My father has struggled with cancer since the early 1980s. He was actually told his first one was terminal. My mother didn’t accept that diagnosis, given at a local hospital, and took him for a second opinion. And here he still is, decades later, because of her persistence—but also because of our faith community, which rallied in prayer. (And I know not everyone’s story of healing plays out this way. We each have our own story. This is just ours.)
His first cancer was a liposarcoma in his leg. I remember that one well. I was about 9 years old, and I’d come home to find him in his bathrobe laying on the couch airing out the leg that went through radiation. The pastor would come, sometimes an elder (leader) of the church, and there would be prayer. A lot of prayer. Sometimes they would invite me to come over to the couch to talk or join the prayer. I also remember a spaghetti dinner brought over by a neighbor; she made it with pepperoni in it, and I was consequently really happy every time she was slotted to bring a meal. When you’re 9 and your strong father is home sick and weakened in your family room, pepperoni in spaghetti makes your whole day. I think I may have played barber shop with his hair a lot while he was so sedentary. He tells me now, years later, he really didn’t mind. And I believe him.
His second cancer, only a year later, involved the colon. And back then, colon cancer victims very regularly ended up colostomates, where they have to redirect the waste to exit through an opening (called a stoma) out the front of the body into a pouch. Dad has been managing that lifestyle change now for over 30 years. In my ninth grade year, I wrote a paper on living with an ostomate, and it went into the Ostomy Quarterly. But that wasn’t so much about getting published. It was about taking the biology class I was in and finding direct application. It was about honoring my father.
Somewhere during Cancer 1 or Cancer 2, I wrote him a song and sang it into an old tape player so my mother could take it to him in the hospital. I remember that my grandmother was there, intermittently, while Mom had to go between hospital and home. A part of the song went something like this:
“Waiting for the telephone call, bringing all the news,
Remembering the Bible says that Jesus died for you.
God the Father, God the Son is all I think about
I know the Holy Spirit; there never is a doubt.”
Originally the part about “Jesus died for you” was “Jesus was a Jew” because I was 9 or 10, and that rhymed, and I saw Jesus being a Jew as a good thing (and it is!). But Mom asked that we readjust that so it wasn’t accidentally taken as some kind of slur or mocking in our culture, or be misunderstood by the man next to Dad in his room when they played my song. That was probably wise on Mom’s part. At this time, I remember my childhood pastor talking to me. I have no idea what he said, but he ministered to me as Jesus would a child who approached Him. He saw that this whole sick family member thing was about each of us: my parents, my sister, and me. It made a lasting impact on me that he found me worthy to stop, in the middle of talking with adults in crisis, to address my needs.
And then there was reprieve, and in 2002, in came bladder cancer. And at first, the BCG treatments kept it at bay. Dad was fortunate; the bladder was spared, although he had years of uncomfortable procedures to make sure the beast kept its teeth out. But back it came in 2013 and again in 2014, a very unwelcome companion.
And last night, my father lost his bladder.
But he didn’t lose his life.
Or his faith.
Or his God. He walks with Christ, the hope of glory.
Colossians 1:27, Apostle Paul speaking
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
And I’m convinced God has used this journey to not only build my father’s faith but to build the faith of so many around him. Because while God doesn’t cause the yucky things of life, He promises to take them and bring them to good purposes for those who love Him.
Romans 8:28, Apostle Paul speaking
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Good-bye, bladder. We’re very sorry to see you go, and we have certainly mourned your parting. But your part of the story is over now. And the disease within you has not stopped a very real God from inspiring people through a previously-very-red-going-slowly-white-headed, 6-foot-tall man who, through the power of prayer, has lived beyond three different cancers and five tumors into his eighth decade. Nor have you slowed down his impact on this world—because the God he serves is so much bigger than you, or any yucky disease for that matter.
[Dad, earlier this year, with three of his six grandchildren.]