The Surprising Gift Cancer Gave Officer Wendy Faundez“God had to get me to my knees so I could help get them to their knees before Him.”
In January 2016, Captain Wendy Faundez was enjoying some much-needed rest after another busy Christmas season at the Joliet Corps Community Center with her husband, Captain Daniel Faundez, and their four children – ages 13, 11, 7, and 3. Prompted by irregular bloodwork and biopsies at the end of 2015, her post-holiday respite was interrupted by surgery to have her right thyroid removed.
Four days later, her life was interrupted when the doctor called with the diagnosis: cancer.
“Everything spun out of control,” said Captain Wendy. She’d held it together through the tests and biopsies. “That phone call is when I finally cried.”
Just five years prior, she had walked with her sister through her struggle with thyroid cancer. Though her sister had survived and was now in good health, Captain Wendy knew the road ahead would be difficult – and offered no guarantees.
What she didn’t know was that the most trying parts of her cancer journey would bring blessings she wouldn’t trade for anything.
Sharing the Tough News
Two weeks after Captain Wendy’s diagnosis, doctors removed her left thyroid as well. As she recovered from both surgeries and prepared her body for radiation, she tried to help her family and her congregation cope.
“Our oldest took it the hardest,” Captain Wendy said, referring to their son Marcos, then 13. While their youngest, Angela, didn’t know what was happening, Captain Wendy says she was constantly by her side, suddenly very cuddly.
Captain Daniel, Wendy’s husband, had to be strong for the family and maintain their church and other ministries. “He took on so much more work and responsibility during that time,” she said. “In all of this, he was so strong for us.”
When they told their church community, they were very positive and supportive. “One family kept bringing me healthy foods,” she said. And there were many, many prayers.
To rid her body of any remaining cancerous cells, Captain Wendy had to take a radioactive iodine pill, which, unfortunately, would make everything she touched for the following week radioactive. This required a week of seclusion, the first time in a long time she had been without the noise of four young children. Suddenly she was alone with her diagnosis and her fears.
“It broke me down at first,” Captain Wendy admits. “I got panic attacks. Thankfully, God’s help got me through.”
Breaking Down, Building Up
Her body reacted poorly to the medications, which took a toll on her immune system. Though subsequent scans showed she was free of cancer, she spent much of the next two years battling sickness, migraines and fatigue. She would pass entire days in bed, and a constant spate of antibiotics threw her digestive system out of whack.
“That was the hardest part of the journey, those two years following the surgeries,” she said. “Everyone expects you to be healthy after treatment. I kept thinking I should be fine now. That time was hard on my husband, me, our Corps.”
After those two years, a new doctor who specializes in thyroid issues and the immune system put Captain Wendy on different medications. He diagnosed her with leaky gut syndrome, meaning certain foods and toxins in her body were entering her bloodstream and compromising her health. He put her on supplements and told her which foods to avoid and eat in abundance.
By fall 2018, nearly three years after her cancer diagnosis, she finally felt better. “For the first time in years I had the energy to get out of bed, to clean my house,” Captain Wendy said. “I felt like I was waking up for the first time in a couple of years. I felt like me again, which was huge.”
Today, Captain Wendy, now 38, is on thyroid medications and has regular bloodwork to monitor her health. “I feel like I’m still rebuilding my strength, but I’m so grateful for where I am now.”
A New Season
Nearly a year after that trying season, Captain Wendy reflects on how the whole journey deepened her faith in God. “I had to give Him everything, all I was trying to control. I had to get to a place where Jesus was all I had so I could say He’s all I’ve ever needed.”
During that difficult time, she sensed God calling her to a new ministry at their Joliet Corps – meeting with clients one on one through the Army’s Pathway of Hope ministry. “I’d avoided that,” she admits. “I’m empathetic and take on other people’s feelings. But I’m learning to let God be the help and hope, not me.”
She now meets with clients regularly, giving them someone to talk with when they’re facing a crisis. She offers counsel and points them to local resources that can offer practical help. “How I felt at my lowest point, I use that to show that I too have been in a broken place in life, that God can pull you through,” she says. That connection with clients’ pain offers them real encouragement.
This strengthened faith has come with a newfound boldness. “I’ve always been an introvert, really shy. I now have a new boldness to speak Truth to others,” she says. This was evident when her Corps recently hosted several hundred people from Congo, immigrants living in Joliet and around the country. “It was an amazing spiritual retreat,” she said. Captain Wendy spoke, and while she hadn’t planned to share about her health journey, when she took the podium she sensed God wanted her to.
After her talk, she asked those who wanted to commit or recommit their lives to God to come forward and kneel before Him. More than 100 people did, a sight Captain Wendy called moving and beautiful. “God had to get me to my knees so I could help get them to their knees before Him,” she said.