“I don't let this disease which causes many tumors, migraines, back pains and visual problems to consume or identify me. It is simply the platform and set of pain I was given to be able to share my story with HOPE.” – Anna Cannone, in a 2016 Caring Bridge blog post.
Anna Cannone, a Lipscomb senior from Columbus, Ohio, hasn’t had what some may call a “normal” childhood. At the age of two, she was diagnosed with fibrous dysplasia, a rare bone disease that causes fibrous scar-like tissue to develop instead of ordinary bone tissue.
On Tuesday, April 4, Cannone shared her story of faith and perseverance through trial and suffering alongside Earl Lavender, professor of Bible, at Lipscomb University’s Gathering Chapel. She started her talk by asking fellow students to turn to one another and remind them that God loves them.
“I have to clothe myself in God’s love every single morning, and so often I lose sight of that – so I just wanted to remind y’all that you are loved and to carry that thought with you throughout the day.”
Cannone said as a result of fibrous dysplasia she has become all too familiar with sterile white walls from days and months she would spend in the hospital for bone scans, chemotherapy treatments and various surgeries, from a very early age.
“Most of my time was spent laying in bed, mostly isolated by myself,” she said. “Knowing that God was the only thing that sustained me, and that I had strength through the power of the Holy Spirit in those hospital rooms. And when those nurses and doctors walked in, I had a smile on my face because God was carrying me through it.”
Cannone says she remembers being sat down by her father, who is a practicing physician, when she was seven years old. “He was sitting there–a doctor who has gone through the highest training–and was just looking at me – his daughter with a rare medical disease that he can’t even treat or know where to begin – and says, ‘I’ve stopped asking God why, you need to have surgery on your left eye because if you don’t, you’re going to go blind.’
“At seven years old, I knew really fast the depth of life and death and what sight and blind looked like and felt like,” Cannone continued. “But I remember going to the Cleveland clinic and being pulled into the operating room and feeling this overwhelming sense of peace that God was literally holding me in the palm of His hands.”
After the surgery left her with an incision from ear-to-ear and a shaved head, Cannone said she discovered what it meant to be called beautiful as a child of God. She also discovered that her neurosurgeon was a Christian and had prayed over her before she went in for her first surgery.
“I believe that his prayer was answered now because he prayed that I would flourish as a child of God and not as a hopeless rare medical case that he just happened to operate one day in June 2002,” she said.
As she continued to grow up, her vision remained and she became passionate about swimming competitively. At age 14, as she was transitioning from middle school to high school, she began having muscle spasms in her spine and pain that would shoot down through her hips and legs, but ignored it.
One day, however, she couldn’t get out of bed and after getting a bone scan, MRI and X-Ray, discovered that she had spine fractures up and down her body, as well as a tumor that had eaten her spine hollow. “You could see right through my spinal chord, it was a miracle I was walking,” she said.
Despite being bullied, Cannone said she was shaped by the way God was at work in her life. She invited God into places of pain and isolation, and grew as both an individual and person of faith.
When it came time to choose a university to attend, Cannone says she had already committed to a university in Chicago, Illinois, but after 10 minutes of being on Lipscomb’s campus she changed her mind. “I got this feeling, and everyone would say it feels like home, but I believe it was the power of the Holy Spirit on this campus, that brought me to Lipscomb,” said Cannone.
Through the past four years at Lipscomb, Cannone says things have not gone exactly as she had planned. Although she has been involved on campus in the Student Government Association, Phi Sigma Social Club and various other events, she has also battled through several surgeries, didn’t get to study abroad in Vienna and has had seasons of solitude when she would’ve preferred something otherwise.
However, she says she has learned that in the midst of not seeing how your plan works out and how you want them to come to fruition, she has been blessed to see how God has used her medical struggles to bless and heal others around her.
“I know this is just one more step in the direction of me choosing to seek God's flourishing plans and hand throughout my life. It's one more step in surrendering when you don't want to because you're scared of knowing what comes next. It's step after step of relying and trusting I have no control, but I can obey Him. So today, I am obeying to my Heavenly Father with open hands and heart at the operating table where my heart wounds need healing just as much as my eyes,” Cannone shared in a Caring Bridge blog in October 2016.
Cannone closed her time at the Gathering chapel saying although she has had a lot of challenges since being at Lipscomb; she wouldn’t trade them, and would in fact do them again, as long as God was providing her the strength to persevere.
“God is good—all the time—but you have to choose it,” said Cannone. “In the suffering, there’s been fruit of joy. But I’ve had to choose to walk through the suffering with a different attitude.”
- Photo by Lumination Network