Feb 17

Telling Children about Cancer in the Family

I know what a great deal of courage it takes to talk to children about cancer in the family.

When I was diagnosed, our daughters were 8, 10 and 12, and we wanted to protect them from cancer’s assault on me. So, we decided we would tell them I was going to have surgery, but we wouldn’t use the word cancer.

That bright idea lasted about 24 hours until I realized that somebody in our church or our community was going to use the word cancer and my girls would hear it.

So we sat them down again and using the dreaded word tried to give them an idea of what to expect. I remember being careful not to give them too much information that would scare them but also not making promises we couldn’t keep.

We were cautious not to talk about any specific cure odds, but about five years later my eldest daughter, Danielle, confessed she had overhead someone talking at church and knew that the odds I would die were greater than the odds I would live.

I wish I had known Danielle knew that because I would have talked more with her about my uncertain future and encouraged her more to ask questions and express worries. But she is my introvert and didn’t mention the overhead conversation until she was seventeen.


If you still have children at home—or even grandchildren nearby—you have a great opportunity to show them your faith in action. It’s easy to talk about things like praying, having faith and trusting God, but a diagnosis of cancer in the family gives us a chance to see if our walk matches our talk.

In those first really dark days after my diagnosis, I remember feeling as if I wanted to go to bed, pull the covers up over my head, and have somebody call me to come out when it was all over. But I also remember my head talking some courage into my faint heart.

You’ve always told your children:

That God can be trusted.

Now they can see if you really do trust Him.

That God is faithful.

Now they can see if you will be too.

That knowing Jesus makes all the difference.

Now they can see if it really does.

We were a family, and that “for better or for worse” pledge my husband and I made applied to our children too. Together we would face cancer with the courage that God supernaturally would pour into each of our hearts, no matter what our age or bravery status.

Cancer probably was the best real-life lesson to prove to my kids that God can and will meet our deepest needs—that He can give us courage to face things we never thought we could.

My daughters, now in their thirties, also have seen that because God poured courage into our hearts, we now can pour it into others.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. . . . For when God comforts us, it is so we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. 

2 Corinthians 1:4, 6 NLT


One of the ways I’ve noticed that God pours courage into people’s hearts is “putting the right people in your life at the right time.”

The apostle Paul talks about this method of God’s encouragement in a letter he wrote to the believers in Corinth, Greece.

When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy. . . .

2 Corinthians 7:5-7 NLT

Many times I have seen God, who encourages the discouraged, “show up” in just the right person and at just the right time to encourage me. I hope you pray believing He will do the same for you and those you love.


Feb 10

The Mind-Body Healing Connection

Isn’t it amazing the impact our thoughts can have on our bodies?

I got chemo every Wednesday and that evening we would take our girls to Shoney’s Restaurant for supper because kids 12 and under (of which we had three!) were free. I was always pretty nauseous, so while my family enjoyed the buffet, I sipped a cup of cream of broccoli soup and ate saltines.

A couple weeks after I finished treatment, we decided to go to Shoney’s again and I was anticipating being able to enjoy the array of food, but guess what? I felt so nauseous I thought I was going to be sick just standing at the buffet! (And it took me years to be able to eat cream of broccoli soup again!)

Our oncology office had a teenage boy who used to come in for treatment and each time–before he even got a drop of chemo–he would puke. No amount of anti-nausea medicine ahead of time ever prevented it. And I also know a cancer survivor who got nauseous when she saw her oncologist at the mall! (Glad that wasn’t true for me since my oncologist and his wife became our best friends!)

Obviously, the connection between mind and body is real. But our mind’s influence on our body can be positive as well as negative. And while I don’t believe our thoughts can guarantee a better outcome for our health, I do believe they can influence it. Psychologist and author Dr. William Backus says people dealing with illness need to remember three facts:

Your beliefs create your thoughts.

Your thoughts generate feelings.

Your feelings affect your body’s healing systems.

“Psychoneuroimmunology” is the fancy label attached to the subject of mind-body healing, which is being studied increasingly by therapists and researchers, who even have discovered a hard-wire connection between the body’s immune system and the brain’s central nervous system.

So, if your brain has the ability to send messages to your immune system cells, “what you believe and tell yourself can become a powerful medication in your personal pharmacy,” according to Dr. Backus.

He advocates not just positive-thinking, but telling ourselves the truth about our situation. He has gathered many examples of truthful healing beliefs embraced by those who have survived life-threatening illnesses. Here are a few—I hope you, too, can add them to your mind’s pharmacy:

  • “I refuse to believe my diagnosis is an automatic death sentence.
  • I believe treatment is effective against this illness, especially the skillful efforts of scientific medicine combined with my strategies for replacing lying thoughts with the truth.
  • I believe my hormones and immune system were created to be on the side of my healing and can work to overcome this illness.
  • I believe God is on the side of my healing because His unbreakable Word says so.
  • I believe I am personally responsible for my treatment and for managing it.
  • I believe hope is a choice. I choose hope, not hopelessness.
  • I believe I’m on earth to share hope, and joy with others. I’m here to love others, regardless of my physical condition.
  • I believe that God’s will is good. I believe that He loves me and wants only the best for me—no matter what He is allowing me to experience right now.
  • I can recover from this illness and live a rich, productive life. But whether I recover or not, I am going to leave this life someday regardless. Until then I can live a full life of service every day for as long as I am given.”*


*William Backus, The Healing Power of the Christian Mind (Minneapolis: Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1996) 96.


Feb 03

Top 10 Signs You’re Paranoid about Cancer

10. You have your oncologist’s number on speed dial.
9. Your oncologist’s secretary has put a call block on your phone number.
8. Ten years after your cancer treatment, your Mediport is still in place “just in case.”
7. You take a portable radon detector with you on vacation.
6. You include those little hemoccult test kits for hidden stool blood in your Christmas cards.
5. You take weekly photos of your moles.
4. You offer to take weekly photos of your friends’ moles.
3. You read the obituaries daily to see which ones suggest, “Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.”
2. You wear SPF-30 sunscreen . . . indoors when you are sitting by a window.
1. You have a framed copy of the “Seven Warning Signs of Cancer” hanging next to the Ten Commandments on your living-room wall.

I read these reasons to my husband and he didn’t even laugh. But whenever I read them to a roomful of cancer survivors, people always laugh or nod their heads in agreement. Not only are we part of a select group called cancer survivors; we now have an unwanted membership in Club Paranoia.
I would love to quit this club completely, but even 25 years after my diagnosis of advanced colon cancer at age 36, I must admit that I am still much more paranoid about cancer than I ever was before I was first diagnosed. So if you want the really quick, simple answer to the question “Is everyone as paranoid as I am?” the answer is YES!
One reason cancer survivors are so paranoid is because once our bodies have betrayed us, it’s hard to trust them again. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I looked fine and felt fine. I certainly couldn’t imagine I had a life-threatening illness. I thought that people with cancer would look sick or at least feel sick.
My theory in life used to be: if you’re not bleeding profusely or in terrible pain, you’re okay. My parents, especially my father, who coached sports, always told me to “shake it off” if I got hurt as I was growing up. And that’s what I continued to do as an adult.
So I have a little occasional blood in the stool. Probably an old hemorrhoid. I feel fine. Shake it off, I told myself.
So my bowels are occasionally a little different. Probably something I ate. I look fine. Shake it off.
And that’s what I did . . . for a year and a half. Both my doctor (make that ex-doctor) and I ignored symptoms that I now know suggest cancer.

Perhaps you did the same. You ignored a warning sign or your doctor didn’t seem too concerned about it, so you didn’t bother with any tests. And now that you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, you want to make sure you never make that mistake again.
Welcome to Club Paranoia.
This is the place where you feel nervous ignoring things that you never would have worried about before.

Where a dull headache might be a brain tumor.
Where a tiny, old age spot could be melanoma.
Where indigestion is possibly stomach cancer.
Where a backache surely is bone metastases.
Where lumps, bumps, aches, and pains seem much more pronounced right
before your next checkup and much less right afterwards!

Unless you were a terrible hypochondriac before the cancer diagnosis, you’re probably going to be a little more paranoid about the disease now. I have yet to meet a survivor who doesn’t admit to at least some degree of irrational fear.
I think cancer survivors and their loved ones should be suspicious of and distrustful of the Big C. It is a very sneaky disease, and we are wise to remain vigilant and not let our guard down when it comes to our health. That makes us smart, not paranoid.
It’s the irrational fears we need to avoid. And we do that by being rational—by telling ourselves the truth about our fears.

Most headaches are not brain tumors.
Most breast lumps are not malignant.
Most backaches are not cancer in our bones.
Most of the people diagnosed with cancer today can expect to be alive five years from now.*
Most cancer survivors are at least a little paranoid, and you’re not crazy if you are too!
I would be a charlatan if I told you I could promise you that cancer won’t strike you or your loved one again. While I do believe there are things we can do physically, mentally, and spiritually to keep healthy, it is not always possible to prevent cancer from coming back or a new one from forming.

But I would not be completely honest if I neglected to tell you there is an unseen Someone whose presence we can’t escape and who does want to get ahold of us and never let us go.

This Someone knows every paranoid thought before it even crosses our lips and not only sees our future but also holds it in His hands.

You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.–Psalm 139:2-7

Webster’s defines being paranoid as living a life characterized by “irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness.” The above verses are my prescription for that kind of paranoia. When I read them I am reminded that:

Cancer is not everywhere, but God is.

I can get away from cancer, but I can’t hide from God.

Tomorrow shouldn’t be feared because God is already there.

There is no darkness when I’m in God’s presence.

You may not be able to completely cancel your membership in Club Paranoia, but you don’t have to be a card-carrying member every day!

* Actually 68% of adult cancer patients still are alive five years after diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute. Statistics for childhood cancers are even more encouraging.


Jan 27

The Mind, Heart & Soul of a Survivor

Dear friend,

I wish you well on your — or your loved one’s– journey with cancer.
I wish you a heart that has found the right attitude — a positive, realistic attitude.
I wish you a mind that has found peace — by replacing worries with better thoughts and by focusing on the present and not on the “what-ifs” of the future.
And I wish you a soul that has found hope — a hope based on the God of all Creation, who gives life true meaning.