Getting diagnosed with an incurable ‘terminal’ cancer changes you. I was diagnosed with Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (DSRCT) sarcoma in November, 2009. After a long and arduous ordeal of hard core treatment, surgery, etc., by God’s good grace I actually lived; I have been cancer free now for going on five years. I know of so many others now who have been diagnosed with the same kind of cancer I had, and others with other kinds of cancers that are incurable or that have become terminal; namely: Kara Tippets and J. Todd Billings (among many others; I will name Todd and Kara since they have both gone very public with their stories).
In this post I want to reflect on how happy I am to be alive; I shouldn’t be, but I am, and I get overwhelmed with thankfulness when I stop and think about it like I am right now. Statistically I should be dead by now; even as I write this it stops me in my tracks. It is easy to get caught back up in the tumble and bumble of everyday life and not contemplate the reality of life. I will forever (along with my family and close friends) be impacted by and somewhat identified by the reality that I had this cancer, the kind that should have taken me out. I still have a 12 inch scar running from the bottom of my sternum to just below my belly button where they did the resection surgery. I still have neuropathy in my feet from side effects from the chemo-therapy. I still get to go in and get CT scans every year to make sure I am still cancer free. They removed my right kidney when doing my resection surgery, so I have my left kidney left, and apparently the function of that kidney isn’t a hundred percent (but it works). I am continuously, even when I am not consciously thinking about it, living with the reality that I have this cancer, or had this cancer that should have killed me; a cancer for which there is no actual protocol, no cure, and very little research behind it.
I have no doubt in my mind that the only reason I am alive right now writing this reflection is because for some mysterious reason God in Jesus Christ wants me to be alive. And it is this that hits me the most. What impacts me the most, at the moment, as a result of having the cancer that I did, and living through it, is the immediacy of God’s hand on my life. Don’t get me wrong, the immediacy of God’s hand on each and every one of our lives is palpable and concrete; maybe I should say that as a result of having lived through this cancer (thus far) that, just personally, I sense a real closeness to God’s presence in my life, in ways that I had not experienced previously. There is a sense where the Apostle Paul’s point about us ‘not being our own’ (I Cor. 6.18,19) rings really true for me.
On a theological level (and intellectual) I used to struggle with a deep sense of doubt about God’s existence, even as a Christian who loved (and loves) Jesus. I have had some moments where those thoughts have started creeping on me again, here and there, but in fact they really don’t anymore. After having cancer, and living through it; after seeing the things the Lord did for me, for us as a family through that time (I have lots of stories, miraculous stuff I could share), part of the blessing of the cancer, for me, personally, has resulted in the demolition of those prior doubts about God’s existence and tender loving care for me and my family. God made things very personal through the suffering of cancer for me, in such deep ways that that personality of God in Christ has been interwoven into the very fabric of my life’s warp and woof.
Jesus is alive; and whether we live or die, we live, because he does for us! There is nothing worth living for in this world, but Jesus Christ. Within the domain of his life all things live, and relationships can flourish. But there is nothing, no nothing worth living for but him. This life is desperately short, and the Lord wants us to do good for him, and from him while there is yet opportunity. Don’t forget this dear brother and sister! This life is but a vapor, but the life of Jesus Christ in which we participate by the Spirit is indestructible; so live from him. When things are hellish, and life seems out of whack, no matter what the circumstances, remember that greater is he that is in you than he who is in the world. Life abundant!