Why a blog about the chronicling of my cancer journey? What makes my cancer any different or more important than anyone else’s? We have received notice of scores of a cancer diagnosis over the 25 years I have pastored here. We have prayed for many who heard those words spoken to them. Some…have died. So what makes my cancer more important or “blog worthy” than any one else’s? The answer to that is “nothing” and “much”.
In one sense my cancer is no different than anyone else’s. Theirs is every bit as much a shock to them as mine was to me. It involves a broad range of people from spouse, to children, the grandchildren, and…a church family. It is no less devastating, no less serious, and no less important than my cancer. So in that respect my cancer is no more “blog worthy” than Mrs. Smith’s or Mr. Jones’.
But in another sense, it is much different. For better or for worse, I have been given, as your lead pastor, a special position of visibility, authority, and influence in the life of Berean Baptist Church. That puts me in a profoundly more strategic position to be the conduit of spiritual benefit to the entire church. And I don’t think the full benefit of what God intends to do through this will be mined if I remain silent or private about my cancer. Only, I think, as I am a transparent medium of what God is doing in me through this, can you be best benefited. That is the reason for this blog.
So, what is it like to hear the doctor say “You have cancer”? Some of you know what it was like for you to hear those words. I’m sure it is somewhat different for every person. But this blog is about walking with your pastor through his cancer. So, what was it like for me?
Perhaps it would be best to start from the beginning, four years ago. One morning while here alone at church I went to the rest room and when I looked in the mirror I saw a spot of blood on my shirt over my left breast. Upon examination I realized I was bleeding from my left nipple. I had not been injured nor had I bumped into anything and so I was puzzled. I went to my doctor and he expressed a small amount of blood from the nipple and sent it to pathology. Pathology said that there were abnormal cells present. That required a surgical biopsy which I had shortly thereafter (aside to McBay’s and Conti’s; this is why I was not at James and Chelsea’s wedding). That biopsy came back clear.
Obviously I had a scar from that surgery. One morning this past March, I was examining that scar when I felt for the first time a lump at the point where the incision had ended. I scheduled another appointment with my doctor and he sent me to my general surgeon. Due to our travel to South Africa, Ukraine, and moving Matt and Emilee from California to North Dakota and due to two cancelations on the part of doctors, I could not have that surgery until June 19th. After the surgery the doctor was upbeat saying he believed that the lump was a blood clot that had walled itself off. He said everything looked good and that he had sent the sample off to pathology as a matter of process.
That brings us up to the post-operative check up on June 26th. I was prepared for the perfunctory examination of the incision to see how it was healing and the affirmation that all was clear. I almost wondered if I should even bother keeping the follow up appointment.
As I calmly waited in the examining room wondering if this was a waste of time my musings about that seemed to be confirmed when a young medical student whom I had never seen before came into to examine me. He introduced himself to me and said he was there to do a preliminary examination for Dr. Myers. I said, “Who is that?” He had the wrong doctor. My surgeon’s name is Gerkin. He apologized and in a few more moments Dr. Reebok, the surgeon who had done my first procedure four years ago came in. As it turned out Dr. Gerkin had been detained in surgery that morning.
It was Dr. Reebok who, after asking a few preliminary questions about my incision and general health said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you that the pathology report has come back with the diagnosis of cancer”.
You have wondered about that moment haven’t you? You have thought what would it be like for your doctor to tell you that you have cancer have you not? I had…many times down through the years. How would I react? What would I say? Would it be surreal? Would I be lightheaded, stunned, stammering, crying? If anyone would have any one or all of those reactions it would be completely understandable… almost warranted. Remember, I was there expecting a totally perfunctory exercise and affirmation of a bill of clean health.
Everyone’s experience probably will be a bit different at this juncture. But as I heard the word cancer a complete calm and absence of emotion prevailed. The very first thought that ran through my mind was “God is sovereign”. I looked directly in the doctor’s eyes with pursed lips and said, “Doc, I believe I rest in the hands of a good and Sovereign God”. I was somewhat surprised at how emotionless it all was. However, I did at some point roll my eyes at the thought of it being “breast cancer” of all things. Why could I not get a “man’s cancer” like prostate! I’ve told folks since then the next surgery I’ll probably have to have is a hysterectomy!
It was a comfort to me that God so wonderfully directed my heart and mind to his sovereign grace when I received the diagnosis of cancer. I do not want to seem heroic here because my mind has gone a lot of places in the days since that have not been as spiritually stoic as my initial reaction. I mean to talk about that some in my next blog. But in that first instance, whether through long immersion in the truth of God’s sovereignty or simply through grace, my first thought was of God and his sovereignty. I’m glad for that. I’m grateful for that.
Now, if you have received that diagnosis and that was not your first thought that does not mean that you are somehow deficient, unspiritual, or “lesser than”. Your thought may have gone to the possibility of death (as mine did in the next sentence), or your spouse, or your children, or just the Lord in general rather than his attribute of divine sovereignty. All that is fine and warranted. However, I would say this; if you have not already, do draw comfort from the sovereignty of God. That is why I preached the message I did July 2nd when I announced it to the church in our service. I wanted to communicate the comfort that God’s sovereignty is meant to be and can be for all his children.
I hope you never hear a doctor say, “You have cancer”. But many of us will. And if it is not cancer, it may be some news just as challenging. In those moments we should run to the truth of God’s sovereign purposes. He means to comfort us with realizations of that sovereignty.