CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When a parent's worst fear comes true, how do you make sense of it all? Kathy Yokeley’s daughter, Natalie, was diagnosed with inoperable spinal cord cancer at the age of 12.
"At the time, it was very surreal," Yokeley told WCNC Charlotte anchor Sarah French.
"Not My Plans" is the title of Yokeley’s book. As she writes on her website, it "shares poignantly and honestly one mother’s story of loss, pain, and ultimate healing when the God you’ve loved and trusted allows a parent’s worst fear to come true."
Yokeley, a Charlotte mom who's worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for over 16 years, was faced with her deepest fear becoming reality - losing a child.
"Natalie was more strong-willed and introverted," Yokeley replied. "They always said she was wise beyond her years."
When one of her friends was struggling, Yokeley said, "Natalie told her just be yourself that you don't need to fit in you just need to be you."
Wise beyond her years indeed.
At the age of 12, Natalie went in for a regular well check at the doctor. Everything was fine. However, by January something wasn't right. Her back was achy; her legs would become numb. When her mom noticed she couldn't keep up walking at the mall, Kathy knew Natalie needed to go back to the doctor.
After a two and a half full-body MRI, a mass was found in her back.
"As you start to process these things and you go through it, you start to wonder what did I miss," Yokeley asked.
"What in the world is going on? How do we go from what we thought was a simple doctor's visit to all of a sudden we have a diagnosis of cancer," Yokeley would ask her herself.
Soon Natalie lost her ability to walk.
"In spite of that, she finished out the school year," Yokeley noted.
From the time of diagnosis, Natalie would only live about nine more months.
Her doctor delivering the heart-wrenching news.
"He got down eye level with her and he leaned toward her and said Natalie this disease is going to take your life," Yokeley remembered the heart-wrenching details. "And she (Natalie) put her hands up to her face and started sobbing."
Natalie passed away on Nov. 24, 2008.
"I was sitting in that room; I just felt God's absolute peace and what kept going through my mind was I trust you, Lord," Yokeley said.
Getting emotional herself, French, a mother of two, asked Yokeley, "What is it like as a parent to have to say goodbye to your child? What do you even say?"
"Sometimes people that are dying, they need you to let them go," Yokeley replied. She continued, "So we've told her we love her, we're proud of her, but we're afraid if we tell her goodbye she's going to think we're giving up."
Kathy explained how she had to say goodbye to her little girl even though she didn't want to.
"And so when I was up there with her right before she passed away the only thing I could think to tell her was, 'Well done good and faithful servant,' and 'You should be proud of the way you've lived your life, and it's okay to go,'" Kathy explained.
Shortly after, Natalie passed away at home surrounded by her family.
It's been 12 years, but for Yokeley, the right time was now to turn her pain into a book to help others out there in a year when so many are dealing with loss.
"God sees things differently," Yokeley said. "He has an eternal perspective, not a temporal perspective."
She also turned her daughter's drawings of Bible verses she wrote from memory in the hospital into note cards to give to others.
"I am with you always." - Matthew 28:20
"I wait for the Lord." - Psalm 130:5
"Be strong and courageous; do not be terrified." - Joshua 1:9
"We live with the hope of knowing that we will see our little girl one day when we're in heaven," Yokeley explained.
The cards and the book serve as a reminder of a strong and courageous 12-year-old girl. Her mother is now hoping to help others by sharing her story in Not My Plans.