Friday, 23 March 2018

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Boise's Got Faith How the Nebeker family faced cancer

The Nebeker family of Twin Falls includes dad Kellen, mom Stephanie, youngest daughter Ashlyn, top left, and oldest daughter Brynlee, top right. (Courtesy photo)

By Mairyn Owen

Editor's note: Mairyn Owen is a senior at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa. She will graduate with a degree in communication (public relations emphasis) in May. She served as an intern for Boise’s Got Faith from January 2017­December 2017 and had the pleasure of getting to know the Nebeker family of Twin Falls. The following story is about how the family coped with a child's cancer diagnosis.

It’s easy to believe in God and His faithfulness when things are going in the right direction. When something unexplainable happens, though, our faith is challenged. In life, there are so many things that are out of our control — facing a serious illness, getting in an accident, losing your job, or the passing of a loved one, just to name a few. When it feels like life is under control, we tend to cling more to what we know as ours and less to what is His. As soon as something is knocked out of balance, we have no choice but to acknowledge our lack of control. In these times, we cling to our faith in a God that is bigger than anything that life may throw at us.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13, we find the following well ­known verse, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.” This comes from Paul as he is talking about the spiritual gifts the Corinthians had been given. He recognizes the value of these gifts, but he wants to emphasize that they are insignificant compared to what God offers His people through their belief in Him — faith, hope and love. When difficulties arise, these three gifts are there to point us to Him.

A difficult diagnosis

Each year in the United States, more than 15,270 children are diagnosed with cancer (­cancers/child­adolescent­cancers­fact­sheet).Three years ago, Brynlee Nebeker, an active, spunky, loving 9-­year-­old, was one of those 15,270 kids. The Nebeker family’s story reveals how they found faith, hope, and love during their daughter’s battle with cancer and the power the gifts provided throughout the difficult journey.


For Brynlee’s parents, Stephanie and Kellen, sticking to their faith was one of the hardest — but most reassuring — things they had to do during this stage of life. Before Brynlee was diagnosed, Stephanie had sensed that something was off. Following her instinct, she took Brynlee for a routine check­up, which confirmed her fears. ... Her daughter needed to get to Boise to test for leukemia.

As the Nebekers began to process the possibilities, they “were terrified, confused, shocked and just in disbelief,” they said. The next morning driving to Boise from Twin Falls, Stephanie felt a sense of unexplainable “calm.” She had already accepted the potential diagnosis and knew that she needed to be strong for Brynlee, her husband, and for Brynlee’s younger sister, Ashlyn.

Moving forward from the doctor’s confirmed diagnosis, the Nebeker family struggled. That initial feeling of peace that Stephanie felt on the first visit to Boise came and went throughout the journey.

“At the very beginning of Brynlee's diagnosis ... [we were] so confused why God would allow a child to have to go through all of this stuff. [But] we look back now, and ... it's incredible how everything just fell into place. We knew this is where our lives are meant to be, and it was God’s plan to get us here,” Stephanie said.

As Brynlee’s fight with cancer continued, the Nebekers slowly drew closer to God. Even in the midst of their daughter’s battle — even when they weren’t aware or looking to Him — He was faithfully by their side, helping them each step of the way. As Stephanie shares, sometimes God knows what and who we need before we can understand what He is doing.


Finding hope when it seems hopeless was another challenge that the family had to face.The week before Brynlee’s diagnosis, the family moved into the same neighborhood as Stephanie’s brother. Not only did they have a support system a few blocks away, but they had a home for Ashlyn to stay at when they were taking Brynlee to treatments. Throughout the battle, having a support system nearby provided a sense of encouragement and reassurance that the family was never alone. Someone was always there to provide hope when discouragement tried to set in.

In addition, hope isn’t something that you see or find every second of every day. According to Stephanie, “We [began to recognize] the small things we never even thought of before. Being able to put a ponytail back in Brynlee's hair. Watching her be able to run without falling. Being able to treat her fever at home without having to go to the ER. These are beautiful things that only a family in our situation would understand.”

Sometimes, hope comes in the form of little blessings that you only know once you take a step back.

Wherever there was a glimmer of hope, Kellen and Stephanie clung to it and kept moving forward. According to Stephanie, “If we had a hill to climb, by gosh, we were going to climb that hill with smiles on our faces. There was no other option for us.”

As the journey continued, they eventually got to a point where they felt that Brynlee’s journey “was part of God’s plan,” which helped to provide the anchor point for their hope through the duration of their journey.


Faith and hope can be powerful together, but as Paul mentions in Corinthians, God offers us love, too — which Paul claims is the greatest gift there is. Love can be shown inmany ways. The main way love was felt by the Nebeker family was through the support system they had through their family, friends, and community. First and foremost, their friends and family were there to help, love and support them through the entire battle.

The Nebekers also created new friends specifically tied to Brynlee’s treatment, including Brynlee’s doctors, nurses, and the Child Life specialists with St. Luke's Children's Specialty Center in Boise who helped to reassure the family that everything was going to be okay.

Along the way, the Nebeker family felt love through the community of other families facing the similar challenges. In the midst of her battle, Brynlee was selected as an honoree for Boise’s Got Faith, a non­profit organization that supports Idaho kids fighting cancer. For the Nebekers, being part of this group showed them the love of an incredible community.

According to Stephanie, “It's so heartwarming to be able to be part of this group of amazing families. They helped us through a lot and continue to guide us every day.”

As of this year, Brynlee is excelling in the 3rd grade and loves soccer, golf, basketball and playing with her sister. This summer marks four years since her diagnosis. Each day, she is growing healthier, both mentally and physically.

Not every family has to endure their child going through a fight with cancer, but every family faces personal battles. “Don't try to control the uncontrollable,” Stephanie said. “As we all know, the more we recognize our inability to take control, the more we lean into God and rely on Him through the difficulties.”

Regardless of what difficulties you may be facing, God freely offers the gifts of faith, hope and love in our greatest time of need.

Boise's Got Faith overview

Boise’s Got Faith (BGF) is an entirely volunteer­run 501(c)(3) non­profit organization which has a passion for supporting Idaho kids (and their families) in their fight against childhood cancer. BGF seeks to come alongside Idaho families and provide emotional, spiritual, and financial assistance as these children fight for their lives. Each year, Boise’sGot Faith plans a family­friendly event the first Sunday in May that includes a kid’s “crazy sock” fun run, a silent auction and a family festival — all to raise funds to benefit each year’s BGF honorees. This year’s event will be held May 6 at Julia Davis Park in Boise. Since 2012, over $330,000 has been raised to help lessen the financial burden childhood cancer has placed on Idaho families.

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