Brandon and Sarah had waited ten long days for the results. As they sat in the doctor’s office, Sarah stared at a picture of a camel behind the physician’s desk, struggling to process the painful news.
She looked at her husband, trying to focus on their life before this point in time.
During her final year at Liberty University, Sarah’s friend, Layne, asked Sarah to be a bridesmaid for her upcoming wedding to her fiancé, David. Layne also couldn’t wait to introduce Sarah to David’s best friend, Brandon. She was sure the two would be a great match.
Unlike Sarah, Brandon Hancock had not grown up in a Christian home. However, when Brandon was at college in Kentucky, he joined the Baptist Student Union. It was there that his relationship with Christ began to grow. He met David there and they became great friends.
Layne’s instincts were spot-on, and once Sarah met Brandon, she knew he was “the one.”
After graduating from Liberty, she took a position teaching at a public high school in Florida, while Brandon had just landed his dream job with the FBI.
After they met, Sarah and Brandon began a long-distance relationship. They talked on the
phone frequently, and Sarah went to visit him every couple of months. As she reflects on that time, Sarah is thankful for the arrangement. “We had to learn to really talk and listen to one another because that’s all we could do, living so far apart.” It allowed them to really get to know one another.
They married in June, one year after they met, and Sarah moved to Fredericksburg and began looking for a teaching job.
Though she had never taught at a Christian school, Sarah stopped by Fredericksburg Christian School to drop off an application and she met Marie Stanley. There was indeed an opening for an upper elementary teacher, and Marie introduced her to fellow staff members, Kelly Weber and Heather Stacy. The three talked for a long time, and by the time Sarah left, she knew FCS was where she wanted to be; she was hooked.
It was quite a change to go from teaching public high school to teaching fifth grade at a
Christian school, but Sarah loved it and was particularly grateful for the opportunity to teach from a Christian worldview.
“That means every thought, every belief, and every choice we make needs to have Christ at the center.”
She also fell in love with the people at FCS. As a newlywed who was far from home, with a
husband who traveled quite a bit for work, the support and encouragement she received from fellow staff members were vital; they became like family. She also loved the fact that
everything they did was all about Jesus.
After five wonderful years teaching at FCS, Sarah became a stay-at-home mom when their first child, Gabe, arrived. Just a few years later, their second child, Mary, was born. While she missed her students and friends from FCS, she felt blessed for the opportunity to be home with her young children. Brandon and Sarah settled in to being parents and looked forward to their future together.
However, the week before Christmas in 2012, Brandon and Sarah were in the kitchen making dinner when he lost complete use of his arm for about a minute. They contacted their on-call doctor and were told to go to the ER.
When an MRI revealed a brain tumor, Brandon and Sarah were devastated. They met with a neurosurgeon the next day and surgery was scheduled for December 26. In the meantime, Brandon was told to go home and enjoy Christmas with his family.
They tried to enjoy Christmas, but both had the surgery on their minds. Family flew in for
support and to help care for the children. The day of the surgery, “the waiting room was full of people who loved and cared for Brandon – a lot of his co-workers came and stayed throughout the surgery.” recalls Sarah. The surgeon was able to remove the entire tumor, but they would have to wait ten long days for the pathology report. “We knew everyone was praying, but the waiting was terrible.”
The news from the neurosurgeon was staggering: Brandon had grade IV glioblastoma—brain cancer—and had just 15-18 months to live. Brandon was 33 years old. Sarah looked at the baby in her arms and realized Brandon wouldn’t be there to see Mary turn two.
Brandon told Sarah he would take one day to grieve, and the next day he would begin his fight.
And that’s exactly what he did. He began daily radiation treatments while still working full time.
However, it wasn’t long before radiation, chemotherapy, steroids, and other treatments began to take a serious toll on Brandon.
“Brandon had always been such a source of strength in my life—physically and emotionally—and it was so hard to watch him deteriorate. But he continued to fight,” Sarah shared.
Despite a year of treatment and experimental therapies, Brandon’s tumor returned. As he clung to scripture promises and continued to fight, Sarah was right by his side. At the same time, however, she felt God was preparing her. “I wanted to stay positive for Brandon, but I also needed to prepare myself for what was to come…if God answered our prayers, but in a different way.”
Watching Brandon suffer through treatments was unbelievably difficult for Sarah, and both
Brandon and Sarah felt weak many days. “We were exhausted. He was still working because he was the breadwinner and wanted to do that for us. I was caring for two young children and my sick husband, and I’m embarrassed to say that I felt so ill-equipped and weak.”
Sarah took refuge in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Eventually, Brandon began to accept that his victory would come about differently from the
way he had hoped, and Sarah remembers his shift in focus, “He then developed this heavenly hope—the hope of going to glory, and everything changed.”
Hospice came to help Brandon and Sarah, and he was happy to be at home. As a steady stream of fellow FBI employees came to show their support, Brandon wanted to make sure they knew the reason for his hope. He shared the gospel with every single person who came to visit. He also recorded his testimony the week before he died so it could be played at his memorial service and everyone would hear him speak about the grace of his Savior.
On Thursday, April 24, 2014, at the age of 34, Brandon Hancock was eternally healed.
Since then, Sarah has returned to FCS as a fifth-grade teaching assistant, but for the past five years, grief and suffering have been her teachers. Her experience has reminded her that we aren’t meant for this earth, but she takes comfort in knowing we have a new life waiting for us—a life free from struggle, suffering, and pain. “Ultimately, our dreams for this world aren’t going to come true, because we live in a fallen world.”
In the meantime, certain of God’s love and sovereignty, Sarah holds on to hope as God restores the pieces of her heart that have been broken down by grief and disappointment.
“Suffering revealed where I needed to refine my view of who God said He was. It’s easy to try to blame God or wonder why this happened, …but God is good, and He loves me.”