Okay, so…I’m not an expert on this subject, but I have definitely walked the cancer road. It seems like every few weeks I hear of someone else that I know and love that is fighting this dreaded disease. The explosion in the life of someone who has just been told they have cancer is similar to the horrific explosion that was experienced in Boston this week. A life that was normal the day before, has just been changed forever.
This week I have added three names to my “friends with cancer” list. It sickens me to hear the news, yet causes me to want to spring to action. Sometimes, though, we are not sure which way to spring!
Since most of you that are reading this knew my husband, Keith, I wanted to share again his words about someone going through this journey. I shared this in our book, The Journey, but I think these words bear repeating.
This was written just after Keith had been told he was cancer free for the second time. We had no idea that the absolute worst part of the cancer ride was still ahead of us.
Keith was a musician, not a writer, but he shares openly and honestly about what he had experienced. Here is what he wrote:
Am I a different man today – yes. How – I can’t really verbalize it all, but here are some insights I’ve realized. First, the fact of mortality is very sobering. I was in complete shock when I first heard the findings of a tumor and thought to myself – no family history, I wasn’t a smoker or alcoholic, didn’t live next to a chemical plant. So what did I do wrong? I’ve pondered this question over and over again. The answer…… nothing. If that question had another conclusion, it means that cancer is a punishment for bad people who’ve done bad things. We all know that is not the truth. Cancer hits anyone. All of us have cancer cells in our body. They are just dormant. What is it that causes them to “awaken” and spread – that’s one that may have to wait till heaven to get answered.
Second, my walk with the Lord must be real and ongoing. The saying is true: crisis doesn’t build character, it reveals character. If you wait till you’re in the middle of a crisis and try to negotiate a deal with God; that just does not work. Even for me (and I’ve got a Rev. in front of my name), my faith, beliefs and walk was stretched to the very limits. When your blood count is screwed up: hemoglobin count below 7, white count below 1, and platelets below 15K (I set a record in that area with my doctor… a new LOW record), you don’t have the human strength or desire to grow or pursue anything. Today I am so committed to a daily time with the Lord and long to see growth in others. You see, I know their “shock of life” may be just around the corner and I want desperately to do my part to help them be prepared now.
Third, I am totally convinced that the only thing that matters in life is the time you invest in other people. Possessions, titles, fame, recognition… it’s all so temporary. Literally here today – gone tomorrow. When I lead worship now, I look into the eyes of the people in front of me. Not to see if they are singing loud or clapping on beats 2 & 4, but sensing where they are in life that day. Are they coming out of a struggle, facing a crisis today and losing the battle, or needing the tools to face the uncertainties of tomorrow. Everyone in that audience is in some kind of pain, and they’ve come to church seeking hope. Not music, style, or a verbal slam, but words and an example letting them know – they are going to make it! Today I spend my time and efforts in the office and home encouraging, investing, listening, and impacting the lives God has put in my life. When I die, I want my values and impact to be lived out through my family and friends around me. I want them to be stronger and more purposeful than I ever was.
As a pastor, I’ve counseled and prayed with many a cancer patient and family member, but never really knew the specifics of what they were going through. I knew the words to say, but I did not identify fully with the situation they were facing and how it consumes every part of you. Today, I am much wiser (and humble too). Here are some of the things I have walked away from this journey with. I want you to read and embrace these truths from a cancer survivor.
1 – The day a person hears they have cancer; that is the worst day of their life! Don’t just say “I’ll pray for you”, try to feel their pain as they deal with denial, anger, and the sadness that many people with cancer…die.
2 – The second worst day for most cancer patients is the day a biopsy is taken. For me, it was horrible. I was not “put under”, just deadened as I lay on my stomach and the procedure was performed. Think about it: feeling the sensation of the apparatus going into my back, finding the tumor, and literally yanking out a piece – four times. Just hearing the whispers and groans of the medical personnel-that was the day attitude turned from denial to reality …… I have cancer.
3 – The third worst day for me was the day my hair fell out. I was in the shower and felt something strange on my face… and it was my hair falling out. I turned off the water, dried off, and yelled out to LeeAnn to go buy a set of clippers – NOW. I wanted it off! Afterwards, I looked in the mirror at the newly bald head coupled with the “cancer” skin tone now covering my body and got very depressed.
4 – Know that a cancer patient’s time during treatments is horrible. The nausea and tiredness was uncontrollable. For me, I only ate soups for almost 4 months straight – that’s all I could keep down. Remember, the cards, emails, voice mails are what keep us going – even when we can’t even lift our head off the bed. The notes didn’t need to be long or spiritually deep – it just helped to know they cared.
5 – Know that even after a cancer patient hears the words “chemo is done”, “remission”, or “cancer free”, the fact is always in the back of our minds that cancer could return at any moment and we could die. That’s not a lack of faith; it’s just the reality of cancer. A cancer patient has a keen sense of mortality and quickly re-arranges priorities and schedules.
6 – Most cancer patients feel less of a person when all is done – the treatments just take a huge toll, and sometimes permanent toll, on the body. The self esteem issue is at the forefront of their mind. If you have cancer survivors in your ministry, I suspect they will be some of your best volunteers – use them!
7 – Cancer patients are very open and sensitive to spiritual matters – share Christ with them. They need a real sense that God allowed this to happen, not that He caused it! All cancer patients are open to prayer at any moment. Pray with them – it re-connects them to God when they don’t have the strength (or desire) to voice it themselves. For me, the countless hours in bed or on the couch gave me the opportunity to deepen my faith and ignite my passion. Derric Johnson sent me a card that summed it up: Keith, you’ve always known what you believe; now it’s time to see if you believe what you know!
8 –When offering to assist your friend or family member, it is important to know what to say. Be specific! Don’t just say “if there is anything I can do, just call”. We won’t – we can’t even process what’s happening today. The entire process it so overwhelming. Offer or tell them something specific you ARE going to do unless they tell you no. For us, it was these offers that meant so much: I’m going to take care of all your pool chemicals and cleaning for the rest of the year, or I’m going to mow your yard every Friday – don’t worry about it, or I’m going to arrange meals for you Monday – Friday for the next two weeks. These specific tasks were awesome and we didn’t have to organize anything. If you are physically limited, gift cards to restaurants were wonderful for ordering take out. I had one dear friend who called every day. Yes, every single day for almost 13 months. Another sent me a card every week – I knew it was coming. Find something and DO IT.
9 – Even though the cancer patient is the one experiencing the illness, cancer affects everyone in the family. One problem may be getting them to realize it and dealing with what they are feeling. Example: now the family medical history is changed. Cancer is now a permanent part of the list. Did my experience affect my wife and children – greatly! Each member of the family needs that one person who they can open up to… or the friend who will not stop till they do open up and face their own fears and questions. You may be that one or can make that one friend aware of their responsibility. It has to be someone who already has that family member’s trust and one who knows that person’s make up and personality. There are no blanket responses – each person is unique in their response and path to dealing with this new reality.
10 – You can’t make it through cancer as a patient without two earthly things: good insurance and a great care giver. Yes, we had wonderful insurance and still the out of pocket expenses were in the multiple thousands of dollars. Remember that a care giver’s job is just that, a job. Plus it is on top of their ongoing job and responsibilities. LeeAnn had to balance her job, home chores, and now add the time demands for countless appointments for doctors and tests, transportation to these every week, dealing with a spouse with no strength or functionality, do my chores and family responsibilities, assist both children in their ongoing challenges, and try to find time to deal with her own feelings. Oh yes, and find time to rest and refresh her own spirit and heart. I do not know how she did it, but LeeAnn was incredible! She quickly experienced the “for better or worse” part of our vows. But that’s what we said – vows! Marriage for us isn’t a contract but a covenant. It’s not optional when circumstances don’t fit your agenda, it’s for a lifetime! Bottom line – she stuck with me and I’ll never forget it. She is the best!
The responsibility of being the friend to someone who is going through this is huge. My challenge to you would be to guard against becoming overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation, and look for ways you can help. Ask God for guidance. He will help you know what to do.
Keith had a keen sense of things that were eternal. He loved people very deeply. I had lunch with a friend yesterday, and when she prayed for our food she said, “Lord we know that you are enjoying Keith. Thank you that his ministry here lives on.” I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the Lord would be enjoying getting to hang out with Keith, but I like that thought.
I miss him terribly, but I am so thankful to have lived 30 years with such an awesome man. I hope his words will again minister to you.
Christ told us to love and minister to the ones in need in Matthew 25:34-40:
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Share His love today.
Blessings, my friends!