that. And I love too, Niki, that -- thank you for sharing that. Because when we are so overrun with feelings or so weary of the struggle, we cannot think straight. But if you've got the plan in place, you just follow the plan. And so thanks for sharing that with us. And I know that was part of your last book, because in our last conversation we talked about your book "Breathe Again." And we will also have a link to that episode, by the way.

But now you have a -- I love this, by the way. It's a really great accessible devotional, "One-Minute Prayers for Women with Cancer." My precious mother-in-law is recovering from cancer now, and that's about all she could have done, is one minute a day, you know? So I love that. And in it you have sections for about everything -- anything that a woman or a person with cancer could experience: anger, fear, loneliness, like needing strength, comfort. Even doubt, which I appreciate you cover. And those are just a few, obviously.

So talk to me about -- did you experience everything that you wrote about in this devotional, and, if so, which was the hardest?

Niki Hardy: Pretty much everything. That's how I knew that if I had experienced any one of these emotions, I'm sure that other women struggle with them or feel them or find themselves in a place like I did. And so, yes, you're right, for when we're feeling certain things, whether it's alone, sad, hurt, angry, or when we're in a time of waiting maybe, or uncertain about the future, or even feeling relieved and grateful or we're suffering a setback.

And then, yes, I did have a whole section on wrestling with faith, because I don't think we talk about it enough. And I think a lot of women need to know that it's perfectly normal to feel this way and they're not alone. And it's okay. God's not going to be angry with you or not show up for you because you've got questions and you're questioning him or you're asking for healing again and again, or you're just not feeling good enough for him.

The one that was the hardest for me, I think, probably was the worry for loved ones, you know, with three young children. And it was difficult to contemplate and trust God and pray through the possibility that I might not see them graduate high school, and for one of them, you know, elementary school, let alone middle school or high school or university. How would they cope without me? So I wondered, could they ever be happy and experience joy and laughter, and even still trust God, if I was to pass away in a year or so? And so that for me, praying through the worry for my beautiful children and my husband, was probably the difficultest.

Jennifer Rothschild: I think any mom, any woman listening right now, can identify with that. Isn't that the heaviest burden? Yeah. Because we love them so much more than we can ever have imagined, and to think of leaving them alone. I appreciate that you're so honest in your book about all these real emotions and experiences that someone with cancer has. But I also -- as you speak of them, I think of just -- you know, it can relate to so many storms, though I love specifically how it esteems the woman who is thriving through cancer.

But this is going to be our last question. Because there's many listening right now who do not have cancer, who've never had it, but they love somebody who does, and they don't know how to help, how to best be a part of their world. And so why don't you give us just some good coaching here, Niki, on how we can love and support them best.

Niki Hardy: It's such an important question, because so many of us, when we hear that a friend or a loved one has been diagnosed, we don't know what to do, we don't know what to say. We want to be helpful, we want to say something encouraging, but then we don't because we're afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Jennifer Rothschild: Exactly.

Niki Hardy: And I would encourage people to be honest and to just say, "I am so sorry. That is so hard. I'm here for you and I want to help." And then the things -- I've got more advice about what not to do, unfortunately.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, you know, that's helpful, though. Tell us what not to do.

Niki Hardy: Well, that's not the time to say, "Oh my goodness, my next-door neighbor has that." I mean, I had somebody say to me, "Oh, wow. My uncle died of that."

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, my gosh.

Niki Hardy: I was like, "Oh. Thank you." What do you say?

So this is about them, not us at this point.

And I would encourage you to not say, "Oh, let me know how I can help," but rather be specific. How specifically can I pray for you today? I'm going to the grocery store. Can I pick anything up for you? Or, I'm picking up my prescriptions today. Do you have some prescriptions that need picking up? Or, I'm swinging by your house. Do your kids need a ride to their activities? Or, Can I sort out your kids' soccer schedule carpool for you? So get specific, I think, is one of the key things.

And then often I found myself in situations where a close friend of mine is loving a close friend through cancer. So I know the person going through cancer, but not terribly well, not enough to help in those ways. So what I've started to do is help the helper. So as my friend is loving and supporting her friend, I can love and support her. So maybe she hasn't had time to cook a fresh dinner for herself because she's been going to chemo with her friend or whatever it is. But there are ways that we can support the supporters, love the helpers, and I think that's quite helpful as well.

Jennifer Rothschild: I think that's so insightful.

Niki Hardy: Yeah. It's kind of these degrees of separation, if you like.

Jennifer Rothschild: But I love it because, Niki, we're all in it together. And I know you've got some other resources. You mentioned that eBook. But I think there's also some prayers that one can download. Would you just tell us about that before we go.

Niki Hardy: Yes. I've got 31 of the prayers for women with cancer that people can download. And my publishers made them into the most beautiful printable versions so people can print them off, and there's space to write their own prayers. Because it's one thing to pray the words that I have come up with and made into prayers, but it's great for people to make them their own as well. So people can get 31 of those delivered, one each day for a month, and that's it.

Jennifer Rothschild: Into their inbox?

Niki Hardy: To their inbox, yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, that's so helpful. That's so easy. We will also have a link to that on the show notes because these are great resources. Thank you for helping us know how to love well.

And then, Niki, I would just love for us to end -- even though I said that was our last question. I mentioned to you before we started, y'all -- I'll just tell my listeners this -- I love her accent. I know you do too. Niki could just give me her grocery list and I'd be like, yes, I've come to Jesus all over again. I just love to hear your accent. It is so lovely. So would you just share with us, as we end -- either speak a blessing or a Scripture or just something over those who are listening right now who are in the middle of the storm of cancer.

Niki Hardy: I'd love to just pray. Lord, we thank you that even though we can feel alone and questioning and afraid in the storm, that you are with us. Lord, I pray for everyone feeling like this, like the sea is churning around them and they've lost sight of land, and the waves are huge and they don't know how they are going to survive. Lord, would you be with them. Would your presence overflow them. Would they be able to turn towards you even in their fear and questions. Lord, would your presence go with them. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Jennifer Rothschild: In Jesus' name, Amen.

K.C. Wright: Amen. The Lord is with our friends in the middle of the storm, and he will get you through it.

I really love how God has given Niki this message, because we all know someone who deals with cancer. And her resources are absolutely spot on. You've got someone in your life that you can share this podcast with. You need to go to the show notes now at, because we will link you to her books, plus a great free resource called "31 Printable Daily Prayers for the Women Going Through Cancer."

Jennifer Rothschild: I love that, that she's got that free resource. And I love Niki. And I agree with you, K.C., I'm really grateful for how God has used her very hard thing to bring peace to so many people.

So, our people, support Niki and let her speak into your cancer journey if you're going through that. Or let her be a companion on the road for that person you love who may be dealing with cancer. We are cheering you on. No matter where you are on your journey, we are cheering you on.

K.C. Wright: Yes, we are.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right. So until next week, our people, no matter what you face or how you're feeling today, you can trust God, because you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.

Jennifer and K.C.: I can.

Jennifer Rothschild: I can.

K.C. Wright: I can.

Jennifer Rothschild: I can.

K.C. Wright: And you can.

Jennifer Rothschild: And you can. We all can. We just can't say it enough.

Hey, if you're going to be cheesy, you might as well double up on the cheese.

K.C. Wright: No, if we were really cheesy, we would have a jingle that we've been trying to get for a week. A year, I mean.

Jennifer Rothschild: But, K.C., you either tell us to write it or you write it. You need to write the jingle.


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