The latest update is included at the end of this post.
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, 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 next four years reported “all clear” … until December 23, 2020, when I learned that prostate cancer was challenging me to another battle.
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 and God-engaging
As I initially wrote five years ago, cancer has given me a deeper appreciation for the benefits of living life “three-dimensionally,” thinking not only about my own concerns but also, and more importantly, about how I can know and honor God while also valuing and serving the people he places in my life.
That’s why I’m grateful that 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, nurses and technicians, 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 small inconvenience of cancer. As the Apostle Paul wrote long ago (when describing his beatings, imprisonments and persecutions):
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Cancer has helped me to be more self-aware and self-engaging
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 and other-engaging
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 during my latest treatments 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 wonderfully gifted doctors, nurses and radiation technicians, 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
April 14, 2021, Update – I started a regimen of 38 radiation treatments on February 22 and finished them today. My doctor, nurses and radiation technicians were delightful to work with and made this a remarkably comfortable process. I was warned that I could experience several unpleasant side effects, including major fatigue as the process continued. But in response to the prayers of many people, God graciously spared me from every one of those side effects. As a result, I was able to move ahead with some major resource development projects at our ministry, including the recording of an entirely new “Relational Peacemaking” seminar, which is scheduled for release this fall.
But the best part of this recent battle was that I was able to share the gospel with many of the medical people who attended me, as well as several other patients I got to know as we sat together in the waiting room for nine weeks. As much as I’m praying for the radiation treatment to have permanently eradicated every cancer cell in my body, I pray even more earnestly that God would open the hearts of all those I talked with and bring them into a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 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!
We won’t know how effective this treatment was until July, when I can have a blood test with meaningful results. However it turns out, the results are entirely in the Lord’s hands where I’m happy to have them rest.
August 6, 2021, update: Well, we didn’t seem to zap all of those little cancer cells. I had hoped to see a “0” PSA reading on my blood test this week, but instead it came in at 0.38. That’s not as good as a “0” but also not so high as to require immediate hormone or chemo treatment. We’ll do another test in November and see what the trend is. In the meantime, everything written above still applies in full: God is lovingly sovereign over every aspect of my life, and I am perfectly at peace with that.
- 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 an equally compelling testimony about his journey with Parkinson’s Disease.
- To learn how you can learn and use the principles of relational wisdom to strengthen relationships and face the challenges in your life, see Discovering Relational Wisdom 3.0.
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© 2021 Ken Sande
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