Living with an “Empty Spot”: My Oncologist Has Cancer (Part 5)

Marc celebrating Hanukkah with granddaughters Estella, 7, and Lily, 10.

It’s been more than four months since I’ve interviewed Dr. Marc Hirsh about his journey with a rare cancer, so I called him a few days ago.

“Just got back from a half-hour run with (older daughter)Jessi’s two dogs,” Marc said on the phone as he fixed himself a glass of juice.

“You’re jogging?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah, I don’t jog fast,” Marc replied. “I’ve also been skiing six times and am punching the heavy bag. I’m pretty much doing everything I used to–just at a lower level.”

Not bad for a 69-year-old man who doctors said last spring could expect to die soon after being diagnosed with atypical carcinoid of the thymus gland–a cancer so rare there are only about 160 documented cases.

“People thought I was going to die,” Marc recalled. “But I feel good and I don’t feel like I have any recurrence symptoms. I only have mild chest pain, which hasn’t changed for months.”

In March he heads back to Hershey Medical Center for blood work and a CT scan to assess how well he’s doing clinically after completing his self-determined treatment of radiation, oral chemo and a hormone shot in September.

“I’m pleasantly surprised how the last six months have gone since I finished treatment and have been enjoying life,” he said.

With both his daughters and three grandchildren spending extended time at his home during the pandemic, Marc’s recent days have been filled with his wife and him giving “a lot of piano lessons,” reading countless books, and celebrating the holidays.“I know (the odds are) I’m probably going to die in a couple years, but I’m still not convinced of that,” Marc added. “I’ve come to terms with that and I’m not obsessed with it.”

One of the scriptures that Marc, a Messianic Jew for 40 years, finds most helpful is Philippians 4:6,7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

“Be anxious for nothing is what I try to live by,” he added.

Photo by Benjamin Earwicker from FreeImages

Still Marc acknowledged there are struggles which have come with having to close his Hanover, Pa., practice immediately after the diagnosis.

“I miss not seeing all my patients and I miss going into the office and being an oncologist,” he told me. “It’s definitely an empty spot in me.

“When I think about all those patients, I miss them, and I wonder how they’re doing,” Marc added. “I do love them and miss them–it’s really an empty spot.”

He also said he misses our semi-annual Cancer Prayer Support Group dessert concerts, when 50-100 patients and their family members would show up for food, fellowship and fabulous music with Marc on keyboard, saxophone and sometimes harmonica.

“I miss the summer and the Christmas concerts,” he said. “Maybe sometime if I’m still feeling well and the pandemic is over, I can play some music again for everyone. But if not here, definitely in the afterlife!”

I was glad to hear him say that because I, for one, already have been praying to hear another earthly concert.

(P.S. If you want to be in touch with Marc, you can send mail to: 3601 Lakeview Rd., Spring Grove, PA 17362, or subscribe to his blog at https://marchirshmd.wordpress.com . For Parts 1-4 in this series, see posts on 9/30; 8/19; 8/12;  and 8/5.)

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Be sure to open in your browser to enjoy the song below “Sometimes by Step,” by Rich Mullins, Marc and Elizabeth’s favorite Christian artist.

My New Year’s Prayer for You

 

When my granddaughter Abby was 3, she’s wasn’t the best sleeper.

She wasn’t the worst sleeper, but definitely not as good as her brothers, then ages 1 and 5. In  fact, she was quite the master of “stalling” at bedtime and “needing” things in the middle of the night. You may be  familiar with the universal  toddler “necessities” list: potty, drink, doll, stuffed animal, nightlight, book, blanket, socks etc.

But Abby upped this game to a new level, crying out in the wee hours of the morning, prompting Mommy to appear and ask the sensible question: “What do you need, Abby?” To which this adorable child would sweetly reply: “More Jesus.”

Check and checkmate–Abby wins hands down! I mean no matter what time it is and how tired you are, how does anyone say no to “more Jesus”?

In case you’re wondering what Abby specifically was requesting– it was for mommy to sing the bedtime ritual melody “Jesus Loves Me” one more time (with Abby often adding her tiny voice to the chorus).

Definitely a 3-year-old genius. I would want to give her “more Jesus” any time day or night.

So, Abby’s hard-to-deny request got me thinking: What do I want MORE of in 2021? (I can definitely think of some things I want LESS of–pounds, isolation, wrinkles, political unrest, just to name a few!) But what do I hope for MORE of?

Photo by Haut Risque on Unsplash

Certainly more good health for all of you fighting cancer and other serious or chronic illnesses. Definitely more comfort for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. Clearly more love for families torn apart by the pain of addictions, divorce, and abuse. Undoubtedly more patience for all of us enduring this devastating pandemic. And absolutely more peace for this violent world.

But when it comes right down to it, I think I’ll simply pray that you and I have more Jesus this year. 

I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. —Ephesians 3:16-19

And when you can’t fall asleep or when you wake up in the middle of the night, perhaps you will choose to echo my little granddaughter’s request: More Jesus.

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Be sure to open in your browser to hear an old favorite of mine from Scott Wesley Brown “I Wish You Jesus.” Feel free to close your eyes and receive this as my New Year’s prayer for you.

Can You be Weary and Grateful at the Same Time?

 

Weariness…either you’re facing it or someone you love is. I recently heard from a songwriter and new FB friend Carrie Marshall* who told me that in this weary year she has been diagnosed with a concussion, COVID-19 and cancer.  “I call it the Triple C,” she explained with an added LOL.

I looked up “weary” in my little Random House pocket dictionary of synonyms and antonyms I’ve had since my college journalism days and synonyms include: exhausted, tired, fatigued, spent, impatient, dissatisfied, tedious, and irksome.

Any of those describe your feelings some days? Yes, there are so many things for which I’m grateful and yet there are so many losses piling up: worshipping together as a church; having friends into our home; hugging and holding hands with loved ones; and canceling a daughter’s 40th birthday weekend in Waco, a 50th high school reunion to southern California, special ministry events, and an exciting trip to Nova Scotia.

I constantly thank God for His blessings like the outdoor “Wild Lights” at the local zoo with the grandkids and grocery curbside pickup ready as soon as I finish writing. But if I‘m honest, I’m truly sad and grieving in the midst of my thankfulness.

Yes, I am weary.

Shannon Adducci, who knows a thing or two about weariness, describes herself as “a wife, mom, singer-songwriter, worship leader, trauma-survivor, mountain-lover, and Christ-follower.” Her recent blog about weariness was as excellent as her music. It inspired this blog and I’d like to share some of her encouraging thoughts with you.

“I have been programmed through the years to think I should just be able to choose gratitude at all times and, in every instance, flip weariness or sadness on its head and replace it with the spirit of joy – with the help of a handy, hip-pocket Scripture, of course!

“And, certainly, there is a place for simply choosing joy and gratitude. I do it often. But it also incredibly important to honor the deep emotions we might be experiencing, lest they fester unattended and infect our souls.

“So, what if it doesn’t have to be one or the other of these? Not joy instead of sadness. Or recovery in lieu of grief. Or breakthrough eclipsing stuck-ness. What if it is actually OK to be in it all at the same time? …

What if it could all be one holy, messy struggle and me not feel guilty about it?…

“So, here’s the good news…

“Even in my utter weariness, Jesus offers me an invitation and not a rejection slip.

“Come to me,” He whispers.

“Not after you recover but in order to recover.”

Jesus fully and gently acknowledges exactly where you and I are and encourages us to hang out with Him in our most depleted state.” (©2020 Shannon Adducci. Bold emphasis mine.)**

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
 Put My yoke upon your shoulders—it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves.
Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.
When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest.”
The VOICE Bible Matthew 11:28,29

Thank you, Jesus, that it’s okay for us to feel weary alongside thankfulness. I’m so grateful that we don’t have to just choose one or the other, but by the power of Your Spirit within us, help us to rest in Your presence.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!”
(“O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam 1847 emphasis mine)

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*To connect with Carrie and preview her beautiful, newly released single “I Will Sing,” (which she hopes “encourages others who are either in or headed into a dark and scary place”), go to https://music.apple.com/us/album/i-will-sing-single/1544622642?fbclid=IwAR29O3YQC5Ftyx2mNIFi1tZwaceUFti5zP-pThv0ilyXqlMOzd6VIRpJhEI

** To connect with Shannon and preview her incredible music, go to https://shannonadduccimusic.com/store (I have all her CDs and love them all!)

Please open in your browser to enjoy the powerful song  from the Christmas CD “Love Came for Me” by Shannon Wexelberg Adducci

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way—and surely it has not—she adjusted her sails.” –Elizabeth Edwards

 

I think it was quite an understatement when Elizabeth Edwards, wife of then-U.S. Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards asserted that the wind had not blown her way.

Elizabeth’s firstborn was killed in a car accident at the age of 17. Later while she was fighting recurrent breast cancer, her husband had an affair resulting in an out-of-wedlock child. After six years of a very public battle with cancer, Elizabeth passed away in 2010 at the age of 61.

Definitely not the way anyone would choose the wind to blow.

My friend Jen has been learning to “adjust her sails” since a frightening storm crashed into her happy life July 23, 2012.

That’s the day the 32-year-old wife and mother of a 2 ½ -year-old was told she had stage 4 ovarian cancer and wouldn’t live past Christmas.

“Our lives were shaken with fear and disbelief over the crazy thought of dying,” Jen recalls.

Three weeks later she saw an oncologist who informed the young couple her diagnosis was not ovarian cancer, but GIST (Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor), a rare tumor of the digestive tract.  At first Jen and husband Ryan were relieved, but quickly “were crushed” to find out there was no cure for GIST.

“I was told then that I would need to be on chemo for the rest of my life and would probably face upwards of ten surgeries during my lifetime,” Jen remembers.

“Never in a million years did I think this would be my journey,” says Jen, who now has been on targeted oral therapy for more than eight years and faced multiple recurrences, including one this March which necessitated a week-long hospital stay with no family allowed to visit.

“I’m not in denial over my health, but choose not to dwell on having an ‘incurable’ disease,” Jen explains.  ” I definitely think of living with cancer in light of eternity knowing that all of our time is limited on this earth.

“In a way the ‘cure’ is in what God gives me every day to make it through, and not in a textbook ‘cure’ of cancer being gone. I guess that’s the way I look at it,” she says. “I’m still exercising daily, running Addison (now 11) to dance, and doing all the normal things.”

“Living with cancer keeps me so close to God,” Jen adds. “I know that might sound terrible, but I’ve never been so close to God before in all my life and perhaps it’s because I now trust Him with everything.

“I have peace just knowing that God can heal me completely if and when He wants to,” she continues. “But it’s His plan and not mine … I choose to walk in God’s peace today.”

Choose to walk in God’s peace.

Would you dare to make that choice today? Will you ask God to show you how to adjust your sails to better face your unique storm? And will you trust that He will supernaturally empower you to adapt in ways that perhaps you never dreamed were possible?Jen has found peace in midst of a terrible storm—unimaginable peace considering her circumstances. And He wants to do the same for you—though it may not come as a one-time answer to a single prayer.

“I have to pray and put my life and Addison’s life and Ryan’s life in His hands every day,” explains Jen. “I’ve learned how to wait in the middle of the storm and to totally rely on Him in every area of my life.”

Sounds like a very good, daily adjustment.

(Based on an excerpt from Peace in the Face of Cancer copyright by Lynn Eib 2017.)

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Be sure to open this blog in your browser to hear the music video below “Peace in the Midst of the Storm by Beyond the Ashes.

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

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.

 

“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.)

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.

 

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.

 

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.