You know it’s not a great prognosis when your doctor schedules an oncology appointment for the very next day.
My move to Chicago had necessitated a new doctor, who had seen me once, determined I was anemic, and said she wanted to run more tests. After those tests came her initial diagnosis – multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. The oncologist confirmed it and told me I probably had two years to live, but that we were going to fight this aggressively. Then, he did a bone marrow biopsy right there in his office.
And I decided I’d probably rather die from the cancer than experience that again.
I don’t like pain. Up to the moment of my diagnosis, I hadn’t really been fearful about my death, except that it might happen painfully.
As a pastor, I’ve spent hours in hospitals with sick people and their families, reminding them to trust the Scripture, trust the Lord. After my doctor’s announcement, I quickly realized that if that advice had been good enough for them, it had better be good enough for me.
New heart, new eyes
I really wasn’t ever scared of dying. We’re all going to go some time, and I know where I’m going next. I thought, if I get better, that’s great. But if I don’t get better, it really gets better. My wife, Sharon, was on the same page as me, but telling our sons and my mother was harder.
My boys eventually got on board and helped me make a “bucket list” of things to do before I, well, kicked it. And life went on. I started 20 weeks of chemotherapy, with few side effects. My doctor’s aggressive treatment plan included a bone marrow transplant using my own stem cells, which was successful, with a few more side effects. Now, 55 pounds lighter and with my hair growing back, I look back on my cancer journey as one I probably wouldn’t have chosen, but I’m grateful for it.
Because my heart and my eyes are open in a way they haven’t been before.
Over the last year, the Lord put all of these people right in front of me who were struggling spiritually, or who didn’t have faith in Him. And they would ask me questions. “Why are you so cheerful? How can you stay so upbeat?” Their wondering gave me an opportunity to say, “It’s only the Lord Jesus in my life.”
Throughout the past year, I’ve realized that if my faith doesn’t separate me – in visible, obvious ways – from people who don’t know Jesus, then why would they need to know Him? If I can’t see His goodness and His care and His trustworthiness through cancer, how am I any different from anyone else? So many of us know about God’s providence in our heads, but it’s not rooted in our hearts. My illness showed me how strong God is when I don’t have any strength on my own.
I’m compelled to share that with other people.
I’ve had more opportunities to share my faith in the past year that at any other time in my life. Not just that God is good in difficult circumstances, which He is, but the whole Gospel. My cancer made me a better evangelist, mostly because I started seeing opportunities everywhere, and knew I had nothing to lose by seizing every opportunity.
One Sunday morning on the way to church, I stopped at a McDonald’s across the street. The lady behind the register noticed I had my Bible with me, and she asked me if I really read it, and if it really helped me. I told her I couldn’t live a day without it. We finished our conversation, I went on to church, and it wasn’t until I was sitting in the service that I realized what I needed to do. After the service, I walked back across the street and gave her my Bible. She hesitated at first, saying that it was mine and she couldn’t take it, but I assured her that the Bible was hers now.
There are people everywhere that need the hope we have. I knew it before I was diagnosed with cancer, but I see it in even sharper focus now. I gave away four or five Bibles in the space of two weeks.
Now, I’m a few months into remission, something my doctor has admitted he thought we’d never see. My sons have told me I can’t play the “cancer card” anymore. But I do go in for monthly blood work and chemo, and I still see the doctors and nurses who were so helpful to me. I tell them they were like angels in my life. And I use the time I have to tell them again why I’m so hopeful.
Dale Davenport is IBSA’s education director and zone consultant in Chicagoland.