When a doctor tells you or a loved one that they have cancer, even with all of the medical advances in curing many forms of the disease, a person instantly enters the “Valley of the Shadow of Death.”
First of all, as a two-time cancer survivor I am here to tell you… I am here. I have survived thyroid cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. That was over twenty-five years ago when I had just turned thirty years old and had two small children. Currently, I have been cancer free from multiple myeloma for over 18 months. While I am in remission now, I know that the cancer I have is not curable, but is treatable. Without further medical advances, someday it will come back and I will have to go through treatment all over again.
I am not looking forward to that, but even with my cancer diagnosis I can look forward. Oh, maybe I don’t think about making it to a nursing home to dine on deliciously soft foods and a variety of jellos, but I do still make plans for a future, because my life is really no different cancer diagnosis or not than anyone else’s. Each and everyone of us only has now.
Last Thursday my three-year-old niece Laney’s leukemia returned. She only had her bone marrow transplant six months ago. Her parents, siblings, grandparents and extended family and friends are heartbroken over this relapse. Early this afternoon her treatment will begin by having a port put into her chest for her chemo treatments and a spinal tap with chemo injected right into her spinal fluid to kill any cancer cells that may be residing there. Her family is asking for prayers as they walk again through this valley of the shadow of death that is cancer.
Long ago, I learned that God always hears our prayers, but as I taught my Christian education students that does not make God a cosmic vending machine. God doe not always answer our prayers with a yes. I can tell you that for almost three years, as I laid in a hospital bed in my living room in a body cast with many broken vertebrae in my spine, I prayed and prayed that it would not be cancer again. I truly did want to believe that my brittle bones were just from early onset osteoporosis.
Having up to six fractures in your back at the same time is a painful thing. I had all I could do to get from day to day in that kind of pain. I remember dreading doctor appointments that were a week away, because I knew that I would have to go up and down stairs and the pain that caused was extremely intense. Car rides were a nightmare, every bump sent pain shooting up my spine. Then, just as I was getting better and things seems to be improving I got my cancer diagnosis–multiple myeloma.
In my life there have been times when I have been angry with God. This was not one of them. I just wanted to throw up my hands and say am I done now? Can I come home? I felt like just quitting and could not see the point of more misery heaped on top of all my daily pain. After all, nobody could promise me that I would ever get better.
It was at that moment I learned to trust. God, my doctors and a husband whose great love for me would not hear of me quitting even if I thought it would make life easier for him.
Did God ignore my pleas for healing? No. God did indeed hear my cries for help. He walked with me through all of the misery that is cancer treatment and provided me with a peace of mind that really does pass all understanding. He not only healed my cancer, but also my life long allergies and asthma. For the first time in my life, except for the bad back, I am really healthy! This morning I walked up to a flowering tree, on my own two feet with just one cane, with no itchy eyes or wheezing. Oh, I may have spent three years incapacitated in my house, but how many people get to spend three whole years praying for your loved ones and talking God. I have no cause for complaint.
Yes, God heard every one of my prayers, but the answers to my prayers were in his time and by his will. God doesn’t dance to my tune no matter how badly I want him to bail me out. He is God and I am called to walk with his will and trust in him. That is a very hard lesson to learn when you are faced with a life threatening illness.
Jesus knew full well how it felt to face a fearful and painful death. He knows exactly how every human being feels when faced with their own or a loved one’s morality and shows us how to pray during those times. Two passages of scripture where Jesus teaches us how to pray are when he is in the garden before his arrest and crucifixion and prior to that when he teaches his followers the Lord’s Prayer.
Mark 14: 32-36
And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.