“Cancer.” No one likes to hear that word, unless it is followed by the words “You are cured.” Or, “Your cancer is in remission.” In early December, I heard that word. Cancer. The word struck me with a fear greater perhaps than the deadly power of the disease itself. A veteran of many surgeries over the course of my life, I have learned that I am only granted a reprieve between the last one and the next one. The first one occurred the day that I was born, saving my life and making sure that my parents had a family of four and not a family of three. Since then, I have had twelve. I think the number is high, but those who deal with burns will tell you that it is nothing. The same for war wounds. I humble myself before these brave souls.
Apparently, or so the doctors thought, I had what appeared to be a cyst in my right kidney that could have been cancer. The doctors proceeded along the line that it was cancer. The thought was that a portion of my kidney would probably have to come out, or even the whole kidney, even if it were not cancer. I also had something going on in the left kidney, but it was too small to be a problem at the moment. After the initial shock, about 24 hours, I asked “Why me?” After all I have been through in my life—all the surgeries—four alone on my back, the Lord had me wondering. As I wondered, I could feel myself becoming angrier and angrier. Angry with God. I wasn’t quite at the state of disbelief in Him, but I was angry at God. Furious with the Lord. Not a good place to be. I had to let my work go that week. I just could not concentrate—not on work, not on anything: “How long do I have? Will I die soon? Does anyone care? Do I care?” I seriously had thought I would never get cancer. Friends have died from it. Two of my uncles died from it. My father died of cancer; others in my family had had it, but surely I would be spared, or so I thought. Vanity.
Struggling that week just to put one foot in front of the other—making sure that only a select few people knew until I was ready to tell the world—I spent time looking around at all my books and thinking I should start giving them away. Giving everything away! By Saturday of that week, I had had enough. Suddenly remorselessly fatalistic, resigned to fate, I had given up. “If the Lord wants me, he should take me.” That is what I growled to my brother. “Would I go to church that Sunday? Would it matter?” God had let me down. Thirteen surgeries later, I felt I had kept my end of the bargain, entering every one thinking it would help me, make me well, restore my freedom of movement, improve my vision, just to name a few of the goals. Saturday night I went to bed depressed, despondent, ragefully angry, and furious. It didn’t keep me from sleeping, but church would be a wait and see for me.
Rising that morning, I resolved I would attend, because I had nothing else. What would I do instead? Sleep in with the cats? Go to a mediocre brunch, sit by myself and think about how long I had? Church, I resolved, church it would be. Good to see my friends there. Always the tonic of laughter around the table at Hardee’s. Good to see Pastor Eddie, maybe ask for a healing. Prayer warriors would pray over me, as Pastor Eddie would make a moist cross on my forehead by dipping his finger in water from the Jordan River mixed with Brunswick Country water. I had been a prayer warrior for others confronting cancer—seen their lives extended—now I would be the one to be prayed for. “You must get up and go.”
Once aboard the ferry, I sat down to read the morning’s tweets on Twitter, something I do daily, looking for headlines upon which to follow up, if need be. If it wasn’t a tweet by Thomas Sowell, then it was within the first three tweets. I think it was the first. Franklin Graham had posted Mark 4:37-41. Here it is for the uninitiated:
Mark 4:37-41King James Version (KJV):
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. 38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? 39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
Reading this tweet, here I was sitting aboard this ferry on the upper deck directly behind the pilot house—crossing the Cape Fear— its normally wavy waters motionless as a mill pond. As a looked over the starboard rail on the lower deck back toward the island at the stillness before me, I realized that my storm had passed; my blind rage had ended: Here was Jesus saying, “[H]ow is it that ye have no faith?” The Lord reassured me in the tranquility of the morning, just as Jesus had done with his disciples. Was I not one of His disciples? To be sure, He wasn’t saying, “Sandy, you have been spared” No, He was saying, “I am with you.” Reassurance full of fortitude with a divine healing power all its own. My great friend Joe has reminded me of this in the midst of my diagnosis:
Joshua 1:9 King James Version (KJV):
9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
So, as we entered the marina, I felt a new sense of assurance, resolve and determination, knowing that whatever lay ahead in this life’s journey, my Lord had once again shown Himself to be true to me, as He always has. It was I who had—once again—foolishly doubted Him.
My wondrous friend Billie had long ago introduced me to this Bible verse from Ephesians:
Ephesians 6:10-18 King James Version (KJV):
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, at ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints[.]
She expressed her feelings this way on that particular morning five years ago: “Every day when I get up, I like to put on the armor of God.” Profound then. Profound now. Was this crossing under the watchful eye of the Lord not arming me for the battle ahead? To rousing applause, I opined as much in church later that morning. “Armour of God.”
As I felt Pastor Eddie’s calming finger form a cross on my forehead and all the love and prayers of my friends and fellow parishioners surround me that Sunday, I was glad that I had not given in to my misdirected rage and self-pity the night before. Whatever this life had in store for me, I would face this cancer challenge with renewed strength, courage and wisdom.
My family and most of my friends know the good news by now, shared via a post elsewhere, but for those who are wondering, I include a portion of it here:
[Eighteen] days ago, I had it confirmed to me for the second time that I do not have cancer. This gives me more time to do the Lord’s work, and that is exactly what I intend to do. I don’t care if I am one[,] and the only one, I will fight for this amazing God whom I serve until I can fight no more. I have fought so many battles in my life and struggled to survive. I won this one, but will ultimately lose, as will we all. Vanity makes you think you have time. As we begin our journeys into old age, I leave you with these words from John Wesley [first taught to me at the close of a church service by my mentor, pastor and friend] Eddie Hill:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
― John Wesley
Blessings to all,
(Photo credit-top of page-Sailing: cdrin/Shutterstock