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.