You’ve heard the saying, “Some people walk into your life and change it forever.” Well, Sabrina is one of those people. I had the privilege of hearing her story in person when I met her in California in June and I wept. She is as inspiring as they come. I am certain that her story will touch you. It certainly has touched me.
My cancer journey begins just like almost every young person I talk to who has had cancer — the doctors ignoring my symptoms, finally getting a biopsy done, and the diagnosis day that changed my life forever.
When I was diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma in 2015, I was absolutely floored and devastated. My dad had passed away several years prior from a serious illness, and I couldn’t believe I was now facing something so tragic.
Cancer was an older person’s disease. Not me! Not the 27 year old Worship Director, Women’s Ministries Director, Communications Coordinator, and Admin of my church. Not the girl who never, ever smoked anything in her life and hardly drank alcohol.
I wasn’t perfect, but I certainly wasn’t a candidate for cancer…at least not as I understood it at the time.
Autumn of 2015 was a hard season. What started as a “canker sore” that wouldn’t heal, turned into that determining biopsy, followed by a subsequent six-hour tumor removal (which involved the removal of half of my tongue), reconstructive surgery, and ended with 10 days in the ICU to be sure the surgery was successful.
Over the next six months, I had to relearn how to speak, chew, and swallow. I had to relearn how to use my left arm and hand, since the reconstruction of the tongue involved removal of muscles from my left forearm and extensive grafting. From a scientific perspective, how amazing that they can do that?! But from a human perspective, it’s hard to describe all of the emotions I went through — fear, anxiety, pain, depression, hope, sadness, grief, joy…I was a rollercoaster.
My identity and career as a singer and musician had come to a halt. Friends I had had for so many years became distant. People around me showed their true colors — for better or worse. My whole life changed.
But oh, what a faithful and loving Father God we serve. This was just the beginning of a brand new story for me.
Oral cancer is no joke, and survival rates (per the doctors and statistics) are low. Extensive surgery, radiation, and sometimes chemo is the only route offered. After the surgery, I met with a radiation oncologist who kindly, but firmly, told me my only chance for survival was intense radiation. “Yes, it will be painful, and it will be hard…you may have a feeding tube…but we will get through it together,” she said, with a hand on my arm for comfort.
But through the overwhelming rush of confusion and fear, I suddenly heard a very clear voice in my spirit. “Do you trust Me?”
Those four words gave me life that day.
I decided (after a lot of research and prayer — and with the support of my amazing family) to not go the route of radiation to my head and neck and instead do Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy daily for six weeks, as well as eating a diet of no meat, dairy, sugar or processed foods. I also incorporated essential oils into my daily routine. My oncologist told me I’d be dead in six months if I didn’t follow their protocol — but my first PET scan in February of 2016 showed NED (no evidence of disease)!
By April, I was able to do a show in Rochester, NY with my friend Jeff Carl who was on tour from Nashville. The tour was appropriately titled, “Survive”, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be able to stand on stage and sing and play guitar again — even if only for a few songs. I was doing it!
By October of 2016, my follow up PET scan was the same! I was elated. From that point on, I knew there was something to this whole healthy living thing. So I dove head first into getting my certification in health coaching and planned to help other young people who were facing cancer to take control of their health and wellness. I don’t know why this particular cancer had happened to me, but I now understood the importance of feeding my body correctly, self-care, stress management, and living a chemical-free lifestyle. When I was willing to change, God opened my eyes and my understanding to truly taking care of this body He’s given me, for however long I am in it.
My good health and routine check-ups continued without any issues. By October 2017, my oncologist had declared me “in the clear” and told me to come back in six months for another follow up. I had started working for a non-profit here in Rochester, NY that supports teens and young adults with cancer, health coaching, and teaching essential oils classes on the side. Everything finally seemed to be back on track, and I was learning to deal with the emotions that come from being a cancer survivor, body image issues with all of my scars, and feeling years older than my 29 year old self.
Then, in the beginning of March of this year, I felt another sore in my mouth. A biopsy and PET scan in April confirmed my suspicions — the cancer had returned.
The past few months have been completely different than my first go-around with oral cancer. I have opted out of surgery and radiation (my oncologist has once again given me a potential expiration date unless I do what they tell me…), have chosen be okay with saying no to the conventional system and treat my body entirely through holistic and alternative medicine. When insurance hasn’t covered the bill, I’ve been blessed by out-of-the-blue donations from incredible friends, family, and strangers! “My God will supply ALL of your needs…” (Philippians 4:19) As I keep walking through the doors God is opening for me, I find new pieces to the puzzle of whatever He’s doing with my life.
In June, I was invited to play worship at Still Waters Cancer Retreat in Carlsbad, CA. After my second diagnosis, I was feeling so defeated and exhausted with the difficulty I’m having in speech and proper use of my tongue again. Singing in front of a crowd of people seemed unrealistic and daunting — let alone to travel all the way across the country with swollen lymph nodes and a tumor. But something inside me told me to just GO. To trust that everything would be okay. I may be fighting an illness right now, but I’m still breathing!
Looking back on it now, I’m so thankful I went. Not only did I meet amazing people, but God literally sang FOR me. Whatever strength and clarity I was praying for was answered. I have listened back through some of the video from the retreat and can’t believe I sounded completely normal and had zero pain throughout the retreat. (I also ended up taking a detour to Hawaii for a few days immediately following that weekend! That’s a story for another time, but also 100% from God.)
I’m learning that health is not a destination. It’s a never-ending cycle of discovering what works for my body and what doesn’t. Being patient with my healing process when some days I’m in so much pain I just want to medicate myself and hide in bed. Traveling every week to the right medical care, despite the inconvenience. Truly LIVING despite the cancer. Applying all the knowledge and research I’ve done over the past two years to real life. And pressing in to God for answers, for healing, and for His ultimate glory.
It’s by God’s grace. I’m believing for total healing, and that this path God has me on is full of purpose — not just for me, but for others around me who are being their own advocates and seeking holistic healing as well. Six months from now, I’ll be in a totally different place with my mind, body, and spirit. But I take it day by day, and trust that God has a wonderful, exciting plan through all of it. How can I doubt Him? He’s brought me this far, has never failed me, and won’t stop now.
A GIGANTIC thank you, Sabrina, for sharing your story. We are cheering you on and praying for you through this journey.
I would love to ask you to prayerfully consider donating to Sabrina’s GoFundMe. All the donations that came in for me changed my life and this will certainly change hers! Her fundraiser link is:
If you have questions for Sabrina, she can be contacted through her website listed below!
God bless you!
Sabrina Gauer is passionate about embracing and teaching complete wellness, a certified integrative health coach and essential oils educator, and Communications Coordinator at 13thirty Cancer Connect. She is a stage IV oral cancer survivor, singer/songwriter, worship leader, public speaker, blogger/blog contributor, and freelance creative. Sabrina dabbles in outdoors-ey adventures, traveling, yoga, and going for the occasional “run”. She loves coffee, deep conversation, and daydreaming. Her writing has been featured in Cottage Hill Magazine, Elite Daily, First Descents blog, Tirzah Magazine, Tirzah in the Word, 13thirty Cancer Connect, and an upcoming piece for Elsie Road Magazine. She’s also been interviewed by Brighton Connections magazine, 13WHAM TV in Rochester, NY, as well as her story reaching as far as the Daily Mail (UK)! Follow her story at www.sabrinagauer.com!