Elizabeth Love felt a great rush as the group of Kenyan pastors thundered prayers over her in a Nairobi church in 2014, asking God to command the cancer within her to retreat.
When the missionary nurse returned to her home in Flowery Branch, it had — for a time.
Love is a nurse practitioner working in cardiology with the Northeast Georgia Medical Center. Raised in south Florida, she enlisted at 18 and spent 10 years in the Air Force, first as a member of the military police and later changing tracks to work as a medical technician.
She’s been married twice but is now single and has two sons, Christopher Cooper, 27, who works for Syfan Logistics and lives in Suwanee, and Nick Cooper, 25, a Navy diver in Hawaii.
Her life has been punctuated by mission trips through Westminster Presbyterian Church to places like Haiti, Ecuador and Kenya, and it was mission work that encouraged her to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner.
“When I did this mission trip back when I was married, I didn’t have a degree, and I just helped out as a little pharmacy tech in Ecuador. I just had this desire to want to do more. I didn’t want to just hand out pills, I wanted to be able to treat people,” Love told The Times about the trip in 1999. “I think that was a big turning point for me to pursue a nurse practitioner degree — was that moment.”
That dream would stay with her and she continued to raise her children. She received her bachelor’s in nursing from what was then North Georgia College and State University in 2007.
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She decided to pursue a master’s to become a nurse practitioner, but life threw hurdle after hurdle in her way — her mother died, she was newly divorced from her husband, and became an empty nester as Nick left home for the Navy.
And, on top of everything else, she was diagnosed with colon cancer in March 2011. She beat her first round of the disease with six months of chemo and a round of surgery, only for it to come back in December of 2013, shortly before she would start on her master’s.
She got the call from her doctor the day after Christmas.
“The first time around (with cancer) she was working, going to school and doing chemo,” said Christopher Cooper. “She would work 16 hour days and Saturdays and Sundays, go into chemo and then go to school at the same time. It’s just mind-boggling how anybody could keep that up, much less be successful at it.”
Love would graduate with honors in 2014 while going through treatment for her cancer, which had come back not in the same place — but in her lungs.
The same cancer traveling to a new part of the body meant that it had metastasized, which meant that Love would never be cured. She was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given about 26 months to live.
It’s now more than five years later.
“According to my doctor right now … at the very tail end, an outlier, outlier would be five years that I get to live. At this point, he’s saying I’m in unchartered territory,” Love said. “I’ve exceeded this timeline and I’m still thriving and doing great.”
A new schedule
While Love is thriving, keeping the cancer at bay comes with costs.
She goes through chemotherapy every two weeks, usually on a Monday. Love’s hair isn’t falling out, her skin isn’t sallow and her appetite isn’t gone, but the treatments take their toll all the same.
She takes nausea suppressors with her chemo, so Mondays end up being not so bad.
“The second and third days are usually the worst, especially the second days,” said Christopher Cooper, who moved back to North Georgia to help take care of his mother. “She’ll wake up, and she can barely stand up. She can barely walk herself up the stairs.”
The chemo is “pretty much poison,” he added. “You’re getting poisoned twice a (month), and it’s pretty tough on the body.”
Cooper often takes Love to and from her treatments, and his company worked out a new schedule for him to ensure he’s free Mondays and Tuesdays to look after his mom.
Love compares the effects of her treatments to a body-wracking flu. She’s had to take cold baths to keep from overheating, and some smells trigger rough nausea. She now dry-heaves walking into the infusion area to receive her treatments.
But Wednesday gets a little easier, and come Thursday Love is back working her full-time job as a nurse practitioner. Some days are tougher than others, and her colleagues pick up the slack when she needs to rest after a treatment, she said.
But Love wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I had been offered to go on disability” because of her cancer, she said. “I just don’t find that helpful for me. I just find that, aside from having bills, I love what I do. I think it’s good and healthy for me to have a reason to get up and have a reason to get going — and to help others.
“I take care of others every day. It gives me purpose.”
A true purpose
To keep her going, Love has her family, her job, her friends and an impressive bucket list that, among other things, includes skydiving (that box has already been checked, thanks to niece Marissa Love and her fiance, Alex) and oil painting.
But the fuel for the fire in her life has been her faith in God.
Her faith drove her into missionary work and pushed her to do more to help those in real poverty and experiencing real suffering.
It was on one such trip in 2014 that she had an experience that she wasn’t expecting, but one that she maintains to this day changed the course of her cancer treatment.
She traveled with a few other members of Westminster Presbyterian to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to provide medical care through a Presbyterian mission.
“It was a team of maybe five or six of us,” said Lyn Froehlich, a friend of Love’s who was on the trip with her husband, Jim Froehlich. “We had an eye clinic and they were seeing all kinds of different illnesses among the Africans at this church building.”
As their hosts were preparing a meal at the end of the day, Jim Froehlich, who is also a retired anesthesiologist, asked a few other pastors assembled at the clinic to pray for Love, given her cancer.
“So, there were three or four pastors there, altogether there were five and my husband was one of them. I was just outside the door — I didn’t lay hands on her — but they all laid hands on her,” Froehlich said, describing the booming prayers coming from the building where the men were gathered. “They just didn’t hesitate to proclaim the name of Jesus because it’s like all they had. They were raising their voices and just commanding Satan — the cancer — to leave her body.”
Froehlich said Love came out of the building in a daze, saying she felt like a rush of wind had come over her. Love herself said she left the encounter feeling drained.
“I was really out of my element, and when they finished praying over me I was just exhausted,” Love said. “It was this weird feeling I had all over me.”
She returned to the United States a few days later. It was a Wednesday. She went in for scans the same week, and that Friday got the call from her oncologist — the cancer was gone.
“It was gone; the tumors were gone. It was crazy,” she said. “I had no idea something special was going on — that’s not my style of praying, and I was very timid at first.”
She said she knows, as a medical professional, that her treatments beat back her tumors. But she also knows that her faith, and the faith of the men who prayed over here, also had an effect on her cancer.
“To really sort of have these men pray loudly and with all their might — they pray like they believe. There was no holding back, and they just let it go,” Love said. “I just said, let it go. Let your mind go, let whatever energy you’re trying to hold onto go.”
A matter of time
Love would be free of her cancer for eight months after hands were laid on her in Kenya.
In the years since, her cancer has been held in check, but only in check. The lesions in her lungs are numerous, and she knows it’s only a matter of time.
And, in some ways, she believes her cancer has brought her blessings. It’s deepened her faith. It’s revealed the love and care her friends have for her. It’s peeled back a few layers from her boys, allowing her to see that underneath they had become men.
Cooper left college studying for a biomedical engineering degree after three years both to take care of his mom, but also because his grades were slipping, saying he was a talented high school kid who never had to study and then didn’t have the right habits in place once he got to college.
“If you take a step back and look at the things she’s sacrificed to make it — what she’s had to fight through to make it, and you look at yourself,” Cooper said. “Well damn, she can do chemo and raise two kids and go to school and work and be successful. What’s my excuse?”
The past few years have changed his views on work and school, saying his goal is to finish his education. But it always comes back to time.
“We’re just blessed that we’ve had this much time. She’s knocking stuff off of her bucket list — she went skydiving, she goes up to Michigan every year for a girls trip — but I think that not knowing, taking it month by month, week by week and not really knowing when it’s going to burst through,” Cooper said. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern at the size they are now, which is a blessing, but she had total remission a couple of years ago.
“So how long does this last? What are we planning for?”
For Love, there’s just the chemo regimen, trading one bad week for one good week knowing that it adds up to more time with her kids, her friends, her life.
“I keep in the moment, in the day, and I try to live for today as best as I can,” Love said.\
This story has been updated from its original version.