Oct 19

Transforming the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope




A while back I was reading in the book of Hosea about how God promised to “transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope” and I thought of my friend Lauren.

His cancer journey has been an incredible roller coaster with hopes dashed one minute and unexpected new hopes found the next.

I hope your journey or your loved one’s is a lot smoother, easier ride than Lauren’s, but just in case you hit a bunch of bends in the road, I thought you should know his hope-filled story.

It all started in December of 2006 when Lauren, then 54, was diagnosed with a rare mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He began a course of chemo at nearby Hershey Medical Center, but never really got a good remission and restarted more treatment in July of 2008 when more tumors developed.

In November of that year, he walked his only daughter down the aisle (and unlike his wife, didn’t have to worry about how his hair looked that day!) A couple weeks later he headed back to Hershey for a stem cell transplant, because the chemo had not worked as well as hoped and he still had a lot of active disease.

Lauren received his stem cells from an anonymous donor because none of his family was a match for him. The transplant involved Lauren receiving an intravenous lethal dose of chemo and then being “rescued” from death with a transfusion of the donor’s healthy stem cells.

Lauren survived the transplant, but some of the cancer also survived and started growing. The doctors tried a couple of new chemos, which didn’t work and then some radiation, which also failed to stop the tumors growing on his arm.

Finally in October 2009, the Hershey doctor said there was one more hope: a donor lymphocyte infusion. (Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it—Lauren hadn’t either.) Basically, it involved putting some of the donor’s white blood cells (lymphocytes) into him to see if they could recognize and destroy the cancer cells.

  Lauren was the first to know the procedure was working.

“Within a week I could see the shrinkage in the tumors on my arm,” he recalls.

A second dose was given and the tumors disappeared. As I write, it’s six years later and Lauren has welcomed two grandchildren. He continues to get clean bills of health from Hershey.

When I asked him how he managed to hang on through such a tough ordeal. He says: “My faith and the faith of others was what got me through.

“Many times I was about to throw in the towel, but my wife kept telling me ‘Don’t give up!’ ”

Joan even gave him a quarter-sized medallion with the word “HOPE” emblazoned on it and told him to keep it in his pocket as a reminder that there still was hope for them.

That medallion is “still in there and it’s going to stay in there,” says Lauren, who eventually learned the name of his German donor and could finally write him a heartfelt thank you letter. Lauren included one of the HOPE coins “so I can give back to him what he gave to me.”

He says there were times that he had doubts, worries and fears, but found “when my faith was weak, the faith of others helped hold me up.

“The faith of other people, their prayers with me and the outpouring of support for me gave me hope.”

A few years ago, Lauren and his wife traveled West and stopped in Death Valley.

“I kept thinking about the verse (in Psalm 23:4) ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me’,” recalls Lauren. “I knew I had come through that valley and He was with me.”

As Lauren and I talked on the phone about this day’s writing, he told me he was sitting and looking at his favorite picture in his home. It’s a poster of a craggy mountaintop with this inscription underneath: “It’s not the greatness of my faith that moves mountains, but my faith in the greatness of God.”

Don’t worry, my friend, today if your faith is not that big. Just be sure to put it all in a very big God.

I will…transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. Hosea 2:15

Lord, I need You to walk with me through this dark valley. Help me not to give up, but to give in to You. I place my small faith in Your great power. Amen.


Oct 12

Five Ways to Strengthen Your Funny Bone




About a month before my cancer diagnosis in 1990 I was a reporter for a local paper and writing a story about the new cancer support group at the local hospital. I interviewed the local oncologist, Dr. Marc Hirsh for the story and visited his office. When I walked by the chemo room, I glanced in at all the patients in recliners hooked up to IVs. It was an incredibly scary picture to me. But what was even scarier was that the patients were laughing. I remember thinking: They must not know they had cancer. I went home that day and told my husband, “If I ever had cancer, I definitely would not be sitting there laughing.”

Four weeks later when I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 36, I definitely was not laughing. When I went for my first chemo treatment to that same oncology office, I was so frightened. And I knew I would never laugh while hooked up to an I.V. getting toxic chemicals.

But that was before I met Marc’s head chemo nurse, Ruth, who was with him since he opened his office in 1989. I can’t recall what silly thing she uttered, but before I knew what had happened, she had me laughing too.

There was still nothing funny about having cancer or getting chemo or not knowing if I would see my daughters grow up or if my husband would bury another wife, but every time I laughed it felt so good and reminded me that I was still alive.

So I decided I needed to keep my sense of humor and started to look for funny things in spite of my serious predicament.

One of the first things my family found to joke about was the new chemo pill I took—Levamisole. It was a newly approved oral medicine, and I was the first patient at Marc’s office to take it. I soon learned that in reality it was a worming medicine designed to kill intestinal parasites in sheep and dogs.

Whenever I took a pill, I started barking and chasing my squealing daughters around the house. My husband mentioned to our friends that I had been wormed and he was thinking of getting me a rabies shot too. The pills were very expensive and my husband often suggested we call the vet to see if we could get them cheaper there. (A regular comedian, huh?)

My support groups always have had a reputation for a lot of laughing and every time we laughed together, it reminded us that we’re alive . . . and that always is worth celebrating. If you don’t have a funny oncology nurse or a laughing support group nearby (or a comedian husband!), Dave Dravecky’s Outreach of Hope offers five suggestions to “strengthen your funny bone”:

  1. Start your own comedy collection of jokes and cartoons. Do an Internet search for “clean jokes” and you’ll find some good laughs. Post them at your desk or on your fridge so you can remind yourself to laugh. (Do you know how to make Michigan cookies? Put them in a bowl and beat them for three hours!–OK maybe that’s only funny if you’re a Buckeye like me!)
  2. Get your groceries and get a chuckle by reading some of the tabloid headlines while standing in line. (I just read about aliens with anorexia and manure as a miracle cure for arthritis!) Of course, when I purchase these magazines they are business expenses because I share the stories in my laughter talk :-)
  3. Hang out at the greeting-card racks and enjoy reading funny cards (wash your hands first and don’t eat an ice cream cone while you do this!). You can even buy a funny card to brighten someone’s day! (One day at work I received a card with an odd-looking old man on the front, which said: “I bet I can still float your boat…even if I don’t have both oars in the water!” It was from my wonderful husband to cheer me up.)
  4. Become a humorous people groupie by hanging out with funny people, like my dear friend “Grandma” Doris, a 79-year-old, three-time colorectal cancer survivor, who often livened up our meeting introductions by wearing goofy glasses or showing off her silly souvenirs. (Either you’re a funny friend or you need one!)
  5. Make the most of embarrassing moments. (Did I tell you about the time a pair of my underwear dropped out of my jeans’ pant leg onto the floor of a Christian bookstore while I was shopping there?……….Never mind.)

In his book The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren writes that our first purpose in life is to please God. Or as Warren puts it, “The smile of God is the goal of your life.”[i]

Cancer or any trial in life can and often take things away from us and from our families, but they needn’t take away our goal in life—to please God—to make Him smile.

No matter what you’ve gone through or what still lies ahead—whether you have no cancer, a little cancer or a lot of cancer; whether your trial disappears, grows more intense or perhaps never leaves—will you choose joy? Will you choose to please God and bring a smile to His face? It is your choice. You can choose to keep (or get) a sense of humor even in the shadow of the darkest trial.

I have a blessing for you from the book of Numbers as you try to find joy today:

May the Lord bless you

and protect you.

May the Lord smile on you

and be gracious to you.

May the Lord show you His favor

and give you His peace. (6:24-26)

[i] Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002), 202.


Oct 05

Guaranteed to Survive?




“To what do you attribute your survival?”

That was the question posed to me by a newly diagnosed cancer patient in the office when I was working as a patient advocate. He was just a little younger than me and undergoing chemo for “my” kind of cancer so we had a kind of special bond.

I thought about his question for a moment before I answered: “The grace of God.”

I’m guessing he might have been a little disappointed with my reply as he’d been researching all kinds of complementary treatments and nutritional advice for his cancer fight. I imagine he was hoping I had a vitamin regimen or a diet modification he could adopt.

I did tell him that throughout my treatment I drank green tea, but always wondered if the honey I put in it was canceling out the tea’s benefits. I told him about the supposedly cancer-fighting vitamins I took—at least one of which researchers now say may cause cancer rather than cure it. I told him how my husband and I grew all our own vegetables without any pesticides for years. I mentioned that I cut the sugar out of most things, left the skins on lots of things and I added wheat germ to just about everything. (Some crunchies on your cereal this morning, girls?)

Actually, I was a real health-nut before I got cancer. In fact I was pretty disappointed that all those donuts my husband ate and I passed up hadn’t seemed to help me keep cancer at bay. I think subconsciously I even believed that my healthy eating and exercise routine would guarantee that I wouldn’t be sick—after all, I hadn’t had a cold for four years before I got diagnosed with cancer!

So when people ask me what I did to get cured, I refuse to give credit to anything I did or didn’t do. I did what the doctors advised (well, most of it), but I felt so nauseous I ate whatever tasted good rather than what had the best nutritional value. A short walk was all the exercise I could muster because I was too weak and had too many problems with the allergic reaction to one of my drugs.

I honestly don’t know for sure why I’m still here. I feel uncomfortable suggesting that I did something right to survive cancer because that would mean that my dear friends who did not survive must have done something wrong.

That’s why I say it was the grace of God.

After my diagnosis I remember desperately wanting some guarantees. I wanted to hear that the chemo regimen I was getting had a money-back guarantee, not a 20-percent chance of working on me. I wanted to know for certain that it was going to be all right to refuse the radiation some doctors had recommended for me. I wanted to be assured that if I went through all this difficult treatment that the cancer would not come back despite a 60-percent probability it would.

I ­didn’t get any of these guarantees. And I can tell you that I’ve stopped looking for guarantees here on this earth.

Some of you are trusting in doctors or medical science or alternative therapies for a cure, but despite what you read, they ­don’t have guarantees.

About the only earthly guarantee I can give you is that all of us will experience difficulties, including the breakdown of our physical bodies. But I promise you—more importantly, Jesus the Messiah promises you—we can face these difficulties with unshakable assurance, remaining deeply at peace. Why? Because Jesus has overcome the world by overcoming the power of death in our lives. Jesus already has beaten cancer and every other illness that strikes us on this earth.

And His kind of peace isn’t just the absence of striving; it’s the presence of something much more. The Message Bible paraphrases it this way: I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. John 16:33

Now that’s a guarantee I can live with!

Let’s pray today with King David in Psalm 20:7 NIV: Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Amen.




Sep 28

Flying by the Seat of Your Pants?



I’ve read that an eagle, like many other animals, can sense a storm before it arrives. So the eagle flies to a high spot and waits for the inevitable winds. When the storm hits, the eagle sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm but simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm.

God has allowed a storm in your life, and He will give you His strength to rise above it until He ultimately calms it.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. Isaiah 40:31

If you feel that soaring above the storm is hard work, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright scary, you are right! That’s why I use the analogy of a storm—we might not mind one from a distance, but it’s not exactly pleasurable when we’re smack-dab in the middle of a big one.

In fact, flying in a storm is extremely dangerous. My cousin Jim knows this from his half-dozen years of soaring into hurricanes and typhoons as part of a U.S. Air Force weather reconnaissance team. It was his team’s job to gather weather data so forecasters could better predict a storm’s strength.

As they work, it’s critical that team members trust the “artificial horizon”— a line on the plane’s instrument panel that always corresponds to the earth’s horizon, no matter in which direction the plane is flying.

“When you’re in the clouds and in storms and you can’t see the horizon—the earth the ground, good old terra firma—you have to rely on the artificial horizon,” Jim explains. “You have to trust that it is representing the horizon. You have to trust that it represents something you can’t see.”

Because of the extreme variability of the weather, there are two government ratings for pilots: one group is cleared to fly only when there’s good visibility—following Visual Flight Rules—and the other is cleared to fly even in poor visibility because they can keep a plane controlled solely on the data from their instruments—by Instrument Flight Rules. If you recall after John Kennedy Jr.’s fatal plane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said the young pilot—who only was rated to fly with Visual Flight Rules—had become disoriented in the night sky and lost control of the plane.[1] Experienced pilots are taught to rely on their instrument panel—no matter how they feel—because they can become so disoriented in clouds or during a storm they may actually think they are flying up when they really are heading down.

In the early days of aviation when aircraft had few navigational aids, a successful flight was accomplished mainly by the pilot’s judgment and instincts; that is “flying by the seat of your pants.”

“All you could do was fly by your sensations,” Jim explains. “If you were coming out of your seat, you must be upside down. If you were pressed down into your seat, you must be flying higher.

“The problem is that [our perceptions are] not always accurate. You can feel like you’re flying normal and perfectly fine, but it’s just that the airplane is falling at just the right speed that feels normal. You have to look at your instruments and believe them.”

Flying by the seat of your pants through your storm isn’t a good idea either. Feelings can be overpowering and paralyzing. You may become so disoriented you don’t know whether you’re headed up or down.

That’s why you need to decide every day to trust the magnetic poles of the earth—in other words, to recognize that God’s Word is the compass on your instrument panel in the storms of life. It is truth, which, just like the pilot’s artificial horizon line, always will point you in the right direction.

When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation. Proverbs 10:25

Put your hope in the Lord. Travel steadily along his path. Psalm 37:34

I love author Max Lucado’s perspective[1]: “Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see…Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow.”

Dear Lord, It’s hard not to focus on the storm around me. Please help me to trust that the promises in Your Word are more reliable than my feelings. Give me the strength to rise above this storm and even the faith to see a rainbow. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.


[1] “NTSB: Pilot Disorientation Led to Fatal JFK Jr. Crash,” CNN.com, July 6, 2000, http://archives.cnn.com/2000/US/07/06/jfk.crash.report.02/index.html.

[2] When God Whispers Your Name, pg. 214, Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

Sep 21

What’s Feeding Your Mind?



So tell me the truth, when you read the obituaries, do you scan down to the bottom to see if memorial contributions are to be made to the American Cancer Society?

I know I did after my diagnosis. Every night I’d look in the paper to see if someone I had treatment with had died or how many people listed that day had died from cancer. It was a depressing ritual, but one I found hard to break. I guess it was part of those early days when I let cancer consume my thoughts.

It also seemed to me as if the word “cancer” came up daily in conversations or in the celebrity news headlines. If there was all that cancer out there before, I had never noticed it! I guess it’s like what happens when you get a new car and all of a sudden you notice lots of people with the same make and color vehicle.

And thank goodness I had cancer “in the olden days” as I like to call them when I didn’t have Internet access in my home or at my fingertips on a mobile device. I’m pretty sure that vast amount of Web information would have made me feel even more overwhelmed. (I just Googled the term “colon cancer” and up came 28 MILLION sites!) Often when a newly diagnosed patient came into my office for the first time, the patient’s spouse practically begged me to tell the patient to “stop reading everything on the Internet.”

Don’t misunderstand, I’m thrilled at all the information—and encouragement—that is available on the Web, but a good question to ask yourself after your on-line time is: Do I feel better or worse after what I’ve just read? If information makes you feel better equipped to fight the cancer battle, than search away. But if information makes you feel overwhelmed or depressed or fearful, please don’t keep putting such stuff into your head. (Much of it isn’t accurate anyway!)

Instead I would encourage you to fill your mind with the truth that the God who began creation by simply speaking words is a lot more powerful than any possible misguided cells within our bodies and a lot more trustworthy than any statistics in a medical journal.

So stop feeding your mind with a voice of fear and instead allow a strengthening fear to fill your being. I’m talking about the fear of the Lord.

It’s not a “fall down and shake because you’re afraid of getting zapped” kind of fear, but a Wow! kind of fear. It’s the kind where you are just in awe and amazement and wonder and reverence about God because of what He has done and still can do.

It’s this “fear” that I and so many other cancer survivors have discovered reduces all the other fears.

I love how Psalm 112 describes us “fear-filled” kind of people:

Happy are those who fear the Lord.
Yes, happy are those who delight in doing what he commands. . . .
When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in.
They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. . . .
They do not fear bad news;
they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
They are confident and fearless
and can face foes triumphantly. Psalm 112:1,4,7-8 NLT-1

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah explained how he, too, learned to have the right kind of fear after God warned him that his country was going to be invaded.

The Lord has said to me in the strongest terms: “Do not think like everyone else does. Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind closed doors will be the end of you. Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else. He will keep you safe.” Isaiah 8:11-14 NLT-1

I don’t know about you, but that’s one voice of fear I always want to hear.

Heavenly Father, Please help me not to feed my mind with fearful things, but instead to confidently trust that You will care for me and my loved ones. Strengthen me not to fear bad news and empower me with fearless confidence to triumphantly face this foe, cancer. Amen.

Sep 14

Hope is the Thing with Feathers



If you had asked my friend Carollynn what gave her hope throughout her cancer journey, she would have smiled and quickly answered: feathers.

She loved Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Thing with Feathers” which begins:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all

And when she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1995 at the age of forty-six, Carollynn stumbled upon a verse in the Bible that became her favorite:

He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Psalm 91:4 NLT

Even though medical doctors and treatments at that time gave her no hope of surviving more than a few months, this verse gave Carollynn incredible hope. It also started a real fascination with “feathers” and the number 914.

“Whenever I see a feather it reminds me of God’s protection for me,” she told me shortly after moving to the area and joining my support group. “And I like to look for the number 914 on signs to remind me of God’s constant care for me.”

I had to chuckle when eight years after her initial diagnosis Carollynn’s first grandchild was born on her birthday weighing 9 pounds, 14 ounces! When Carollynn passed away just a few months later at 4:19 p.m., her husband, Ed, said he had to smile at what he felt was a last gift from Carollynn to remind him of her special verse.

“One final example of her fabulous humor,” he wrote in an email to friends and family. 

Some of Carollynn’s amazing life under God’s wings was told in a children’s book called Sea Feather, named after the first of many wild ponies she purchased on Chincoteague Island and donated to deserving children. More of her “feather-filled” life was shared in a video that aired on the television network Animal Planet in November 2003, just a month after her passing. (The nonprofit Feather Fund has been established to continue her work of donating wild ponies to children.)[i] When I see feathers today, they remind me of my beautiful friend Carollynn, but they also remind me of my God whose “wings” protect us even in the face of cancer.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:8, NIV

Let me live forever in your sanctuary,
safe beneath the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:4 NLT

Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:7-8, NIV

Of course God the Father, who is Spirit, doesn’t have real flesh and blood wings, but He is able to protect us by His awesome power.

Can you feel those “wings” over you—protecting you, shielding you, drawing you close? Have you trusted God enough to truly let Him cover you? He longs to do that for you.

How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. Jesus speaking in Matthew 23:37

Please let God love you today. Let him draw you close.

 My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8

Heavenly Father, Thank You that You love us so much. Thank You that Your loving arms are far bigger than any diagnosis or prognosis. Wrap my friend in that love today. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[i] Read more about why feathers and Psalm 91:4 meant so much to Carollynn at http://www.featherfund.org/the_story.htm.

Sep 07

Finding Treasures Hidden in Darkness



And I would love for you to meet my friend, Nancy, a 10-year survivor of incurable liver cancer. My Cancer Prayer Support Group meetings always were better when she was there—partly because she’s a wonderful baker (she brought four fresh strawberry pies to one summer meeting!), but mostly because she’s just an awesome person.

Nancy originally was told in January 2005 that she had a “very aggressive” liver cancer and there wasn’t anything anyone could do for her.

“If you have anything you want to do, you should do it,” the doctor told her, adding that she would probably die within a month.

But about two weeks later, she got a call from another physician who said she had been misdiagnosed. It indeed was a rare, untreatable liver cancer, but a slow-growing one, which probably would not take her life.

With that good news, Nancy figured the hard part of her cancer journey was over, but she was very wrong. One of her doctors suggested a new, oral chemotherapy, which just might slow the cancer’s growth and Nancy agreed to give it a try. Unfortunately, one of the drug’s side effects was severe depression.

“When I would wake up in the morning, I thought I couldn’t get out of bed,” Nancy recalls. “Any desire to do anything at all was gone. I would just sit and cry.”

Nancy, of course, stopped the drug, but the depression lasted for eighteen months.

“I felt terribly alone even in a roomful of people,” she recalls. “It was the most horrible feeling I ever had.”

I’ve never experienced that kind of depression, but I believe Nancy when she says it was “worse than being told I had cancer or that I was going to die.”

So why am I telling you this story in a blog about encouragement for the weary? Because Nancy got through her depression and is back to her bubbly self and I want you to know that you and your loved one can survive depression if it should rear its ugly head in your lives.

Whenever a newcomer joined our support group and was struggling with depression, I wanted that person to meet Nancy because she’s “been there, done that.” And most of all I wanted them to hear what Nancy discovered during her ordeal.

“I learned that God is faithful,” she says. “I always believed that, but not to the extent I do now.

“Even though I couldn’t feel close to God then, I always sensed He was there,” she says. “When I prayed to die in my sleep, the Holy Spirit was there with me whispering ‘it’s going to be OK—it’s not over yet.’ God was always there.”

I will give you treasures hidden in darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. Isaiah 45:3

Nancy’s path is not one she ever would have chosen for herself, but she wholeheartedly agrees that the Lord gave her treasures that were hidden in the darkness of depression. Now she eagerly shares those “secret riches” with those she meets who are struggling with their own despondent times.

“When I was down, just a teeny bit of hope helped me,” Nancy remembers. “If I can give that to anyone, I’d be happy.”

I always feel more hopeful when I talk to Nancy as the love and light of God shine through her. She and her incredibly supportive husband Tom recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Belize—not as relaxing tourists, but to work at the orphanage they helped build.

“I just want to give back,” Nancy explains. “I think that’s why God left me here.”

Father, I pray for anyone reading this today who is struggling with depression or any other dark cloud of discouragement. I pray that they will trust that You are faithful and will see them through. And I pray that one day they can look back and see the treasures You have brought to light through this time. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Aug 31

Don’t Waste Your Cancer



Those are the words penned by author-pastor John Piper on the eve of his surgery for prostate cancer in 2006. Our cancer support group often spent a meeting discussing one of Piper’s ten ways we can “waste” cancer by allowing it—instead of God—to be foremost in our lives. (You can read his wonderful essay at www.desiringgod.org) Many in our group have embraced Piper’s admonition and often remarked: “I don’t want to waste this cancer.”

Probably the cancer survivor who most often expressed that sentiment is my friend Bert, diagnosed in December 2003 with stage 4 prostate cancer at the age of sixty-eight.

Bert’s cancer was not operable, so he underwent eight weeks of radiation and eighteen months of hormone shots to try and slow its course. The radiation went fairly well, but the shots, which “turned off” his male hormones gave him severe hot flashes.

“That gave me a greater appreciation of what women go through in menopause and I sure don’t want to go through childbirth!” Bert admits with a smile.

Because Bert’s father and grandfather both had faced cancer, he wasn’t particularly stunned to get his diagnosis.

“I was surprised and concerned, but I had a peace about it,” he recalls. “I remember thinking that I could go home and feel sorry for myself—but I would still have cancer—or I could use it to show people that I’m not afraid to die. I’ve decided I will use cancer to share and encourage other people.”

Don’t waste your cancer.

That’s the decision Bert made many years ago. Since then his yearly PSA readings are in the normal range as he continues to be in complete remission from the cancer. But he has been told by doctors to expect it to come back at some point.

“Can it come back? Yeah,” he says. “Am I afraid of that? No.”

Bert says his peace about his uncertain future comes from the fact he is a “Christ-follower.”

“I love to explain to people what that means,” he adds. “I like to ask people ‘where is your hope?’ and I like to share with them that my hope is in following Christ.”

I am so glad that Bert decided not to waste his cancer. I can’t begin to tell you all the folks in our support group he has encouraged in their cancer fight, as well as many others in his church and community.

I’d like to think I haven’t wasted my cancer either. I’ll admit I initially was rather reluctant (OK, very reluctant) to minister to cancer patients and their caregivers. But the more I reached out to hurting people, the more I got blessed, too. I realized I couldn’t go back and change my diagnosis, my treatment or even my prognosis, but I could make sure that all the pain I endured was not wasted. I had suffered on my cancer journey, but I also had been comforted by God and I could share that truth with others. As the Apostle Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 

Whatever you and your family have suffered—whatever hardship still lies ahead for you—will you ask God today to help you not waste it?

Piper wrote that “Christians are never anywhere by divine accident. There are reasons for why we wind up where we do. Consider what Jesus said about painful, unplanned circumstances: ‘They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.’ (Luke 21:12 -13). So it is with cancer. This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Christ is infinitely worthy. Here is a golden opportunity to show that he is worth more than life. Don’t waste it.”

Heavenly Father, I wish I didn’t have to face cancer, but because I do, I’m asking You to help me not to waste it. Please take these painful, unplanned circumstances and turn them into an opportunity for me to show others that You are worth more than life itself. In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.


Aug 24

When Your World Falls Apart


So where were you when the events of 9/11 unfurled? I bet you know exactly. I vividly remember I was standing in the chemo room at our oncology office chatting with patients when the first plane hit.

And if you’re OLD like I am, you recall where you were when President Kennedy was shot in 1963. I know I was at Debbie Walls’ house playing the Barbie game (and poised to secure the good-looking bachelor, Ken, for my “date”) when Debbie’s stepmom rushed in with the terrible news. (Debbie found me on Facebook a few months ago after being out of touch for 50 YEARS and she told me she never forgot me either because of the incredibly sad memory we shared.)

It’s amazing how quickly your world can fall apart. One minute life seems pretty good, and the next minute you’re wondering how you ever will survive.

A health crisis has the ability to shake our worlds in ways difficult to comprehend. A while back, I surveyed a bunch of my cancer survivor friends for remembrances of the day their worlds fell apart.

“Surreal” is the term Wayne uses to describe how it felt to be told he had Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of forty-seven.

“My family, like myself was in shock—pure disbelief,” he recalls thirteen years later. “I recently had gone twenty years without missing a full day of work to illness and now I had cancer? I couldn’t believe it.”

Ken was equally surprised nine years ago when his tongue cancer finally was diagnosed after two years of reassurances that the enlarged lymph node was “nothing to worry about.”

“When the doctor finally did say the word ‘cancer,’ I was in total shock,” Ken recalls. “I had no symptoms and I was in great shape for a forty-six-year-old man! I told someone I felt as if I had entered the Twilight Zone and nothing was recognizable.”

Cathy says “denial and total shock” were the first two emotions she experienced after being told in November 2009 that she had breast cancer at age fifty-four.

“My husband’s and my emotions were very different,” she adds. “He was a lot calmer and stronger than I was.”

My nurse/reporter friend Cubby says disbelief also was her first reaction to a breast cancer diagnosis at age fifty-one.

“I froze and my husband’s face turned white,” she still vividly recalls six years later. “The worst part was the fear of the unknown.”

Fear of the unknown.

 I think that’s pretty much a universal response to a cancer diagnosis. The story of the day your world fell apart may be similar to these folks or it might be quite different, but I’m willing to bet that after those initial strong emotions wore off, you were left with the same question for yourself or your loved one: What’s going to happen next?

How difficult will the treatment be?

            Will I/they get sick?

            Can I/they keep working?

And the $64,000-question: Will I/they be cured?

I, of course, will answer all those questions for you in this blog…yeah, right. I have no magic tea leaves for your or your loved one’s future. I believe there’s a good chance that the treatments will be easier than you think because that’s what most of our patients say—the worry before the first chemo or radiation was worse than the actual treatment itself. I think you or your loved one probably will not get sick because there are wonderful anti-nausea drugs available today—at least three or four new ones since I was treated in 1990. (If you knew people treated a long time ago for cancer, please don’t imagine your experience is likely to be like theirs.)

I also think there’s a good possibility you or your loved one will be able to keep up a fairly normal life. I see cancer patients everyday in our office getting chemo and then heading out to their place of employment or home to do yard work. Most folks say they adjust to a “new normal” and enjoy the days with good energy, while resting more on the days when fatigue sets in.

And if you want to know the overall survival odds, 64% of adult cancer patients still are alive five years after their diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Of course, I can’t promise my observations all will come true for you. I don’t know your future health any more than I am certain of my own. But I do know the One who does know it all.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

What an incredibly comforting verse for us when our world falls apart. Just don’t miss that itty-bitty word “I” in the first sentence. “For I know the plans I have for you.”

Only God knows the plans for us and they are His plans and not necessarily ours. But whether His plans match ours or not, we can be confident they are good ones and designed to give us hope. Jeremiah 29:12-14 continues with God’s assurances:

In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly,
you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord.

Thank You, Lord, that You are not watching me from a distance, but You are close by and hear me when I pray. Please help me to trust that Your plans for my life are truly good ones. Amen.


Aug 17

How do you find peace in the face of cancer?



For years I’ve been wishing there was a book offering hope to those facing cancer which is not expected to be cured—not one on how to get ready to die, but one on how to keep living with cancer for the long haul. I wanted it to be a book for both patients and caregivers because when anyone in the family has cancer, it can feel like everyone does. And I really wanted it to encourage believers to trust in God despite life’s trials and to point seekers to a relationship with Jesus.  But I couldn’t find such a book.

So I wrote one.

Eib wrapPeace in the Face of Cancer is slated to be released by Tyndale House in March 2017 and I’m so excited for the lives it will touch. And I’m especially excited that my editors pushed me to write it not just for those with incurable cancer, but for anyone, anywhere on a cancer journey. That made my writing task more difficult, but because of this broader scope, it’s a far better book with a far bigger audience—an estimated 14.5 million of us living with a history of cancer in the U.S. alone!

I heard a speaker at a recent Christian writers’ conference advise authors not to share a book cover until a month before its release because people will forget. But I am so happy about the cover I just couldn’t wait! (Besides I’ll “remind” you later.)  The cover is soft imitation leather like 50 Days of Hope and is just a little bigger (5×7 instead of 4×6). I love the shiny, gold foil stars and believe that looking up through the trees at a starry nighttime sky is a very peaceful feeling.

I’ll be sharing excerpts as the release date draws closer and more about how this is going to be the first in a new series by Tyndale. The second “Peace in the Face of…” book already has been contracted to a famous NY Times bestselling author! Stay tuned for details.

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. –Luke 1:78-79 NLT



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