(Note: Perhaps this post will be an encouragement to you or someone you know who is presently in a trial… especially if they are fighting cancer.)
Today marks a major milestone in the cancer battle. Two years ago today I walked out of Kaiser Sunset Hospital in Hollywood, CA with a set of well-cooked lungs—the occasion of my last radiation treatment. After ten months of diagnosis, tests, chemotherapy, and radiation—it was finally over. I will never forget that moment. I was weak but I wanted to leap. I was alone but I felt as though God was walking down that side-walk right by my side, cheering me on.
I had a 2-year check up this week and my doctor gave me a clear report. With Hodgkins Lymphoma, 80% of recurrences happen within the first two years. So, today is a major milestone. I rejoice personally, and thank the Lord for choosing to extend my life.
Two years have come and gone—and with it life has brought a million changes. Very few things about my life are the same as before cancer. This illness and it’s resulting spiritual and physical impact literally changed everything. And looking back on this arduous and sometimes overwhelming journey—I wouldn’t trade it. I’m thankful. I’m blessed. While I wouldn’t want it again, this trial was one of the best blessings of my entire life.
How had cancer changed me? I want to share several categories of change…
First Physically—I call these things “thorns” to remind me of God’s grace and where He brought me from. None of them are a big deal, but they are all a daily reminder of the battle that God allowed me to fight and His grace to heal. These things also call me to remain fully dependent upon HIM and balanced in my life!
- My brain is still not all the way back to normal after chemo. Reconnecting all the lost connections is taking time.
- My muscle mass is still coming back, but every month I get stronger. (The fact that I don’t lift weights probably doesn’t help!)
- My energy levels and endurance physically is still diminished from what it was.
- My abdominal muscles still cramp up like a charlie-horse with no warning. This is so random, even doctors don’t know what to say. But WOW does it wake me up!
- My lower legs and feet still have periodic tingling or numbness.
- My lungs can’t perform they way they could before radiation.
- My daily checks for swollen lymph nodes continue.
- My immune system now has a lot more of my attention than it ever did before.
Second, Spiritually—Cancer dramatically changed my perspective on faith, life’s priorities, relationships, and what really matters. Staring death in the face for a few months just changes you in ways you can’t describe. Things that use to matter, don’t. Things that mattered, matter even more. Here’s a quick list…
- Surrender became a whole new adventure, not something I did when I was a teenager.
- Living with radical faith became something I was eager to do—though still afraid.
- Walking with God became more personal and intimate—His grace truly is sufficient.
- Communicating God’s truth became a clear life-calling for the remainder of my days.
- Managing my life schedule and physical demands became essential to survival and continued health.
- Helping my children launch into adulthood is no longer an assumption, but a bonus.
- Every moment I get to have with my wife is much more appreciated and enjoyed.
- Life’s brevity stays right in front of my face every single day.
- The book of Job makes a lot more sense when I read it!
Third, Ministry Changes—My ministry life changed radically. God surprised me with a call to pastor and dropped me into New England (of all places.) Daily ministry has changed in a multitude of ways…
- Suffering connects with suffering and gives me immediate influence with those who are hurting.
- Much of God’s Word that was theory is now reality.
- Cancer and the related season of trial prepared my heart in a million ways for pastoring.
- Illness makes me weak in every way—it reminds me that I really am nothing and that I truly have nothing to offer God.
- Weakness makes me dependent in every way and sort of destroyed any hopes my pride had for self-glory.
- God shows His strength when I am weak, and that way, only He gets the glory.
- Serving becomes a journey of knowing utter helplessness is just a breath, a moment, or a CT scan away.
- Ministry has taken on a restful urgency—rest in that it’s all up to Him, urgent in that I may not have many more days to serve. Strange combo!
- Heaven and eternity are a much greater anticipation now than ever before.
God is good. Two years after cancer, I’m thankful for every added day He has given me. I don’t deserve them. But I’m grateful. Cancer changed me in ways even a book could not describe. It was a blessedly horrible journey with painfully wonderful dynamics unfolding with every step.
The single greatest experience of cancer? It was the presence and undeniable grace of God—His moment by moment reality and ever close friendship. It was indescribable, unforgettable, undeniable, and absolutely wonderful!
Two years out, I look back and say, “Lord—Thank you!”