You have cancer. Hearing those words from a doctor can send chills down your spine. Although it has been twenty-nine years since my first diagnosis I can still recall the range of emotions that I felt upon hearing those words just like it was yesterday. I remember thinking, “How could this be happening to me? I am only twenty-five years old. This is something that happens to other people.”
We never know for certain what life has in store for us. I played both basketball and baseball at the collegiate level. Then, just a couple years later, I needed assistance to even get out of bed. This was definitely not how I had planned my life. Surviving the surgery wasn’t too bad, but the chemotherapy for the next few months was a completely new learning experience. Having an allergic reaction to the main anti-nausea drug added to the complications. This was not going to be an easy ride.
Each round of chemotherapy became more difficult. I had not only lost all of my hair; I also lost a lot of weight. This was weight I couldn’t really afford to lose. My physical condition seemed to deteriorate with each passing day. One infection followed another. One blood transfusion followed another. I was losing strength and I was losing hope. It appeared that I would be unable to survive the treatments.
As my physical condition declined so did my emotional state. Some well-intentioned people brought me “inspirational” cassette tapes to boost my spirits. I listened to these tapes and grew even more discouraged. One guy on the tape described his diagnosis with cancer and how he marched triumphantly through the whole process. He never once doubted that he would survive. His faith was in Jesus Christ. I came to the conclusion that my faith was weak. The words of Jesus must surely apply to me, “O you of little faith.” I seriously doubted my ability to survive.
My prayer life consisted primarily of offering up my sickness and suffering. Hours of vomiting after each treatment left me physically exhausted and mentally and emotionally drained as well. Attempts to pray specific prayers from a book, or even from memory, proved to be a futile task. I simply did not have the strength to concentrate. I could simply lay there and beg for mercy.
Over the course of a four month period I spent 52 days in the hospital, but who was counting? The roller coaster ride of emotions is one I cannot adequately describe with words. It was a matter of surviving a day at a time. Finally, one day I finally gave up. I couldn’t take any more. My veins were shot from all of the I.V. lines and blood transfusions. My pain tolerance had dwindled to almost nothing. I simply couldn’t endure any longer.
The next day my blood tests revealed improvements. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, a significant corner had been turned on that day. Eventually I would be well. I may not have journeyed with the same level of faith as the guy I heard on the tape, but God’s gracious love poured down upon me anyway. That is when I grew in understanding of grace. I didn’t earn it; grace was freely given to me.
After my recovery I helped begin a support group for patients and their families who were coping with life-threatening illnesses. I participated in this group for ten years and learned a great deal in the process. The power and magnificence of God’s healing love is present. There are times when prayers aren’t answered the way we hope, but they are answered nonetheless. I witnessed healings in many families even if there was not a cure of the illness. God truly understands our needs quite perfectly.
I met my wife at a support group meeting. She lost both of her parents to cancer within six weeks of each other. During that time the doctors also thought my cancer had recurred. The beginning to our relationship was not an easy one, but through the trials and tribulations we experienced grace and love. This has brought us through the difficult moments of life more than once. I was diagnosed with cancer a second time and have now been 14 years since that diagnosis. An open-heart surgery was thrown in as well 12 years ago. The trials have been many. The graces have been more.
Why do I share this with you? I want to encourage you to maintain hope even when the times are darkest. I didn’t always live life well through the difficult moments, and I still sometimes struggle with keeping my life focused on Christ when times get tough. However, I am grateful for the renewed sense of hope after reflecting back upon these major life events. I am convinced more than ever that God does yearn to be close to each one of us, especially when life hurts.