The last thing you want to hear from your doctor after three battles with cancer is, “I’ve got some bad news for you.”
But if those words arrive just two days before Christmas, as they did for me this year, it’s actually a lot easier to put them in an eternal context. The Savior we worship at Christmas came to earth to deliver me from a far greater cancer, the cancer of sin. And just as he secured the victory over the greater cancer, he will surely secure a victory, one way or another, over this much smaller cancer.
And along the way, he is going to remind me once again that cancer, like everything else in life, is all about relationship.
A Brief Overview of My Journey
In May, 2014, I learned that I had stage IV thyroid cancer.
A month later, a gifted surgeon removed my thyroid and over forty lymph nodes. Radiation treatment involved swallowing a pill containing radioactive iodine and staying isolated in our basement until I stopped glowing.
All went well … until October of 2016, when I learned I had both prostate cancer and kidney cancer.
So I was back in the operating room in December and April, where another gifted surgeon removed all of the tumors with the help of a five-armed, remotely controlled robot. Since I once designed medical equipment, I wanted to stay awake to watch the procedure (using a local, of course!), but my surgeon just laughed and put me out.
Subsequent genetic testing has found no known link between these three cancers. All of my checkups for the last four years have reported “all clear” … until December 23, 2020.
I would never have chosen to go into the ring a fourth time with this dark opponent, but having seen how God blessed me during the first three rounds, I’m eager to see what he does this time around.
Why? Because cancer, like all suffering, is all about relationship … and relationship is more precious than good health.
Cancer has made me more God-aware
As I initially wrote five years ago, cancer has drawn me deeper into Scripture and motivated me to re-answer life-altering questions like these:
Do I believe that God lovingly and wisely controls the smallest details of my life, including the condition of the very cells of my body? Yes, I do. (Psalm 139:13-15; Matt. 10:29-31)
Do I trust that he will eventually work all things for his glory and my good, even if there are some difficult challenges along the way? Yes. (Rom. 8:28; John 11:4; 2Cor. 4:17).
Do I believe that God’s love for me stands firm and unshakeable, even though the world—and someday my body—will inevitably pass away? Yes. (Heb. 12:27-28)
Do I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus has paid for and washed away all of my sins, and that whenever I leave this world and stand before God, he will look at me as his beloved child, blameless, holy and above reproach. Yes, praise be to God! (Col. 1:19-22; Col. 3:12).
Do I believe that I can candidly express my apprehensions to God without fear of disappointing him? Yes. (Ps. 28:1-2; 1Pet. 5:7)
Do I believe that he can heal me, either miraculously or through gifted physicians, and that he welcomes my prayers to that end, but that he may instead decide, in his perfect love and wisdom, to use illness to refine me and display his glory through me? Yes, more than ever before. (John 15:1-2; John 15:8; John 21:19; 2 Cor. 12:7-10)
Do I believe that to live is Christ and to die is gain, and that he has prepared a place for me in heaven. Yes, I do! (Phil. 1:19-23; John 14:1-3)
As I’ve meditated on these and hundreds of similar Scriptures, God has drawn me deeper into his arms, strengthened my confidence in his love and wisdom, and grounded my hope more firmly in him. These are blessings that far exceed the inconvenience of cancer.
Cancer has helped me to be more self-aware
Cancer has exposed the fact that I’ve taken pride in my good health, as if it were something I had secured for myself, and that I’ve presumptuously assumed I would always enjoy it. This has compelled me to shift my reliance to God alone for my life, breath and well-being (2Cor. 1:9).
It has sobered me and reminded me that my days are numbered … and not one of them should be wasted on worldly desires, petty ambitions or anxious thoughts (Psalm 139:16; Matt. 6:27-33).
It has inspired me to wage greater war against the most corrupting cancer in my life—sin—and to seek God’s grace to fight more earnestly against pride, self-sufficiency, envy, self-pity, bitterness, unforgiveness and every other attitude and habit that undermines my ability to know, love and serve him (Heb. 12:1; 2Cor. 7:1; Eph. 4:22-24; James 4:8).
It has moved me to be more diligent in nurturing the body God has given me and to strengthen the immunity systems he’s give me by maintaining an even healthier diet, exercising more consistently and making more time for rest (1Cor. 6:19).
It has challenged me to let go of my past failures and disappointments and to press on with a renewed commitment to love God and make his love known (Phil. 3:13-14).
It has motivated me to re-examine my priorities and shift my time and energy more fully to those things that will bless others and advance God’s kingdom (1Cor. 3:12-15; Matt. 25:14-30).
Cancer has made me more other-aware
It has moved me to treasure my dear wife, Corlette, more deeply, who made the appointment for my annual checkup in the first place and has gladly shifted even more of her life to serving and caring for me (1Thess. 1:2-3).
It has made me more aware of how precious my children are to me, especially as I’ve experienced their ongoing compassion, encouragement and support. It has also reminded me how little time I have to pass on to them a legacy of love for God, a sure confidence in the gospel and a reverence for his Word (Deut. 6:6-7).
I have also found great joy in being the object of my oldest grandson’s compassion. At age three, just after my first surgery, he repeatedly kissed my hand to “fix me” and crawled into my bed to read books to me. That love and tenderness has only increased since then, and once again I am the object of his kindness and support. What a joy to see a child growing in empathy at such a young age!
Cancer has made me more aware of and thankful for my friends, who have surrounded me with their prayers, lifted my spirits with their notes of encouragement, and stepped in to cover teaching commitments and household chores I could not handle (2Cor. 1:11).
It has made me more aware of the suffering of others and more sensitive to opportunities to comfort those who are sick, lonely or discouraged (2Cor. 1:3-4).
It has given me many opportunities to use the SERVE principle to personally engage people who serve in the medical community, especially my three wonderfully gifted doctors, to thank them for their gracious and sacrificial care, and to encourage them as they continue to use their God-given skills to bring healing and comfort to so many people.
It has given me a greater sense of urgency to share the gospel with those who do not yet know Christ, so that when the cancer of death overwhelms them, they can experience the ultimate victory—forgiveness of sin and everlasting life with God (1Cor. 15:51-57).
As I said earlier …
I would not have chosen this road on my own, but now that my feet are on it, I am overwhelmed by the way God is using it to deepen and enrich all of my relationships.
To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “The prospect of dying focuses the mind wonderfully.” And when Jesus himself is at the center of that focus, we can truly say, “It is well with my soul!”
– Ken Sande
PS – Lord willing, I’ll start radiation treatment in February. I’d appreciate your prayers that we are able to locate the cancer precisely through an MRI so that the treatment is focused and 100% effective. Please pray also that the side effects are not too debilitating (I’ve got lots of projects to complete!), that my family would feel God’s constant comfort, and that we would all use the next leg of this journey to point others to Jesus, who will one day deliver all those who trust in him from all sin and disease and bring us into eternal joy in his presence!
- Are you healthy today? If so, how can your good health distract you from living fully for God? How could you live out the concepts above even when your body is strong?
- Are you struggling with illness or other suffering? If so, which of the Scriptures listed above are most relevant and encouraging to you? How can you live them out today?
- Do you want to turn cancer or another serious illness into a time of growth and blessing? This insightful article by John Piper and David Powlison can help you make sure you Don’t Waste Your Cancer. Wayne Grudem has written and equally compelling testimony about his journey with Parkinson’s Disease.
Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.
© 2021 Ken Sande
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