I never thought I’d write a book about cancer. But then, I never thought I’d get cancer. No one does. Everyone who hears those awful words, “you have cancer” is shocked. It has been said that cancer is the most feared word in the English language. Perhaps that is true. What I know is that when I was diagnosed with cancer, fear became a greater enemy than cancer itself. Fear was everywhere. It besieged me from every direction. I was fearful of the diagnosis and the treatment. I was fearful of what lay ahead of me. I was fearful I might die. Fortunately, I had someone to turn to in my darkest, most fearful hour.
Read about my journey in my new book Gold in the Road: Through the Cancer Storm with Jesus Christ. This book was written for those who suffer with cancer and those who love them. It is also a book for those who are going through any life crisis.
Go to Amazon.com to order your copy.
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.
I never wanted pictures taken when I was really sick during my cancer treatment. Oh, when I had makeup on and my wig firmly in place, I would allow photos. In fact, one of them still follows me around on the internet. It’s odd looking at it because I know what’s under the wig. I know the suffering behind the smiling face. But when I was really sick, I made sure there no photos were taken. So there aren’t many pictures in my cancer story.
And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
When I was very little, my mother would bring my three siblings and me together to sit with her in our big living room chair. She would open the Moody Bible Story Book and read to us about the lives of the heroes of both the Old and New Testaments. There were always pictures with the stories. I loved the Moody Bible Story Book. It was my very first Bible.
Not all the stories were pretty. Some stories were of awful sin, terrible brokenness, unimaginable suffering. And the pictures that accompanied the stories showed the sin, the brokenness, the suffering. David leering with lust from his rooftop at a bathing Bathsheba below. The Widow of Nain weeping uncontrollably over her dead son’s body lying on a bier. The Hebrew people in hard, horrible slave labor in Egypt. I remember the pictures as well as what my mother read to us. The pictures were part of the story.
What I didn’t know, couldn’t understand during my cancer storm, is that pictures should have been a part of my story. No one is obligated to take a selfie in their time of greatest suffering. Including me. But looking back, I wish I had one or two of me during my time of greatest suffering. I wish I’d had enough courage to ask Philip to take a picture of me when I wasn’t smiling, when I didn’t have my makeup on, when my head was bald and my eyes were dark and sunken. Why? Because that was part of my story.
I have just read The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts, the young wife and mother who with her husband planted a church in Colorado Springs in the same six months she was diagnosed with 4th stage breast cancer. Kara’s book is a hard but beautiful read. She was a valiant cancer sufferer always aware that her life “wasn’t about cancer; it was about Jesus.” Kara died a noble death in March of 2015.
When I Googled Kara, I found not only pictures of her smiling into the camera, but I also saw pictures of her when she was bald, suffering, sick from chemo. You see, that was part of Kara’s story. It was part of mine also, but I have no pictures to prove it. I wish now that I did. Not to focus on the pain but to give witness to the truth.
With cancer there is suffering. We can’t avoid it; we can’t side-step the reality. Suffering is an intrinsic part of the cancer story. And isn’t that where I found Christ the closest? Weren’t the times of greatest suffering also the times of greatest beauty because He was with me? Yes and yes and yes again.
Those pictures I don’t have would have reminded me, yes, of my suffering but more, they would have reminded me how much God loves the sufferer.
When you are in a battle, they say, the better your defense against your enemy, the greater your chances of survival, even victory. If that is true in the world of cancer with medical treatment as our defense, how much more true it is in the spiritual part of our lives!
St. Paul addressed warfare in his writings as if every Christian was to become expert in dealing with it. Teaching believers how to contend with our enemy the devil, he said in Ephesians 6,
13 Put on every piece of God’s armor …
14 Put on the belt of truth
and the body armor of God’s righteousness.
15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News …
16 Hold up the shield of faith …
17 Put on salvation as your helmet,
and take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times …
With these godly instructions in mind, here is a translation of the ARMOR OF GOD FOR THE CANCER SUFFERER:
- The Belt of Truth: Truth is knowing that God formed your body in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139) and knows everything about you, including your diagnosis and everything taking place in your body. Truth is believing that God loves you and He will never leave you, not for one moment of your cancer storm (Deuteronomy 31:8; Matthew 28:20). Wrap this truth around you daily.
- The Body Armor of God’s Righteousness: God’s righteousness in Christ Jesus extends like armor to cover all our vital organs — the very organs threatened by cancer. See the righteousness which Christ bought for us on the cross as covering and protecting your vital organs.
- For shoes, put on the Gospel Peace: Peace is a gift given to us by Jesus, the Prince of Peace (John 14:27). We are to put it upon our feet and walk in peace as we go from doctor’s appointment to infusion to radiation to surgery. Don’t let fear rob you of what is rightfully yours in Christ. Let God’s peace lead you every step of your cancer journey.
- Hold up the shield of faith: It is hard to have faith when the cancer storm rages. Yet faith in Jesus Christ is the shield which guards us in time of trouble. Even more, faith can extinguish the darts which assail us in our storm before they can strike our soul. Every day, hold up simple faith in Jesus. No matter what.
- Put on salvation as your helmet: Thoughts matter. In cancer, thoughts can direct us toward hope or toward despair. “Think on these things,” St. Paul said — and directed us to things which were “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8) In the cancer storm, thoughts really matter.
- Take up the sword of the spirit: It is only the Word of God which is a sword strong enough to defeat our enemy and yet light enough to be lifted by one whose body is weakened with cancer. The Bible is a friend in the darkest night of our cancer storm. Find a verse which brings life and lift it up. (Genesis 8:1; Psalm 3:2-6; Psalm 91; Mark 4:30-34; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Revelation 22:18-21; Leviticus 26:40-45; Joshua 10:25; 1 Peter 1:3-6)
- Pray: Like the Word of God as the Sword of the Spirit, prayer is an offensive weapon. It pushes back the force of the enemy and pushes us forward when we have no strength of our own. Leaning on God in prayer is essential. And because God loves people who have cancer, He will always respond. God’s presence is found in the quietest, simplest moments of prayer. And His presence makes all the difference.
I don’t like cranky women. Yesterday morning at the Orange County airport as Philip and I traveled to Oregon, the TSA officer – a woman – was really cranky as she scolded us for being in the wrong check-in line. It was 6 am and I hadn’t had enough coffee. I’d gotten a meager amount of sleep the night before. And here we were getting scolded by a young, pretty, but oh so cranky TSA officer. I found myself getting cranky in response to her crankiness!
As Philip and I navigated to the proper check-in line, I realized two things. First, the TSA presence at the airport was on alert due to this being Memorial Day with heightened safety risks. The young, pretty, but oh so cranky TSA officer was just doing her job which today didn’t include being nice or friendly. Second, I observed in myself that had the officer been a male, it probably would have bothered me to a lesser degree.
Well, as one who intentionally avoids gender bias, I admit to having a bias against cranky women. Now let me be clear – I don’t like anyone being cranky regardless of gender or age or circumstances, but it bothers me more when women are cranky. Could this be an old left-over of being stung by a mother who was too often cranky? Or could it be something deeper, like a recognition that women are made in God’s image to be something different from cranky? Could it be a cranky woman is a denial of her created design?
Not to get too theological here, but a short sprint into Proverbs 31 boosts my point. I don’t often teach on the Proverbs 31 woman. Poor gal. She’s gotten way too much press in sermons designed by men to help women fall in line. Among a lot of Christian women, she’s a sore spot. She’s way too perfect for our taste! But to make my point, I’m willing to spotlight one of her “perfect” characteristics.
Proverbs 31, verse 26 says in part, “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Did you see it? Kindness is on her tongue. This perfect woman portrayed in Proverbs 31 has kindness, not crankiness, on her tongue. She speaks, even teaches, with kindness. I have no problem believing that God designed women to BE kind and to SPEAK kind. I have no problem believing that kindness is a part of our created nature as women. When we are being kind, when we are speaking kindly, we are more closely aligned with our created nature.
Yes, I am sure men are created to be kind as well, but I’m thinking about women today.
Philip and I had just returned from leading a women’s retreat for 100 women from Rock Harbor Church in Mission Viejo, California. It was a wonderful time of teaching, worship and a great sense of the Presence of God among us. Most of the women were from the millennial generation and I had to ponder why in the world they would want to listen to a 63-year old lady Anglican priest. Here is the conclusion I came to: They needed teaching delivered with extraordinary kindness.
As I taught, their faces told me this was true. I could have great Biblical knowledge to impart. I could teach with great power. I could demonstrate the Spirit’s supernatural gifts. But if I did not speak with kindness, they would have walked away lacking.
Of course, it is because of the Spirit of God living within us, that we can opt out of crankiness. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness …” (Galatians 5:22-23) Christ within us urges us toward kindness. And when we choose kindness, especially when tempted to be cranky, we are more fully human and more fully female. A woman is perhaps never more attractive than when she is being kind and when she is speaking with kindness on her tongue.
Later on the plane as the people in the row behind me were too loud and raucous and with a child kicking the back of my seat, I was tempted to be cranky. But I chose kindness instead. It was a good choice.
Yesterday was another day to visit the sick in the hospital. Philip joined me as we went to pray with two of our dear saints, both very ill lying in hospital beds just down the hall from one another. To visit the sick is a privilege which God calls us to as Christians. In Matthew 25:36, Jesus speaks to visiting the sick and elevates such acts in saying, “I was sick and you visited Me.” In other words, Jesus sees visiting the sick as so important, He says when we do this, we actually visit Him! Jesus makes Himself to be the one who is sick. Astounding.
And praying for the sick for healing is part of our Christian mandate. One-fifth of the Gospel story is devoted to the healing ministry of Jesus. In Matthew 9:35, we read, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction”. In Acts 10:38, Peter says, “[Jesus] went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” Healing is a sign that the Kingdom of God has come to earth. As well, it demonstrates the compassion of the Lord for suffering people. Reaching out in compassion to heal the sick is a part of the Christian experience.
And so, this is what Philip and I did yesterday. We visited the sick and we prayed for healing. As we we prayed, I couldn’t help but question my own faith in those moments. After all, these dear ones are not young in age and perhaps more than most, I have seen the reality of sickness and death. I face it every day and I am not given to a denial of either sickness or death. In this world we all at some time will experience both. So as I prayed for healing, did I really believe that healing would take place?
The honest answer is no, I did not fully believe that healing would take place. But I believed that it COULD. And I believed that healing doesn’t fully rest on my faith. It rests on the grace and love of Jesus Christ. After all, He is Healer — I am not. And according to Matthew 9:35, Jesus had a perfect batting average at this healing thing! Perfect. This demonstrates His clear and unconditional commitment to healing. How that healing happens is up to Jesus. Some receive their healing on this earth and in common time. Others receive divine healing in kairos time (supreme time) as they step from this earth into heaven.
Is God limited to or by our faith? Clearly not. There are several instances in the Gospels where faith is not even mentioned at a healing of Jesus. The truth is that we all sometimes struggle with the faith to believe that Jesus will heal because we see so little healing accomplished. Yet we should always ask the deeper question, “Do I believe that Jesus CAN and WANTS to heal?” To that question, I knew my answer was a resounding “YES!” And so I prayed for the sick to be healed yesterday.
When we struggle with our belief as we pray for healing, we are good to follow the example of the father who desperately needed healing for his son. As he cried out to Jesus, he said, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This was me at the hospital as Philip and I prayed for healing yesterday. I had struggling faith, not stubborn disbelief.
How about you?