It is reported that more than 1.2 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Sadly, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. will die from this awful disease in this year alone. There will be survivors, praise the Lord, but not until treatment has battered the body as well as the soul and spirit.
I have a dear friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is undergoing treatment and expectations are that she will survive and thrive after treatment. I give God praise for this! When I met with her last week, she commented on how the people who spoke to her about diagnosis didn’t use the word “cancer”. Instead, they said they were sorry about her “situation” or “what was going on” with her.
People don’t like to talk about cancer. It’s almost superstitious, as if saying the word might make the disease jump the road and affect their family. Kay Warren, wife of Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback fame and two-time cancer sufferer herself, has said that “cancer is the most feared word in the English language.” After several years of front-line cancer ministry, I can say I agree with her.
But the reality is that for 1 out of every 2 men and 1 out of every 3 women, cancer will “jump the road” and they will face cancer at some point in their lifetime. And when cancer comes close, well, all of life changes. For me, it was a full year in treatment with surgery, chemo and radiation, then two years of further surgeries and many years on a hormone inhibiting drug. Yep, all of life is different now. Am I a survivor? No, not quite. Cancer is still in my body, but simply kept at bay with special drugs. But I am alive for which I’m most grateful. And I am honored to use the life the Lord has given me to reach out to people who suffer with cancer.
People like Philip’s daughter Kami. I became Kami’s stepmom when she was a pretty 14-year old. She wasn’t one of those rebellious teenage girls, but a sweet, funny, lovable 14-year old whose laugh was contagious and whose quirky comments made you laugh too. In 1984, she asked Philip and me, “If you are getting married soon, will you get married on my birthday?” And so we did, tying the knot on Christmas Eve, 1984 because Kami was Kameron NOEL Young, born — you guessed it — on Christmas Eve. Kami served as my maid of honor and Garrett, Philip’s son as best man at a sweet little ceremony at a sweet little church in a sweet little town in the mountains of Central Oregon.
Kami went on to marry Evan, the love of her life. They eventually moved to Colorado where they were raising their three daughters and living a great life together. But then cancer came close and Kami was diagnosed with breast cancer at far too young an age. Usually when breast cancer is found in younger women, it is more aggressive. Kami went through lots of treatment which she handled with amazing positivity and patient endurance.
But now Kami has Metastatic Breast Cancer, the kind that spreads beyond the breast to other organs of the body. The kind that can never, ever be cured and leaves the patient in treatment every day they live. Those who suffer with this type of breast cancer are often called “Lifers”. Kami’s breast cancer has gone to her liver and brain. Recent chemo has done a number on her immune system, so Kami’s a pretty sick girl. The breast cancer that has gone to the brain is leaving neurological effects which are more than troubling. Yet, Kami remains her inimitable, positive, cheerful self, enduring treatment after treatment, hospitalization after hospitalization, doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment with quiet calm and resolve. She wants to live longer for the sake of her daughters. Of course she does.
When cancer comes close, your character is tested and tried. And sometimes, we see the gold that resides within shining more brightly in these awful times than any other. And this can be true for those who care for the cancer sufferer too. Evan’s rock-like strength and patient care for Kami in these times demonstrates what kind of man he truly is. And this man is an outstanding one. The kind of man you’d trust your daughter to.
So what does God have to say when cancer comes close?
Well, His most important response came in the profound act of sending His Son Jesus, who demonstrated God’s compassion as He walked this earth healing “all” (Matthew 15:30 NLT) and “everyone” (Luke 4:40 NLT). There is no question God hates disease. Otherwise why would Jesus have spent so much time healing the sick? And we know there is no cancer in heaven, so it is not God who afflicts people with cancer. This disease, like others, is just the result of a broken, broken world.
And we have amazing Scriptures which speak of God’s compassion for those who suffer. Here are just a few which can be helpful and hopeful to someone suffering with cancer.
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-19
Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. Psalm 18:6
Cancer experts tell us that if we live long enough, each one of us will have to face cancer. If not our own, cancer affecting a loved one. Cancer will come close. If this is true, we’d be wise to stop being fearful of it or superstitious about it! We be better to wise up and strengthen our faith to enable us to face even cancer with confidence because Jesus Christ will be with us in all our storms. He has promised us He will never leave us, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
Ending on a personal note, may I ask your prayers for Kami, her husband Evan and their daughters Piadara, Talullah and Ailey (pictured here in happier days)? Also for Jill, Lois, Betty, Emily, Rebekah and so many others.
I invite your comments to this post with the names of the cancer sufferers you pray for.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.