A Note From Our Honorary Chair…
Our story is not a story about cancer.
Cancer plays a role in our story, but ours is fundamentally a story about the character and nature of God – a God who has always been, and will always be, all-good, all-loving, and all-knowing. He has been all these things since before the beginning of time. And He certainly was all these things long before we received a cancer diagnosis. He is all these things during the storm, and He will be all these things long after the storm is over, regardless of how the storm ends.
In October of 2017 my wife Rachael and I found ourselves wrestling with realities no one wants to confront. A biopsy and pathology report confirmed that I had something called nodular melanoma. No melanoma is good, but nodular melanoma is often among the worst kinds. Most melanoma cancer grows by “spreading” across the skin. Nodular melanoma tumors grow “down” into the body. The earlier you find melanoma (or any cancer) the better your chances. But, because nodular melanoma often doesn’t present in the standard “ABCDE” way, patients with it rarely are diagnosed early in their disease. And while I couldn’t say with certainty how long this spot had been on my shoulder – I knew it had been there a long time.
Subsequent consultations with a team of doctors brought a string of news that was not at all encouraging. Melanoma tumors are measured on a diameter scale of 0 to 4 millimeters. Less than 1 millimeter is best. The closer it is to 4 millimeters, the more dangerous the tumor is. Mine measured “off the charts” at 6.8 millimeters. We learned that the cancer had spread beyond that initial site into my lymph nodes. Thankfully, by God’s grace, there were no signs of cancer yet in my distant organs. That was about the only good news we received. My diagnosis of stage 3c melanoma, combined with what we knew about the particular form of melanoma and its location, offered a sobering prognosis.
We learned that my statistical likelihood of still being alive a mere five years from my diagnosis was only 40%. My likelihood of still being alive 10 years from diagnosis was even worse - only 23%. My 45th birthday fell in the same month as my diagnosis. I had never considered the likelihood that I would not see age 50 or 55.
There were plenty of tears in our family, and there was a lot of prayer. I hurt for Rachael, and our children Annie and Alex as they suffered and struggled with what this prognosis could mean for them. Everything in me wanted to reassure my wife and children. But how could I reassure them of a future with me that now appeared so uncertain? I was directed to 2 Corinthians 1:9:
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
So, we prayed. And prayed. And prayed. And we were joined by hundreds of friends and family members from literally across the globe.
We found strength and a “peace that surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) in those early days of urgent prayer. I do not pretend to know every purpose God has for every trial He permits in our lives. But I was so thankful in that moment that I wasn’t just then suddenly trying to get acquainted with God, or trying to understand Him for the first time – in the moment of the most serious crisis of my life. I was thankful that I already knew what He was like. I was thankful to know Him well before the storm. Rachael and I could not know every reason that our God had permitted this disease to be in our lives. But we took great comfort just in knowing HIM. We rested in what we already knew firsthand to be true about His character and His nature.
So, there is at least one purpose we have known from the beginning that God has for us in this battle: we know that He desires to demonstrate His goodness to others, through us, in this storm. At a time when we had many questions, much to fear, and practically no answers or assurances – we knew with absolute certainty that He was entrusting this disease to us as a sacred stewardship.
You see, long ago, He bought us – He ransomed us - at an unimaginably high price. By paying that price we could never pay, He offered each of us a priceless gift of eternal salvation. And, for me, back in 1982, when I accepted His priceless gift, that was the deal. From that point forward, my life was no longer my own. I rejoice that Rachael and Annie and Alex have each also accepted this priceless gift. And from the moment each of us received that gift, everything about us, everything in our lives – our material possessions, our jobs, our families, the air we breathe, the days we walk on this earth, our lives, our deaths, and yes, even our diseases – do not belong to us. They belong to Him. He has entrusted them to our stewardship for a season. And everything entrusted by God to our stewardship is entrusted so that we will leverage it for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:21) and for the good of others (2 Corinthians 9:12-14). However long this battle goes, and no matter the outcome, we know that we are called to use this season to glorify God and to minister to others.
Of course, if part of God’s purpose in this was to demonstrate His goodness, that also meant we would have to accept the responsibility to be more open about our battle than we might prefer. How could we use this disease to demonstrate God’s goodness, if we are unwilling to talk about our journey with others?
Many of our closest friends, family, and co-workers already were aware of my condition, but to be completely open about our experience and how God already was demonstrating His goodness, I decided to post a brief update and explanation of our situation on Facebook. About 10 minutes after posting the news, my phone buzzed. It was a reporter from the Springfield News-Leader who had seen the news and wanted to write an article about it. An editorial later followed, as did coverage from the Springfield Business Journal.
I hadn’t anticipated our journey being quite that public. But if we wanted to be open about how God is demonstrating His goodness, here were new opportunities. And those certainly weren’t the last of the opportunities God would provide. Most recently, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as an honorary board member of the American Cancer leadership board in Springfield and as honorary chair of the ACS Cattle Baron’s Ball, as they permit me to share the good things that God has done and is doing through our battle.
I’m thankful to report that the news has gotten better since those fearful early days. Surgery was successful. That, combined with a year’s worth of immunotherapy treatments have me resting, for the moment, in remission. One of God’s most remarkable provisions for our family is that the very month I received my diagnosis (back in October 2017), the FDA approved Opdivo immunotherapy treatments for stage 3 melanoma cancers, including adjuvant treatment. Had my diagnosis happened just months earlier, the only treatment options would have been highly toxic, mostly ineffective, and occasionally fatal! It is because of the American Cancer Society, and other research funding organizations that discoveries like these amazing new immunotherapy treatments have been made. That’s just one reason I’m so proud to lend support to ACS for the amazing work they are supporting and helping to promote.
Thousands of years into the future of an endless eternity, I suspect it will matter little whether any of us were on this earth 55 years or 95 years. What will matter is whether we stewarded well what God entrusted to us during those years. Did I use what He gave me for eternal impact? Our family thanks God daily for the grace and mercy He has shown us. He is good, all the time. And while we hope and pray our battle with cancer is behind us, we also know it is very possible (perhaps likely) that future chapters in this story will yet be written. Our family’s deepest desire is to use the time He grants us to point out the many ways He demonstrates His goodness along the way.