We all know that the word cancer is not a death sentence. Great strides are being made every day toward eradicating this scourge on mankind. And yet, when the word is aimed at you, the chill in your soul cannot be denied.
I’ve had a few battles with cancer, not all my own, but all close to me.
On my 22nd birthday, I entered the hospital for surgery to deal with a tiny little mole that had gone rogue on my thigh. At the time, there was divided opinion as to whether I might die, might lose my leg, or have such radical treatment that it would take months of rehabilitation to walk again. The specialists were making complex plans.
And then there was God’s plan, which superseded all the others.
I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but my sister’s church was praying for me. They were a Bible-believing people who knew with surety that God heals. Coincidentally (!!) on the night before the surgery, the world’s top specialist flew in from Texas to do a conference in Sydney, Australia, where I was in the hospital. My specialist was his friend, and on being picked up from the airport, he obliged my doctor by looking at my biopsy. He advised far less radical surgery, and he turned out to be right.
The result was a significantly less invasive surgery, a shorter hospital stay, and no rehabilitation. Miraculous healing? No… but a miraculous intervention by the top guy who flew all the way from the other side of the world to make sure I kept my leg. I’d call that a miracle!
And then a greater miracle happened because my brush with death made me realize that if I had died, I wasn’t heaven bound. My heart was softened so God was able to reach me, and my life was transformed. Had cancer not reared its ugly head, I don’t know if I ever would have allowed God to reach my hard little heart.
There have been other times when cancer has engaged my prayers, but none more so than in these last three years, since my dear husband was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer.
We are fighters.
Accepting sickness has never been our stance and fear is not our default position, a fact that has stood us in good stead through many a skirmish with the vicissitudes of life. After standing outside the hospital and crying in each other’s arms, our next action was to gather our weapons for the fight. In our fifth decade of marriage, we went to the tattoo shop and had our wedding ring fingers tattooed with each other’s names. We’d been together since I turned 16 and he 22, and we were not about to meekly give that up. Then we shaved our heads for the leukemia foundation—Rick was going to lose his hair anyway to chemo, and I’m an activist and needed to do something aggressive to fight back against the enemy who had stealthily stolen so much ground of my husband’s health.
And, so it began. The first round entailed the removal of his stomach. For the first time in several decades, he became slim and looked fit. Life returned to almost normal and we felt confident that our faith was bearing rich fruit. Rick continued to renovate our house. That man was a powerhouse—even at his age and all he’d been through, he could still outwork most men, always doing a perfect job, and even cutting back from his usual 16 or so hours a day to a more reasonable 10, he still surpassed any tradesman who came to help.
We travelled, ministering in other nations, and even planned a cruise to celebrate his 70th birthday and our 45th wedding anniversary. But it was not to be.
When the news came that the cancer had returned, and more virulently, we were shocked. Bloodied, but unbowed, our fight continued. It was a fight we would lose, but Rick refused to go placidly into that good night. He raged; not in his demeanour, which was always calm, but with his faith. He refused to give up, refused to surrender, believing that death was aberrant to his bright life. Fear, which had long since lost its old place in our lives and battles, was still unable to find a foothold. Rick determined that his faith was in the Healer, not the healing, which meant he could never be disappointed, regardless of the outcome.
And so, he died. Like the heroes of Hebrews 11:13, All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth—he died without receiving the promise he saw so clearly, but his faith in his God never altered.
We are of the tribe of those who understand that winning the war doesn’t always mean winning every battle. Sometimes you lose a fight, but losing is honourable when you go down fighting. We lost this battle but the war is won—won right back on that day when Rick and Jesus made an agreement that opened the gates of Heaven wide to him.
I heard the Lord whisper into my heart that Rick’s fearless faith, which found its power in God’s love rather than in the granting our heart’s desire, is a legacy for anyone who will pick it up. It’s not like an inheritance of money, a house that you leave to your children, or a charity. Faith is alive and palpable, and anyone, anyone who wants it can pick it up and go on with it. It’s like a candle. Thousands, millions of candles can be lit from one tiny flame without that flame being reduced. The person who wants to receive that legacy need only lean in, not just to the life of the person who believed, but to the One in whom he believed.
Cancer is not a death sentence for anyone who knows that the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has made us free, totally free, from the Law of Sin and Death. Our greatest enemy is fear, and once fear is defeated in our lives, everything else can find resolution.
The power Rick had against the ugly, vicious brute that is cancer was an unshakeable faith in the God who laid down his life so that Rick could live eternally. His body gave up, but he never did, and he lives now in the presence of the One who loves him more than any of us who’ve been left behind could possibly imagine. (And I think he’s helping design and build those mansions that we aspire to.)