Cancer From a Man's Viewpoint
Twenty-six years of pastoral ministry did not prepare me for
what was about to happen. After five months of tests and treatment for large
cell lymphoma, I was in complete remission, and I thought, "Now life is going to
return to normal." My euphoria was replaced with a growing uneasiness. It was
the beginning of a struggle for my emotional and spiritual well-being like no
other struggle I had ever fought. I found myself postponing personal decisions
about buying new furniture, clothes, and plans for vacation. I kept saying,
"Let's wait until after the next series of tests." After each round of tests, I
experienced a variety of aches and pains that only increased my level of
Every day, I would experience moderate to severe pain in my left temple area (where my tumor had been). My anxiety level started to increase until I experienced an emotional, intellectual and spiritual paralysis. Then in early December, a sharp pain radiated from between my shoulder blades. I thought, "Oh, no, my cancer has returned." I flew to Anchorage for an MRI and a CT scan. The tests were negative.
My anxiety level continued to increase, however. Nine months before, a CT scan did not detect the original tumor. I was an emotional wreck and a spiritual cripple. Indecision, frustration, and tears accompanied every decision, every task. I continued my withdrawal from people except for casual conversation. The only safe place was the pulpit, where I turned my attention to subjects that didn't affect me emotionally.
My faith in God was slipping away. During my treatments, I had had my moments of doubt, but they came during times of physical fatigue. My personal faith in God provided the strength I needed to endure the weeks of chemotherapy. Now I was in complete remission, and my faith had given way to fear.
I asked myself questions. Why was it so difficult to trust God? Why was fear having such a paralyzing effect in my life'? Why wasn't I able to rejoice in God's marvelous healing? As I continued my search for answers, God met my need.
First, I listened to myself talk. I found my conversation focused on the tests - past tests, future tests. The tests in the beginning had not detected the tumor. No wonder I had doubts. My faith was in the tests which failed me, not in my faithful, unfailing God. This failure of faith opened the door for fear's destructive power. Instead of being happy about being in remission, I was in a state of paralysis.
Second, I began to understand how fear affected my communion with God. One day I picked up a magazine article I had written during the weeks of treatment. It reminded me of the intimacy, trust, and dependence I had in the Lord at that time - a relationship that no longer existed. My time with God was now incidental. This directly impacted my ability to deal with my fears. The less time I spent with God in His Word and prayer, the greater my fear.
Now, fear was threatening to destroy me, but God was drawing me back to Himself by reminding me of His loving kindness and faithfulness. The renewal of my faith was bringing an end to my spiritual stagnation. One afternoon I was alone reading my Bible and praying when the Lord directed me to a passage in the Old Testament - Habakkuk 3: 17-19: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The sovereign Lord is my strength."
It was then that I bowed my head and prayed, "Lord, thank you for the joy and peace that comes from knowing you and not from my circumstances."
Finally, there was a growing awareness of the negative effects my fears were having on my personal relationships, especially with my wife Mabel. We had grown very close during the weeks of treatment. Now she would ask, "What's wrong?" "Nothing," I would reply, "I'm just tired." As I kept shutting her out, the tension between us grew. Unwilling to talk to Mabel about my fears, I continued to turn inward. I was preoccupied, even hysterically absorbed, with my physical well-being.
In desperation I began to share my fears with Mabel. I found she understood what I was experiencing. She was no stranger to pain - two back surgeries, chronic back pain, and her own battle with breast cancer prepared her to be able to help me face my fear. The more we talked, the more insight I gained as to why fear had such a grip on me.
Mabel helped me realize that it is normal to be concerned about new aches and pains. It was my obsession with them that was abnormal. She encouraged me to talk to the doctor about them. Daily, she reminded me of my spiritual resources. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 6-7).
Mabel also helps me recognize and deal with the circumstances that make me most vulnerable to fear, such as periods of fatigue and stress. For protection, she encourages me to get proper rest and exercise, go fishing with her, and use all my new power tools. I'm not sure who benefits the most from the power tools - you see, she has this list. In the long run, I know I am the beneficiary.
The implementation of these lessons into my daily routine is a slow process. My renewed intimacy with my Lord and my wife, along with a new awareness of God's personal presence, has brought peace and joy. There are still moments when I am fearful, but fear no longer has free access to my heart. God gives me victory over my fear. What a wonderful change has taken place! With Nehemiah, the prophet, I can say, "the joy of the Lord is your (my) strength." [Original Article Titled: "Fearing Recurrence, My Spiritual Journey Through Paranoia, Coping, July/August 1998; Reprinted in The Encourager, Vol. 5, No. 2 Spring 1999 Dave Dravecky's Outreach of Hope By R. Robert Flatt]
PS In 2007 I had been cancer free for 15 years but another form of cancer was found but after surgery, it was determined no further treatment was needed. I have been cancer free for 4 years. Mabel has been cancer free for 23 years. Her story can be found at Cancer From a Woman's Viewpoint.