Nov 11

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

 

If you had asked my friend Carollynn Supplee 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.

When she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 46, Carollynn discovered a Bible verse that quickly 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

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 held her first grandchild, born on her birthday and weighing 9 pounds, 14 ounces! When Carollynn passed away a few months later at 4:19 p.m., her husband Ed said he smiled at  Carollynn’s last gift to remind him of her special verse.

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

Probably the most amazing, hope-filled story of Carollynn’s life under God’s wings happened in 1995 shortly after her diagnosis when she and Ed traveled to Chincoteague Island, VA, for the annual Wild Pony Swim & Round-up. The couple planned to buy a wild pony and donate it back, but when they arrived all the turn-back ponies were sold.

Meanwhile two little girls with $500 were desperately trying to buy a pony to take home, but the price always was too high. Carollynn noticed one of the girls had feathers on her shirt so she introduced herself to the family, shared her recent brain tumor diagnosis, God’s promise to cover her with His “feathers,” and her desire to give back a pony. It took some convincing, but finally the girls’ parents allowed the Supplees to buy them a pony.

They all thought Pony #42 was solid brown, but as he turned, a lone white streak resembling a jagged feather became visible. The girls named him Sea Feather.

For the next eight summers the Supplees traveled to Chincoteague and gifted a pony, including the final year when a wheelchair-bound Carollynn purchased “Chincoteague Miracle” for a sobbing little girl whose dad had recently passed from cancer. (A nonprofit “Feather Fund” established to continue the couple’s work has since given away 45 wild ponies including the 2004 recipient pictured below. https://www.featherfund.net )

When I see feathers today, they remind me of my beautiful friend Carollynn, but they also remind me of my God whose “wings” shelter us in our trials.

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

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 over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37

Please let the Lord love you today. Let Him hold you under His “wings” and give you hope.
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Be sure to open this blog in your browser to hear the music video “Psalm 91 (On Eagles’ Wings)” by Shane & Shane

Oct 29

How to Stay Calm in Football Games…and in Life

 

I’m a passionate football fan. I enjoy exciting, close games…unless the Ohio State Buckeyes or the Philadelphia Eagles are playing. Then I’m a nervous wreck and terribly worried until my team is ahead by at least three scores.

Last week I’m watching the 4th quarter of the Philadelphia-N.Y. Giants game and the Eagles are down 21-10 with a little over 6 minutes remaining.

I feel totally calm.

With 4.5 minutes to go, they still are behind, now 21-16.

I am not worried in the least.

With less than a minute to go, the Eagles get a 15-yard penalty pushing them back to the 18-yard line.

I am not remotely close to nervous.

With 40 seconds left, quarterback Carson Wentz lofts a pass to the end zone into the outstretched hands of 5’6″ Boston Scott.

We’re ahead 22-21, but, wait, there’s still time for the Giants to win it with a field goal.

I don’t feel even a tinge of anxiety and in fact am totally confident the Eagles are not going to blow this game.

Why?

Because I’m watching a recording of the game the morning after it was played. I already know the victorious ending.

I didn’t despair about penalties, fumbles, questionable plays or injuries because I knew “we” were going to be okay. Every play I watched was viewed through my absolute certainty of the 22-21 outcome.

This P&P (Pandemic and Politics) world looks pretty bleak some days–maybe even every day for you right now.

But if you know and love Jesus, you also should know how it’s going to turn out. Spoiler alert: You and your team win!

The personal fouls feel different because people who have hurt us will one day have to answer to God. Our dropped pass mistakes don’t loom as large because they will be redeemed by our heavenly Father. The questionable plays won’t haunt us because God either will explain them or give us the peace to live without those answers. And even the physical injuries to us or our loved ones don’t lead to despair because our Creator will heal…now or in eternity.

Friends, it matters when we know how it all turns out. We can view the ups and downs of this world with calm assurance–just like I did in that Eagles’ game–because we know the victorious ending.

I love how C. S. Lewis gives us a glimpse of that ending in the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia when Aslan, lion king of that magical land, speaks to the school children who have been on adventures with Him:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are–as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands–dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.

“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

But no matter what comes,
we will always taste victory
through Him who loved us.
–The Voice Bible 
Romans 8:37

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Please open in your browser to play the music video below “Into the Sea (It’s Gonna be OK)” by Tasha Layton.

 

Oct 14

“Cancer will not steal one day from me!”

 

Not long after Donna Wishowski was diagnosed with cancer, she made a decision which would radically shape the next 17 years of her life: “Cancer will not steal one day from me!”

It was a choice that no matter how many days she had left–or didn’t have left–she would not allow a disease to control them.

Oh, cancer tried plenty hard to do just that. It tried to steal her joy when she was first diagnosed in 2003 at the age of 52.  But she went through surgery, chemo and radiation–all the while trusting that “God has a purpose for my life.”.

And then less than two years later it tried to steal her faith by metastasizing to her lung. But she endured more surgery–always choosing to seek God as she “let the day unfold” before her.

In 2008 cancer made a desperate plea to steal Donna’s hope by taking Lee, her husband  of 40 years. But instead she insisted she would “be present in the moment” and not future what-ifs.

Then in 2015 cancer attempted to steal Donna’s strength as her long remission ended and the disease returned with a vengeance. But Donna persevered with her T.A.C.O. philosophy: Trust, Adventure, Challenge & Opportunity.

I didn’t know any of Donna’s story when she and her friend Jeanine emailed me in 2018 to tell me they had been praying with and giving away copies of my books to all the cancer patients they met.

The two ladies invited me to come to Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and share my “When God & Cancer Meet” seminar. I honestly tried to get out of it when I saw what a hassle it was going to be to get to their little town in the middle of nowhere: a 90-minute ride to the airport, two plane flights, and then a three-hour car ride. But it’s really hard to say “no” to a Stage 4 cancer patient who is determined to share the love of Jesus with hurting people.

And that’s how I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Donna in June of 2019.

Her daughter Bobbi says that year her mom’s “faith continued to grow stronger even as her blood counts fell and her cancer markers climbed.”

Declining health didn’t stop Donna’s ministry of encouragement. In March of this year, she ordered more of my books to give away and talked to my husband about how to start a prayer ministry at her church.

In July Donna decided to stop treatment, but cancer was not about to steal her love of the outdoors (including gardening, hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing and tubing). On July 17 she went for her final kayak ride (pictured above). On August 15 she planned to be boating on the river again, but was too weak to walk or climb into the kayak. Instead friends lifted her wheelchair into the water as she waved and flashed her beautiful smile.

Two days later–just shy of her 70th birthday–Donna Wishowski went Home to her Lord and Savior, having kept her promise that “cancer will not steal one day from me.”

Philippians 3:12-14 was her life scripture:

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things
or that I have already reached perfection.
But I press on to possess that perfection
for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,
but I focus on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
 I press on to reach the end of the race and
receive the heavenly prize for which God,
through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

And that, my friends, is  how we keep cancer–or anything else–from stealing even one day from us.

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Be sure to open this blog in your browser to hear the music video below “Joy” from Rend Collective. (The word “joy” was one of Donna’s absolute favorites, Bobbi says.)

Sep 30

Living with Uncertainty: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 4)

 

Would you like to hear some GOOD NEWS today?It has been 4.5 months since my oncologist and former employer, Dr. Marc Hirsh (pictured above with me in 1999) was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer.  It has no known cure nor effective treatment, but Marc finished his self-prescribed regime of 30 days of radiation and chemotherapy a week ago. That in itself–as all of us cancer survivors know–is something to celebrate.

And there’s more GOOD NEWS.

“I’m feeling much better,” he told me in yesterday’s phone interview. “My swallowing is about 80-percent improved. The nausea is gone. I’m not as tired as I was, and my appetite is picking up.

“It feels great not to have to get up and take a treatment,” Marc added. “I felt like I was poisoning myself, but it was something I had to do.”

But there’s even more GOOD NEWS.

Marc’s radiation oncologist, Dr. Michael Watson told him that the tumor has “significantly shrunk.” More imaging will be done in about a month to measure the decrease and check for any new spots, but the early scans are encouraging.

However,  after practicing oncology for 31 years, Marc knows good news quickly can change to bad.

“The tumor is still there and it’s just a question of whether it will act up,” he explained. “I wonder how long this window of remission or ‘holiday’ will last. I have faith and believe that anything is possible and it could go on for years, but it could be only weeks or months.”

Still, given the “dramatic  and weird way” the cancer first presented May 23, Marc is grateful for how much his situation has improved.

“I had this big (12 cm) tumor pressing on my heart, pericarditis (inflammation of the heart lining), chest pain,  constant headaches from pressure on a blood vessel, a collapsed lung with a pleural effusion (excess fluid),  and I was short of breath,” he recalled. “I really thought I probably would die in a few weeks…So it’s amazing how good I feel now.”

When I asked Marc how he deals with the uncertainty his diagnosis/prognosis brings, he responded: “I’m sad and disappointed, but I still feel strong and optimistic.”

“You don’t know when adversity hits how you’re going to do,” he explained. “I’m lucky to have Elizabeth who has been at my side constantly. Not everybody has a partner with her strength and love, and my family has been here for me from the beginning.”

Marc,  a Jew who has believed in Jesus as his Messiah for the past 40 years, said he wondered if his faith would be the source of strength he expected it to be.

“I figured God would show up…and He did,” he said. “It’s been a confirmation of what I already believed.”

I asked Marc about Bible verses which have been especially encouraging during this trial and he immediately mentioned one of my absolute favorite scriptures:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:15-17

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, but I’m glad I’m not afraid of dying,” Marc added. “And I’m also very happy I’m still alive.”

We are too, Marc…We are, too.

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Be sure to open this blog in your browser to hear the music videos “Be with You” and “The Love of God” by Rich Mullins, Marc and Elizabeth’s favorite Christian artist. I couldn’t make up my mind which song to pick, so you get a double blessing today. This second one is only a little over 2 minutes long and so worth your time.

 

Sep 16

Do You Need to Hear from God?

I hope you have someone who is praying with you during your cancer journey or whatever trial you’re facing—not just for you, but right with you so you can hear your needs lifted to Heaven. Even though I have been privileged to pray with cancer patients and their caregivers for the past 30+ years, I never cease to be amazed when I see God answer. It’s always especially exciting when patients tell me it’s the first time they really heard from God.

Maureen was one of those patients.

It’s easy to remember when I first met Maureen and her husband—the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

9/11 National Day of Remembrance, September 11, 2001. Vector illustration

What a rotten day to have to start chemo, I thought as I talked with the couple in my office. Maureen was forced to reschedule this first treatment because the week before she had had to go to Nebraska where her mother took ill while visiting relatives.

As I explained my job of offering emotional and spiritual support, I could see that Maureen was especially anxious. She said that she and her husband had gone to church early that morning to pray. I thought perhaps their visit was prompted by the day’s special significance to our country, but she said they made the same visit most mornings before work.

But Maureen admitted that she didn’t feel she heard from God the way other people seemed to hear Him. Her husband concurred that the amazing spiritual moments others described never seemed to happen to them.

I didn’t have any answer to their dilemma but asked if I might pray for them before Maureen’s treatment began. They readily agreed, so we held hands and I prayed a blessing over them.

When I finished, Maureen had a shocked look on her face.

“I can’t believe what you just prayed!” she said.

Oh dear, have I made some theological mistake? I wondered.

“Why? What did I say?” I asked her.

“You prayed that I would have ‘strength, courage, and peace’,” she said. “Those are the three things I have been praying for, in that exact order, every day since I was diagnosed with cancer!”

“So much for not hearing from God!” I responded with a smile. “I don’t think there’s any doubt now that He heard your prayers!”

I was pretty excited at God’s amazingly fast response, but He wasn’t done with them yet that day

Maureen went to the chemo room, and I stopped to talk with a patient named Dee. She said she wanted to give my first book to her next-door neighbor’s daughter who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Dee added some details about how her neighbor had become ill while she was in Nebraska.

“Wait a minute,” I said, stopping her story. “What’s your neighbor’s daughter’s name?”

“Maureen,” she replied.

Within moments introductions were made between the two women who had heard much about each other but never met. The veteran patient, Dee, hugged the novice patient, Maureen, and assured her she had been praying for her.

“I am so excited,” Maureen kept saying. “Things like this never happen to me!”And that’s how Maureen learned for sure that God really did hear her prayers and that His amazing power wasn’t just something that happened to other people.

I don’t know if you hear from God everyday or if feel you’ve never really heard from Him, but I promise you that He wants you to draw close and hear His voice.

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of the rains in early spring.
Hosea 6:3

You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior.
You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas.
Psalm 65:5

If you have someone who will pray with you, ask that person to help you hear from God. If you don’t, please allow me that privilege right now: Father God, My friend needs to hear Your voice today. Will You please some how, some way speak to my friend in a way that will show You do faithfully answer our prayers. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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Be sure to open in your browser to hear the music video below “My Little Prayer” by David Archuleta.

 

Sep 02

Even a Superhero Can Get Cancer

 

We already knew that cancer is no respecter of people: young/old, rich/poor, athlete/couch potato, doesn’t matter. It can strike whenever and wherever. And a few days ago we learned that even a superhero can get cancer…and die.

Award-winning film actor Chadwick Boseman starred in 42 as Jackie Robinson, the first Black Major League Baseball player, and in Marshall as Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice. But it was his role in Black Panther as Marvel’s first Black superhero that really catapulted him to global stardom.

And now just two years after the film’s release, its lead actor is gone.

It could have been me.

That’s the first thought I had when I read about Boseman last week. Diagnosed  in 2016 with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 39. Now dead at 43.

I was diagnosed in 1990 with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 36. Now alive and turning 67 this month. Why is that?

Is there something I did to “beat” cancer that Boseman failed to do? I doubt it. The very private actor never publicly discussed his diagnosis and reportedly continued to work on several films while undergoing treatments and multiple surgeries. It’s difficult to imagine that someone with his money and connectedness didn’t have excellent care. So why did a superhero not “conquer” cancer, but I did?

I have no idea.

I honestly refuse to give credit for my cure to anything I did or didn’t do. I complied with what the doctors advised (well, most of it), but I felt so nauseated that I ate whatever tasted good rather than what had the best nutritional value. During my treatment months, a short walk was all the exercise I could muster because I was so weak and had too many problems with an allergic reaction to a drug.

I truly don’t know for sure why I survived.  I feel very uncomfortable suggesting that I did something right to survive cancer because that would mean that my dear friends (and people like Chadwick Boseman) must have done something wrong.

I realize God has used me to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients and their families–in person, through speaking engagements and via my books. But I know many people who were serving God mightily when they passed away and I have no reason to doubt would have continued had they lived.

As to why I’m still here and they’re not…I have no adequate explanation. But I do look to Scripture for my hope.

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh,
but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us.
Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.

God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

 So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies
we are not at home with the Lord.
For we live by believing and not by seeing. 
2 Corinthians 5:4-7

When life doesn’t make sense–whether because of cancer or some other trial–we can find peace because “The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes.” (The Voice Bible)

So keep walking, my friend…not seeing, but simply trusting.

P.S. I was so happy to read about Chadwick Boseman’s faith as a baptized Christ-follower. He often spoke of God and quoted scripture including in his 2018 commencement address at his alma mater Howard University. I also recommend Boseman’s 5-minute inspirational speech explaining how “without Denzel Washington there is no Black Panther”  https://www.facebook.com/goalcast/videos/how-did-denzel-washington-save-chadwick-boseman/2698843526994047/

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Be sure to open this blog in your browser to hear the music video below “Walk by Faith’ by Jeremy Camp.

 

Aug 19

Faith & Family: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 3)

 

It’s one thing to be given a cancer diagnosis. It’s another matter to be told there is no known cure for that cancer. And it’s a whole other ballgame to learn there’s no recognized effective treatment either.

My oncologist, Dr. Marc Hirsh, has been smacked with this reality in the three months since he was diagnosed with an extremely rare atypical carcinoid of the thymus gland. And like so many facing a life-threatening illness, his world looks a little different.

“I’m learning to appreciate the moment– like when I take a deep breath and it doesn’t hurt and I don’t cough,” Marc told me in a recent phone interview. “And having medicine to control the pain is really great.”

So how does he get through the day without obsessing about his discouraging diagnosis and poor prognosis?

“I’m staying as active as possible–walking around our property everyday,” he said. “I also get a lot of joy in reading and studying.”

Music also brings much happiness to Marc, who has been “playing a lot of keyboard” since his diagnosis. (He also plays piano, guitar, saxophone and harmonica –and does a great Bob Dylan vocal.)

Since 1991 when I started the Cancer Prayer Support Group, Marc has entertained and  inspired his patients and their families at our semi-annual dessert concerts. Whether playing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” with a boogie beat or changing popular song wording to share his testimony (Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” became “You Make Me Feel Like a New Creation”), he brought much happiness to the crowds which eagerly gathered.

But Marc said what gives him the most joy each day is being with his family.

“I feel really fortunate to have my great wife and kids and grandkids here with me,” he said. “And all the cards I get are great, too.”

One of Marc’s favorite Bible passages, which helps him to “focus on living in the moment and not worrying about tomorrow” is found in the Sermon on the Mount.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34

Still Marc acknowledged that “living for the moment is easier said than done.” In fact, he hesitated to offer advice on coping with cancer.

“We’re all so unique and God has created each one of us in a unique fashion, so I don’t think there’s a five-step solution,” he explained. “But I think we all need to find some meaning in the midst of the diagnosis. And we need to face our own death and not be in denial.

“I’ve always thought it’s a paradox that God is in control while life is random and chaotic ,” he added. “But whatever happens to my body, I know that my spirit is eternal  and when my body dies, it’s not the final answer.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.
Anyone who believe in me will live, even after dying.

Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”
John 11:25-26

P.S. (If you want to know how Marc, a Jewish physician, met the Great Physician and became a Christ-follower in 1979, I share that story in my first book When God & Cancer Meet.)

FYI Marc has a new blog where he explores medical, theological and philosophical issues related to his cancer journey. To sign-up for a free subscription, go to:  https://marchirshmd.wordpress.com

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Be sure to open in your browser to hear “Bound to Come Some Trouble,” another song by Marc’s favorite Christian artist, Rich Mullins.

Aug 12

Living with Loss: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 2)

 

Cancer has a nasty habit of taking things away from people–things like hair and strength and jobs and time. Sometimes it takes them away for a short while and sometimes it takes them away permanently.

Even before my oncologist Dr. Marc Hirsh got an official cancer diagnosis, the disease already was robbing him of things that had been precious to him.

His first loss came without any warning: his health. At 69, Marc was still very active: biking, running, paddle boarding, downhill skiing and even kick boxing a heavy bag. He went to bed Friday, May 22 feeling fine after his daily workout, but awakened in the night with chest pain. Tests at the ER revealed a 12-cm tumor pressing on his heart and partially collapsing a lung. He left the hospital feeling weak, short of breath and with a prescription for narcotic painkillers.

And the loss of his health led immediately to his second loss: his profession.

“I realized right away what would be involved with this tumor–even in the best case scenario–and I knew I couldn’t keep up what I had been doing,” Marc explained in our recent phone interview. “The rigors of private, solo practice without back-up, on call 24/7–I wouldn’t be able to do the job I wanted to. I knew it was the end.”

Patients were quickly informed that they needed to find a new oncologist. The staff of ten–some of whom have worked for Marc for 20 or 30 years–was already in mourning and now patients and their families began grieving the loss of their oncologist’s care. (Photos are Fall 2019 patient party when staff costumed as Where’s Waldo? –the one and only year Marc ever dressed up.) 

On June 8 Marc updated his website to include this message: “I am sorry that I cannot continue as your physician.  I extend to you my prayers for your future health and happiness.  It has been my honor and privilege to be involved with your care.”

“I knew I would stop working someday, but not like this,” Marc told me. “When I finally went into the office and saw everything all boxed up, I just broke down.”

“That loss of my profession was even worse than the cancer,” he added. “I’m no longer that doctor, that oncologist. It kind of hurt.”

But the final loss was his beloved dog, Jake. Rescued some 10 years ago, the lab-hound was practically inseparable from Marc.  Jake even came to the office every day, where he won the hearts of all the dog-loving patients as he visited them in the exam rooms, happily accepting handfuls of doggie treats.

Fourteen-year-old Jake was slowing down and in the last few weeks became very sick. On July 24, the difficult decision was made to end his suffering.

“No, not Jake!” Marc recalled. “I got cancer, I lost my job and now I have to put down my dog? I was a little angry. I can’t even have my therapy dog with me.”

But Marc never thought “it’s not fair.”

“If you’re a follower of Christ, you’re still going to experience struggles, problems,” he explained. “Faith doesn’t prevent (bad) things from happening.

“I don’t blame God (for all the losses) or wonder why,” he added. “I’m 69 and I’m very grateful for all the things I’ve had. My life has been so blessed and very successful that I couldn’t complain.”

He’s even grateful to have started his radiation therapy and oral chemo yesterday after waiting three weeks for all the preliminaries to conclude.

Here’s the scripture prayer Marc posted on his website for all his patients and their families:
The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

NEXT WEEK AUG. 19 Faith & Family: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 3)
Please go to my website home page to sign up for my bi-weekly blog.

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Make sure to open in your browser to hear “If I Stand,” one of Marc’s favorite songs by Rich Mullins, who Marc describes as “our No. 1 favorite songwriter–he’s like the Bob Dylan of Christian music.”

 

 

Aug 05

Irony: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 1)

 

I remember thinking how ironic it was when I was diagnosed with cancer just six weeks after interviewing the local oncologist, Dr. Marc Hirsh, for my newspaper story about the hospital’s new cancer support group.

And now in an even greater irony, that cancer specialist–my oncologist–has been diagnosed with the very disease that he spent most of his adult life treating and trying to cure.

When Marc’s wife Elizabeth called with his bad news, I was devastated. The four of us have been prayer partners for almost 30 years, spent the past 24  Labor Day weekends cruising the Chesapeake Bay in their boat, and agonized  in prayer for countless cancer patients and their families during the nearly 20 years I worked as his patient advocate.

I’ve interviewed Marc many times in those three decades and written about him in all of my published books, so I figured it was time for another interview–this one to find out how it feels for an oncologist to be diagnosed with cancer.

“I feel like my cancer education has been completed,” Marc told me. “Right from the start (of this cancer journey) I was filled with a sense of irony. Every time an IV went in, or they drew blood, or I got a scan, it was surreal. I know it’s a cliche´ word, but it’s almost as if you’re out of your body watching and being dismayed and slightly amused at what you’re seeing.

“So, this is what it feels like to hear somebody say ‘there’s a tumor in your body.’ To hear ‘you have cancer.’  To hear ‘there’s a strong probability you’re going to die’,” he explained. “I knew about all that before, but I never knew what it felt like.

“It’s one thing to order a PET (scan), it’s another thing to get the injection and be left alone in a room for an hour waiting for it to happen,” he explained. “You just don’t have a clue what it’s actually like until it happens to you.”

The completion of Marc’s self-described cancer education began the night of May 22. He had Fridays off so he was home working out, playing music and feeling fine. The pain hit in the middle of the night and his wife of 40 years rushed him to the local ER. Tests there revealed a large tumor above his heart, but it was weeks before it had a name:  atypical carcinoid of the thymus gland. It’s a cancer so rare that there are only about 160 documented cases in the country.

There is no known cure and no known effective treatments.

Doctors at two medical centers suggested he take a strong, rather toxic combination of chemo drugs, but had no data to show it would work. So instead, Marc did what he’s always done when faced with a rare, difficult diagnosis for a patient: he researched.

Working alongside his Hershey Medical oncologist and Hanover, PA, radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Watson, Marc has come up with a plan he thinks could help:  a monthly hormone therapy injection, along with daily radiation therapy and oral chemo.

And despite the diagnosis and fairly bleak prognosis, Marc said he doesn’t feel afraid.

“Fear is the one thing I thought I would feel, but I didn’t,” he said. “Maybe anxiety or depression, but not fear.

“I never felt God had abandoned me,” he explained. “Forty years ago I asked Jesus into my heart and I’ve never felt since then that He wasn’t there–even in the tough times.”

The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?  
Psalm 118:6

 

Aug. 12 PART 2: My Oncologist’s Thoughts on Loss–his health, his profession and his beloved dog
 Aug. 19 PART 3: My Oncologist’s Thoughts on Faith, Family and Finding Strength

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Be sure to open this blog in your browser to hear the song “Hold Me Jesus” by Rich Mullins, one of Marc and Elizabeth’s favorite artists.

 

Jul 22

My Embarrassing Confession

 

I have a confession to make. It’s kind of embarrassing and I’m reticent to admit it, but I want to be transparent so I’m going public.

I leak.

Seriously, I do. And I’m not talking about once in a blue moon or even occasionally. I’m talking basically everyday, especially for the last several months. I truly thought that after so many years, this problem would perhaps disappear, but it continues to plague me.

I’m sure you’re hoping I’ll share the details of my leakage, so here goes…

Every morning I start out my day on my backyard deck, brimming with beautiful blooms planted by my full-time gardener (a.k.a. my husband). The trees have leafed out, thereby obscuring the housing development behind us. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. So I pray, sing and read God’s Word. I feel wonderfully “full.”

But as the day progresses, I start “leaking.”

When someone irritates me, (for example, by wearing their public mask below their nose!) a little  of my patience drips away. When I read about yet-another person facing cancer (especially a child), I feel a tiny bit of hope dissipating. And when my unexplained physical pain intensifies (going on 11 weeks now), I definitely lose a measure of joy.

I’m tempted to think that after 48 years of following Christ, I shouldn’t still have this “problem.” I ought to be able to pray and read Scripture in the morning and be spiritually and emotionally prepared to face the entire day–maybe even a few days!

And yet I know that God created us for intimacy with Himself. And every time I “leak” some of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to draw closer to Him and allow His Spirit to fill me again.

When the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:18 admonished believers to “be filled with the Spirit,” he used the passive voice, which means we are to “keep on being filled” with the Spirit.

I might get away with brushing my hair and putting on my make-up only once a day, but I need continual refilling throughout the day with the power of His Spirit.

Jesus taught this truth in a parable in Luke 11:11-13:

“You fathers–if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts  to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Author Jennifer Kennedy Dean adds: “I find it interesting that Jesus summed up good gifts as the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit, we have direct access to all the resources of God, the presence of God, and the wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit is the gift that keeps on giving.”

How about you? Has the pandemic punctured holes in your spiritual/emotional tank causing some leakage? Are  financial or marital struggles taking their toll? Or like me are you or your loved one experiencing a physical ordeal that keeps stealing your peace?

We might be leaking, but God is continually providing. I don’t have to sit on my beautiful deck to be renewed and refreshed–He will meet me wherever I am. As the song below says: “I’m not enough unless You come. Will You meet me here again?”
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(Be sure to open this blog in your browser to hear the music video “Here Again” by Elevation Worship.)