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.