“The tumor is inoperable.”

Tara Hogan heard those words from doctor after doctor after having a seizure in the spring of 2005. She struggled to wrap her 23-year-old mind around the rare form of cancer that attacked her brain. What she had hoped was just a random seizure—or even a mild stroke—was a deadly disease bringing her carefree, young life to a screeching halt. The slow-growing tumor was attached to the part of her brain used for speech and short-term memory, and no surgeon in the United States would touch it. The prognosis was grim. Ten years if she was lucky.

Tara needed a miracle.

Her family was devastated—her mother described the process of searching for answers as a roller coaster in and out of hell. Tara’s young marriage to her high school sweetheart crumbled under the weight of this harsh new reality as she underwent 18 brutal rounds of chemotherapy over the course of two years. But the treatments were successful in slowing the growth of the tumor in Tara’s brain, and she began to hope for better days to come.

A Second Chance

When Tara met Charlie, the single father of two, very young daughters, it seemed she had been given a second chance at life and love. They married, and Tara adopted Charlie’s girls. She was grateful for the chance to be a mommy—a chance she’d feared cancer had robbed her of.

But the disease reared its ugly head again in 2009. This time treatment included radiation, which Tara knew could have long-lasting, harmful effects on her brain that could worsen as she got older. Radiation bought her some time, and for the next three years, there was no new growth.

Against all odds, Tara conceived and give birth to a healthy baby girl, and another baby girl arrived just one year later. She joyfully poured herself into caring for her growing family.

The next blow came unexpectedly. Shortly after the birth of Tara’s youngest daughter, her husband left.

“He was an alcoholic, and I didn’t even know for a long time,” Tara says. “He started making poor decisions. At one point, he had to choose alcohol or his family. And alcohol won. I wish I could have chosen for him, but I couldn’t. He had to make this choice on his own.”

Choosing Gratitude

Tara’s second marriage ended in divorce, leaving her to raise all four girls on her own. But her love for her children and her gratitude for a second chance at life never wavered—even in the face of bitter betrayal and hardship.

Now a single mother of four, Tara refused to give in to self-pity or bitterness and chose instead to focus on the good things in her life. She began to look for opportunities to serve others. Unable to work because of the effects of brain cancer and treatment, her resources were limited. But she did have one thing to offer.

She had time.

Time to make meals for the homeless shelter her church helped start in her community. Time to do things for others they were unable to do for themselves. She found joy and comfort in easing the suffering of others who, in her estimation, were in an even tougher position than she was.

Tara discovered that no matter what her circumstances were, she could find contentment and joy in focusing on what she could do for others. She held onto hope by offering hope to homeless families in her community. Day after day, Tara chose to look outward and set her mind on the good things and how she could share them with others instead of dwelling on the hard things.

“I felt like a lot of people had it worse than me, so I couldn’t feel sorry for myself. You can laugh or cry, and I chose to laugh. You have to make that choice up front. ”

New Challenges

The cancer came back yet again in 2015, but Tara refused to allow fear to take over. “I am going to hope and pray for the best,” she said, “but I am going to prepare for the worst.”

Death was a very real possibility, so she made arrangements for a close family friend to care for her girls, making sure they stayed together. Tara met this new challenge head on, confident in the God who had sustained her in all of her troubles thus far.

She was cautiously optimistic when her doctors explained the location of her brain function had changed as a result of the cancer and previous treatments, and because of that change, Tara was now a candidate for the surgery that would allow doctors to remove the tumor, leaving her cancer free.

Eleven years after that first seizure and those first prayers for healing, Tara got her miracle.

New Purpose

The events in Tara’s life have changed her. She views all of it as a blessing—even cancer and divorce. She sees the path that unfolded as the way God chose to bless and use her.

“You pray about what you want to happen, and a lot of times it doesn’t work out the way you want it to,’ she says. “But it is in God’s plan—whether it’s good or bad. Whatever happens is part of a bigger plan that you don’t even know about. Good things happen and bad things happen, but He can make good out of the bad things. Even cancer.”

Remission was the miracle Tara and her family prayed for, and God answered with the surgery that saved her life. But Tara believes the greater miracle has been the change God made in her own heart and how He has used even the hardest parts of her story in the lives of others. The joy she has found in serving and giving to others even while in the middle of her own pain and suffering has given her the strength to endure the hard days.

The cancer diagnosis that should have been a death sentence for Tara was actually the beginning of a life filled with purpose and meaning.

“To be faced with your own death at age 23 is a gift because you learn much earlier than most people what is really important and what isn’t important. Your TIME is the most important thing. What you do with it. Because you don’t have much. ”

So how does Tara spend her time these days? Playing outside with her girls, hanging out with her siblings, and saying yes to every opportunity to invest in the lives of others. She currently serves as Board President for New Futures, a homeless shelter for families that offers not only temporary housing, but educational opportunities and training in life skills to help homeless families get back on their feet and into homes of their own, allowing them to stay together in the process.

Tara’s story isn’t a fairytale. It doesn’t have a happily-ever-after ending. Her story is still being written. She knows there may be more hard times to come but she has trained herself to find the positive in every situation and trust God will use all of it—to trust His timing. She offers that same hope to families she serves at New Futures who are seeking a second chance. Her message is profoundly simple:

“When something bad happens, don’t question or blame God. Pray and wait and see what happens … because God doesn’t do anything bad to you. It all works together for your good, even if it takes 11 years.”