Today was a long day coming; it represented a certain kind of landmark for me and my wife and kids! Today was the last time I had to have a CT scan to check if I had had a recurrence of my cancer; a rare and aggressive, and “incurable” cancer known as desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT), sarcoma. I was diagnosed with it in November 2009, and immediately started heavy chemotherapy. I had surgery May 6th, 2010, and some post-chemo which we ended early in late June 2010. Each year after that was a year where the goal was to remain cancer free, even though usually this kind of cancer comes back, and with a vengeance.
From the day I was told that I had a large mass by my right kidney, in October 2009 all the way through my treatment, the Lord impressed upon me many things with His still small voice as He spoke to my heart. One of the first things He spoke to my heart, before we ever knew exactly what this large mass was, was this:
“This sickness is not unto death, …”
When the Lord spoke this to me I didn’t realize, at first, that it was from John 11:4; but I did finally realize that these words came from that passage, and I gained encouragement from that. Not because I was afraid to die (although I surely didn’t want to), but because I looked at my young wife and young kids, and my heart broke to think that I could be leaving them; that was really a thought too much to bear. So I sought solace in these words from the Lord, and hoped against hope that I was really hearing from Him and not from my own self-talk. The Lord continued to speak to my heart along the way, and as He did each step of the way it was confirmed that I wasn’t hearing from my own self-talk but His still small voice.
Now we have come to a point as of today where that long road just hit a real landmark! What the Lord had spoken to me way back then was confirmed in a very striking way today. Even as the anxiety welled up in my heart the last couple of days, even as I began to psyche myself out and start thinking that every little tinge and inkling of nerviness that I felt in my abdomen might be the cancer returned, the Lord spoke to my heart, as He did in days past, and said: “when it’s gone, it’s gone … today will bring good news!” I had no reason to doubt that I was hearing from the Lord, because every time He had spoken to my heart like this in the past it was confirmed; over and over again!
My oncologist told me today that as far as someone can be cured from the type of cancer I had that I am cured! If you knew the demeanor of my oncologist you would understand even better how significant it is for him to say something like this.
But now I feel somewhat strange. I have never felt “guilty” before, and honestly to say that I feel guilty now is probably not the right language to describe how I feel. The right language is probably more like: “I feel deeply humbled!” But there is that tinge of “survivor’s guilt.” I’ve been following other people who have been diagnosed with DSRCT, even people years after my diagnosis, and they are no longer with us. Although I do know of a few who are doing well right now, which is very encouraging and hopeful; and I have great hope for them! All I can really do is put my hand over my mouth, and know that I stand before a Holy God! There is a tangible sense that I am alive only because the Lord wants me to be alive; that I live solely by the grace of God, and from His breath. This does not seem like an abstract or intellectual thing to me at the moment; it seems concrete and real, and it is!
As we faced today, as I woke up I had that feeling like I once had when I first realized that I had a terminal cancer. It is a feeling of darkness, and no future; as if each minute is the only future I have. It is a crazy sense to have this; it is the sense of my own mortality, and I don’t like it at all. Fellow cancer-brother Todd Billings describes this aspect of a cancer diagnosis well as he describes the impact his early cancer diagnosis had upon him:
… Less than a week earlier, the doctor spoke the diagnosis to me, about which he had no doubt: a cancer of the bone marrow, multiple myeloma—an incurable cancer, a fatal disease. I had been in a fog ever since. How was I to face each day when my future—which had seemed wide open—had suddenly narrowed? My “world” seemed to be caving in on itself with fog in each direction I turned, so that no light could shine in.
I felt this way again today. But by God’s grace the fog blew out, and the “Sun of righteousness” came with “healing in His wings;” and the future opened up once again. But the future has opened up with a sense of soberness about it; where I know that I am not my own – that I have been bought with a price, with the blood of Jesus Christ. I know that someday, and most likely very soon, I will stand bodily before the very One who has seen fit to touch my body as He touched Lazarus’, and give account. The future holds that great day when I will meet the One who kept speaking to my heart over and again, even today; I know His voice, and I know for sure that one day soon I will see the lips that spoke to me today, and yesterday.
Thank you to each of you who have lifted me and my family up to the Lord, our Great High Priest through all of this! We still need prayer, and I covet it! Thank you, and thank you dear Lord for sparing my life for your own loving and gracious reasons! Soli Deo Gloria
 J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer & Life in Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2015), 1. Todd Billings is doing well, and is in a state of “remission,” but I like to call that “cancer free.” He continues to teach theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan; and he continues to receive maintenance chemo. Please keep him in prayer, that the Lord would continue to sustain him and his young family, and that the cancer that has threatened him will understand that it is not lord, but that Todd’s Lord is lord, even over Todd’s unwieldy cancer. Pray the Lord puts Todd’s cancer in its place; the Lord has done that, may He continue to!