Plot twist: I’ve got cancer.

Also, Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and my Savior, and I’m more grateful for that than ever.

I didn’t see that coming.  No risk factors and no typical symptoms, other than a low-grade fever that could have been many things.

But the blessings from this have been many.

It could have gone undetected a long time, but through a series of other ailments and unusual circumstances I ended up getting scans that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The healthcare system here has been amazing, with multiple doctors who have never met collaborating quickly to get tests and results.  I am grateful for first-world medical care.  This could have been a death sentence in most parts of the world and certainly most times in history.  The doctors are so skilled at reading things like CT scans.  They look like blobs of grey to me, but they can quickly see where things are amiss.  But I do laugh when they try to point things out to me, as if I could actually follow along.  They could tell me, “Now here’s the spot where there is a unicorn inside you” and I’d say, “Uh, yeah, sure, provided that you ask me no follow-up questions, I see the horn right there . . .”

It is non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (though we didn’t know that right away), which has a high success rate in treatment.  And it will be probably be addressed via chemotherapy (we should be meeting with the oncologist next week to get a treatment plan).  I was hoping to get through life without chemo, but that is still better than chemo + surgery (the first reviews of the CT scan indicated that it might have been going from my left kidney — my favorite!! — to my stomach, which could have meant losing all of the former and some of the latter).

From a practical standpoint, it has prompted me to document our finances and such even more.  We’ve had wills, power of attorney (medical and legal) forms, etc. along with some general documentation, but I realized it would help to do even more.  After all, even aside from this I could die in an accident any day.  I read about a woman who was so grateful that her husband carefully documented all their financial information so that when he died things were so much easier for her.  It doesn’t fit the worldly definition of love and romance, but it is a great gift to leave your loved ones.  Grieving over losing you will be bad enough, but spending stressful hours sorting out your finances and such will make things harder for them.  So I’ve got a list of things to update to make it more clear about passwords, insurance, retirement accounts, bill paying, etc. I encourage you to do the same.

I am reminded of what a fantastic wife I have and how completely wise and supportive she has been through this.  And my children are amazing, and the rest of the family, friends, co-workers and church family have been tremendous as well.  What an indescribable blessing.

I am much more empathetic to many brothers-in-Christ and others who live with chronic pain.  The last couple months were rough as they included a variety of unusual ailments.  But they pale in comparison to what others deal with on a continuing basis.  Their perseverance and faith are a humbling inspiration to me in light of my far lesser issues.

This was a friendly reminder about our mortality.  Make no mistake: Whether you have 40 more minutes or 40 more years, you will directly face the one true God some day (Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom).  At the risk of being Captain Obvious, you will not sit in judgment of God or dictate the terms and conditions of life to him.   You can’t dictate the terms and conditions to parents, bosses, teachers, police, or even a McDonald’s cashier, so don’t be foolish and think you can do that with God. The rich young ruler walked away sadly when he didn’t like God’s requirements but Jesus didn’t chase after him to negotiate.  Repent and believe now while you can and accept God’s unbelievably gracious forgiveness through Jesus.

I don’t wish these experiences on anyone, but really knowing where your faith is in situations like this is a true blessing.   In the midst of all this – especially when things were less clear — I can honestly say I had contentment through Christ, just as He promised in Philippians 4* and elsewhere.  Yes, there were anxious moments wondering about different scenarios, but whenever I refocused on Jesus I was at ease.  I’ve been sleeping well and am truly trusting in his sovereignty.  Whether I live or die, I trust in what He said in Philippians 1**

Our main prayer is that we won’t waste any of this.  God has already given us many opportunities to encourage others and to share this to his glory.  I did drop the ball once — which I pray won’t happen again — when I failed to pray with a visibly nervous guy in a waiting room.  I prayed for him but should have prayed with him.  We really want to look to the interests of others and not just our own, as in Philippians 2***.  (Yes, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Philippians :-)).

All that said, I have to admit that this involves three things I’m not fond of:

  1. Medical stuff (time, $, decisions, uncertainty, pain)
  2. Things that make my wife anxious
  3. Being the center of attention

Prayers are welcomed, not just for healing and minimal side effects 🙂 but that Christ would be glorified every step of the way**** and that others could be comforted and encouraged throughout this.

It is always a good day to be a Christian, but in times like this I especially enjoy it.

P.S. If you would like a great, easy to read summary of the Bible and Christianity, I highly recommend The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl. Even if you don’t end up believing you will have a much better understanding of what you disagree with.


*Philippians 4:10–14 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.

**Philippians 1:15–26 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

***Philippians 2:3–4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

****Ephesians 6:18–20 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

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31 thoughts on “Plot twist: I’ve got cancer.”

  1. Neil, I am just now learning of this. You will be in my prayers. My nephew had this diagnosis and went through the treatments prescribed. He has been declared cancer free and working daily. I pray your treatment will be successful and free of discomfort as possible. You are God’s Child and He is very aware of your situation. God bless! Marilyn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My phone has been dinging all mornong and I have been ignoring it because it is my day off. For some reason i got my lazy butt out of my laxy-boy chair to find out what this dig was all about. My heart sunk and a tear came to my eyes. You are the last person i would ever expect to face this. (Mr. Universe, Mr. YMCA, Mr. Protien shakes, water packed tuna amd peanuts every day). I still dod not belive it. Even though we never see each other anymore you will mever know how much you mean to me and how much you have ment to me growing up in Akron, Ohio. One of my better best friends. That said I know you are going to be okay. I have seen to power of prayer heal the unhealabl. We will get you through this . People you see and those you don’t. Our family will pray for your healing. We will pray for your doctor’s. God will heal you. I am sure of it. Keep strong Neil, we all LOVE YOU.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John, you are still the most authentic and genuinely caring person I know. Your note made me laugh and then choke up. Believe it or not I still eat tuna and nuts regularly and make smoothies daily :-). I rejoiced when we caught up in Akron years ago (maybe at the 20th reunion?) and realized we had both become believers. Praise God for that. Blessings to you and your family and know that I love you too.

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  3. Neil, You are one of my heroes in later years of life. You led my first KAIROS adventure which still leads in the others that have followed.
    I still communicate with two from the Table of James.
    I was one of the “lambs” of an earlier Emmaus Walk which led me from
    Tutoring Math for GED at Jester II to Alpha Bible and then Mentoring.
    Your inspirational leadership deepened my faith and commitment through the Holy Spirit for further work.
    May He continue to bless you through these “trials of the flesh”.
    In Christ, my love. Ben

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I spent time on a vegan diet some years back. Along the way, the guy running the program spoke of nasties, like cancer cells, thriving due to the body becoming a good environment for them to do so. Acidity is one reason that becomes the case. An alkaline environment is not conducive to their existence. That’s the theory, anyway. But I’ve heard it from another source as well. You can find this info at:

        totalhealthinstitute.com

        This guy first came to my attention on a local Christian radio station, which still airs his program. I was dealing in nutritional products at the time and thought digging into his stuff would help my understanding of such things. While I’m still not convinced as to the need to eliminate all animal products from one’s diet (quality making a big difference in health outcomes…that is, grass fed versus the more common stuff loaded with hormones, pesticides, etc.), everything else he espouses about diet is pretty much becoming standard these days (raw veggies over cooked, for example, and no starches).

        There’s a history of colon cancer in my family, my father and one of his brothers both died from it and my younger sister now must always use a colostomy bag because of all the internal parts of her removed because of it, so I’m routinely looking at things related to preventing and healing from such things. I get checked out every other year or so and while I am not “religious” with my dietary habits, I still do eat better than I used to prior to having done the vegan thing, and strive to avoid as much of the bad foods as I can. Having eaten like a rabbit for about a year, I know I could do it again if I got the bad news, but it’s better to not have to ever hear that news if at all possible. Good dietary habits help.

        Not to inundate you with too much stuff, but another source I have is a book called “Cancer: Step Outside the Box” by Ty Bollinger. It also speaks of why we get cancers and various “alternative” methods of dealing with it. His research was prompted by cancer having struck several members of his family as well. Lots of info in the book if you can get your hands on it. (He spends a good 40-50 pages or so expressing his displeasure with mainstream medicine, but after that…)

        If any of this stuff has appeal to you, and you are interested in pursuing any of it, one thing to keep in mind: Many doctors are locked into traditional methods and do not put much value on alternatives. So asking them about them might result in them waving it off as useless. A better course is to ask them, “Is there anything in this/about this that is bad for me/would hurt me?” rather than asking for their opinion on an alternative technique or protocol directly. Ultimately, it’s all up to you and God anyway.

        Hope this is useful to you and I apologize for the length of this comment.

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  4. For some reason, I was just thinking about you–in relation to Care Net and Fred Astaire–there must’ve been a reason He brought you to mind. Be assured that your Care Net family will be praying for you and that you will be a bold witness for Christ as you walk through this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Neil, you and family are in my prayers, too.

    Luther was once asked about the evil things (like cancer) that happen to people. He answered that the devil was always working all these things. If it weren’t for God’s active intervention, everything would be so much worse. Luther was also a great believer in the unseen invisible intervention of good angels working on behalf of Christians at all times. How this all works is unclear in Scripture (at least to me). But I do know that you are a great example of shining the light of Christ through your writings. No doubt at all that he will be glorified in your life through this “plot twist”.

    Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
    For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

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  6. The military trains men in many things, and one skill they drill in is how to avoid doctors. Had I not become proficient in that skill I’d probably be in much better physical condition than I am now. But would I be better of when it comes to faith?

    Your announcement put me to pondering and when I consider all the men of God that I know, it’s hard to think of one that doesn’t have some major affliction. Unlike our friend Steven Furtick I’m not going to presume to know what is on God’s mind when it comes to physical ailments, but our brothers in faith all use these maladies as an anchor, grounding us more securely to God regardless of the raging winds

    I do not have cancer, but I do have enough going on between my Adams apple and my knees to keep any acronym fan busy and several specialists gainfully employed. With all the medical mayhem I’ve been through the only advice I can give you is a Three Letter Acronym (which in itself is a three letter acronym: TLA) and that acronym is LLL; Love God, Listen to your doctor and Lean on your nurses. I’ve had some dealings with oncology nurses, they are the bravest, smartest, most caring nurses in the medicine. They are the Top Gun, they are what other nurses aspire to.

    Lean on them for everything from dealing with the pain to translating what the doctor said into English. I’m often moved to tears when I think of what these nurses go through on a daily basis..They are truly a blessing..

    Bless you my brother, keep us informed of your progress.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your advice and encouragement. My goal is to be an excellent patient and do what they say.

      I know you live with chronic pain and thought of you as one of the many I know who are dealing with things much more severe than mine. Just visited a guy the other night who lives with chronic back pain.

      P.S. Thanks so much for your work in outing Furtick. I live in his area and my fingertips are constantly raw from peeling Elevation stickers off of people’s cars. Seriously, he is such a blight. We have members who were seriously wounded there. I’m glad they got out. But I know others who think he’s terrific. Ugh.

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  7. Neil,
    You don’t know me, but I have been following your blog since back in the days when you posted on Sojourners, and when I read your posts, I was always torn between “Thank God someone is here refuting this poison!” and “Why does he bother? It’s a losing battle on this website!”, and I hope it is a point of pride for you that you were thrown off! Thank you for all your thoughtful and true posts back then, in spite of the backlash.

    When I read your blog post just now about the cancer, my heart sank. I echo the thoughts of those who offer encouragement and prayers, as well as gratitude for the time and effort and thought you put into your blog posts, which have inspired me, taught me, and been the basis for good discussions between my husband and me. Isn’t it amazing how you can touch the lives of so many people and probably have no idea yourself that you are! (I think that was a badly constructed sentence.) Anyway, I feel compelled to write to you now to thank you, and to assure you that prayers are going up on your behalf from Colorado.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jane,

      Thank you so much for your beautiful comment! I was just explaining the whole blogging thing to some friends the other night. People like you are what make it worthwhile. I realize that I’m not likely to persuade Jim Wallis & Co., but if anyone on the fence is helped or if any believers are encouraged, then that is enough. And of course, it is always a good day to proclaim the truth about Jesus, regardless of who is listening.

      Thank you so much for your prayers. I really meant all I wrote. Blessings have abounded, even more than I took the time to write about. I am actually quite optimistic at this point and eager to meet with the oncologist to get started on a treatment plan.

      And blessings to you and your husband!

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