by David P. Craig
In September of 2012 a huge lump developed in my neck and was merely a symptom of the reality that I had cancer that had developed on the back of my tongue: Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
When I was diagnosed with cancer and heard all the side effects of the treatment I would be receiving my first reaction was to ask the doctor, “What if I don’t get any treatment?” The quick reply was, “You will die.” I knew it was very serious at that point. I was at stage 3 (only stage 4 is more serious) and had a tumor in my neck the size of an avocado. My prayer in all of this was that I would bring glory to God whether I survived the cancer or not. I have boldly proclaimed the gospel in my living, and wanted to also boldly proclaim the gospel in my dying. A helpful passage to me when looking death in the face were some of the Apostle Paul’s last words in 2 Timothy 4:17-18, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
I’ve had a lot of time to think and pray over the last several months and it’s really impossible to describe the feelings I’ve felt, the gratitude I feel, and the hope that I have in Christ and his promises to me in the gospel. However, I’d like to express my gratitude by describing how what I value most in life has been enhanced because of by battle with and present victory over cancer. It was just last week that I received the results of my PET scan of the good news that there isno sign of cancer in my body. Here are just a few of the values I have that have been greatly enhanced because of my experience with cancer:
I am grateful for family and friends. I’ve been blessed to have Christian parents and a wonderful wife and children for many years. However, It’s hard to fathom getting through the past six months without my dear wife in particular. She fed me via a feeding tube in my stomach sometimes 6-10 times per day, and was literally at my beck and call twenty four hours a day. She never complained and remained optimistic that God was going to heal me and renew me emotionally, physically, and spiritually in His perfect time. I was sent cards, gift cards, money, and had hundreds of people praying for me –many people I didn’t even know. I even had some phone calls from people as far away as India (that I didn’t know) telling me they were praying for my healing. I have never felt so loved and cherished by my family and my closest friends. I desperately needed unconditional love during these difficult months and sensed the reality of Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times.” I experienced the deep love of Christ through my family and friends.
I am grateful for the suffering of Christ on my behalf. There were many times along the way that I didn’t think I was going to make it another day – the pain and discomfort seemed unbearable. It was during these times of great suffering that I would picture scenes of Christ leading to his ultimate sacrifice on the cross for my sins. Verses on the atonement, great Hymns of the faith, and deep theological truths would comfort me in the midst of my sufferings. It is unfathomable that Jesus voluntarily suffered on my behalf and took the wrath I deserved upon himself to make me right with the Father. Perhaps no passage of Scripture summarizes it better than 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I am grateful that my cancer was for my good and for God’s glory. In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that Christians will suffer immensely in this life, that their suffering doesn’t compare with the glory that will be revealed in us in Heaven, and that all things work out for our good and God’s glory in the end. There wasn’t a single passage that went through my mind (especially during radiation treatments) more than Romans 8.
I am grateful that suffering results in my sanctification. In other words, suffering results in bringing about the purposes of God for me that “good times” would never produce. These verses from 1 Peter 4:12-13, 19 were a source of comfort and joy to me even on gthe darkest days: “Beloved, do not me surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
I am grateful that my cancer brought me to a deeper understanding of confession and repentance which have led to emotional as well as physical healing. Isaiah 38:16-17 declares, “O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit. Oh restore me to health and make me live! Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”
I am grateful that because I’ve gone through cancer I have more mercy and compassion for those who are suffering. I believe that God has already and will continue to open doors for me to minister to people with cancer, and those who care for loved ones with cancer. I especially have a heart for those who don’t know Jesus and have to face their fears, pain, and mortality without the hope and promises of the Gospel. I am encouraged to use my experience with cancer as Paul describes here in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”
Ultimately all the values I am grateful for above are wrapped around the great realities of the Gospel. The fact that God is sovereign and in His goodness and mercy chose to save me. He didn’t deal with me as my sins deserved, but chose His own Son to atone for my many sins. Because of Jesus I have purpose in life, and hope in life after death. Because of Jesus I have meaning and purpose. Because of Jesus I have something to offer those who are suffering with cancer. I am grateful that having gone through the ravages of cancer, I can help others as God has helped me in Christ. It is a privilege to point others to the purpose for which we were made – to know Christ and to make Him known. Cancer has merely been a tool to make the urgency of the gospel all the more at the forefront of my life and the lives of others.