“Rene, you have stage three cancer.”
My dear wife, Krisy, was seated next to my bed waiting for me to wake up from the biopsy on my throat. We knew this diagnosis was a possibility. In fact, the doctor had said he had “a strong suspicion” that the tumor on my larynx was malignant. But we had hoped and prayed for better news.
Prior to the procedure, I had asked my pastor to gather the staff and deacons and pray for me. In obedience to James 5:14–15, he had anointed me with oil, and several men prayed aloud for my healing.
Dr. John R. Rice taught that there were three possible outcomes after such a prayer meeting: God could heal by miraculous means. God could heal by medical means. Or God could allow us to remain sick or take us Home for His glory.
As I was waking up from anesthesia and heard the doctor’s stage three cancer news, it appeared Dr. Rice’s second or third proposed options would be ours. Krisy says my response was, “Well, it’s no surprise to God. And it is a great opportunity to glorify Him.” I’m not sure because my memory of that moment is clouded. But I think I said, “I’m thirsty. Could I please have a drink of water?”
In any case, we began our journey through radiation, chemotherapy, and daily 150-mile round trip visits to the University of Michigan Hospital. The path was paved with bloodwork, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, bodily weakness, wracking coughing fits, uncertainty, faith, doubt, divine assurance, and the unfailing, immeasurable, unending, undeserved, amazing grace of God.
Before we knew whether or not the tumor was cancerous, I told Krisy that there were four possible outcomes: The best possible result would be that the tumor was benign. The second best was that it was malignant but treatable. The third best potential outcome was that my larynx had to be removed, in which case my job, serving God, would remain the same but my assignment would change. (More writing, little if any speaking.) The worst thing that could have happened would have been that I died and went to Heaven, which was really the best thing that could have happened. What a deal! I remembered the words of the old song, “Things are getting better either way!”
Krisy and I were mindful throughout the treatments that our main responsibility was to glorify God. You may remember from the book of Job that Elihu charged Job with one fault: he justified himself rather than God. We didn’t want that to be true of us.
It is the privilege of every Christian in a difficult time to tell everyone possible how good our God is. We had the chance to pass out hundreds of gospel tracts. We took a box of chocolates with us each day to the treatment center and offered the workers a chocolate along with a tract. They almost always took both.
The opportunities to actually go through the plan of salvation with someone were limited, since I was not usually around any single patient or hospital employee for more than a few minutes at a time. I did get to speak with one fellow patient who was originally from Iraq. He trusted Christ. A couple of weeks later I ran into him again. He said to me, “How do these other people do this? We have Jesus!”
We learned much about the grace and goodness of God. I had moments of fear, but I experienced many more occasions when my spirit was overwhelmed by the assurance of God’s love and my certain eternal destiny.
We saw the Lord wonderfully provide for us. During the eight weeks I was unable to travel and preach, I never asked for assistance. I did not so much as say to a soul, “Pray that God will take care of our finances.” I simply trusted God. Churches spontaneously sent generous offerings. Individuals, some of whom I did not even know, sent kind gifts. An insurance policy I had forgotten came to my attention, and I had it paid out in full.
Even more of a blessing than the financial provisions were the prayers and encouraging words of the people of God. Letters, cards, texts, phone calls, and offers to help came in abundance. Many of the good people of our church brought small gifts and treats to us. One ministry friend sent a nice pen over to thirty preachers, asking them to pray for my healing each time they used it. A pastor in Texas texted, “You have dozens of people here on a fourteen-day fast praying for you.” We were blown away by all that the Lord used His servants to do for us.
By the grace of God, we never blamed or questioned God. One preacher asked, “Do you wonder, ‘Why me?’ After all, you’re trying to serve the Lord.” My immediate response was, “No. Why not me? Nearly two million people in the United States get cancer annually. Why should I not be one of them?”
The best part of our experience was the opportunity to learn more about our God. The disciples knew that the Lord Jesus could give sight to the blind, strength to withered limbs, cleansing to lepers, and hearing to the deaf. But when they saw Him command and control the wind and the waves they were astounded: “. . . What manner of Man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:27).
I have heard people say of their time of trial, “The Lord was testing me to see how I would respond.” Wrong. God already knew how they would respond. He is God. He has always known everything. Think again of the disciples in the storm. When the storm was over, the Lord Jesus didn’t know one thing about the disciples He had not known previously. But they knew a whole lot more about the Lord.
As I write, it is a little more than four months since the treatments ended. My three-month scope and scan showed no signs of cancer, praise the Lord. My voice continues to improve gradually. The doctors cautioned me that the two weeks after radiation and chemotherapy ended would be some of my worst. The last treatment was September 12, so I didn’t preach out until September 14. I had frequent coughing fits and could not speak above a whisper. Nobody thought it was a good idea to start traveling so soon. But I told Krisy that we had prayed for God’s healing, and it would be a lack of faith to not accept the opportunity to preach. Since then, He has allowed me to keep a full schedule, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve His people.
As I look back to that day when the doctor announced I had cancer, I can’t help but praise God for His great faithfulness and for the opportunity He has given me to experience it in a fuller way. All in all, I consider my trial to have been mild, my burden to have been light, His grace to be abundantly sufficient, and His name to be worthy of the highest glory.