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LIVING WITH CANCER AS A CHRISTIAN

 

August 9, 2019

Pastor Joe and Julie Elick

Over the last several months I've had several people raise up good questions about my cancer experience. Questions like: "Why would you have cancer, you've lived a good life?" Or, "why would God give you cancer; you've lived a good life and are a pastor. "I'd like to address these questions from my particular perspective (hopefully as God has spoken), but first I'd like to give you an update on where I'm at with this cancer journey.

This past week Julie and I were back at Mayo Clinic in Rochester (an 8 hour drive from Roseau). Four appointments on Wednesday July 31st and three appointments on Thursday Aug 1st. I should mention that the primary issue is the abdominal growth which is a lymph node, sandwiched between two of the main arteries coming out of my heart. The good news was that the immune therapy has just about eliminated the melanoma cancer on my neck. Thank you, Lord.

The discouraging news was that the four chemotherapy treatments, with challenging side-effects did not shrink the growth. The best Mayo people we could hope to have on this journey weren't sure what would be the best course of action. Changing the chemo formula could increase the already serious numbness in my feet and hands along with more serious nausea. The highly qualified surgeon assigned to me did not want to do surgery because of the risk of damage to the pancreas and the possibility of "fatal bleeding." Julie and I went back to where we were staying (The Nazarene "Well House") at 5:15 p.m.. (we'd been at Mayo since 5:45 a.m.) emotionally distraught. Thursday morning we would have a meeting with the head of the radiation department. Our oncologist and the radiologist were going to meet at 7 a.m.

That night I prayed, among other things, that God would reveal his will and the best plan to these two highly qualified doctors as they meet. I wasn't asking for manipulation, but insight. I'd like to add at this point that God uses what we have to bring to life's situations. Through much education, and now experience, God could bring his will into their qualified minds. I encourage all of us, especially young people, to ask the question: "What do I have and what can I continue to add to my life that I can offer up to God for his use, and to his honor and glory?

We left for Mayo Thursday morning believing that God would answer our prayer. We believe he did. After discussing the options both doctors agreed (finding confirmation with each other) that the route to take was to do three weeks of radiation and chemo (with a chemo pill) simultaneously, five days a week They believe that the radiation will not only shrink, but maybe kill the abdominal growth. This will shrink it small enough to remove it by surgery. Thank you, Lord! Isn't our part in this pretty subjective? Yes! But we believe that this is a part of the faith journey. Julie and I commit our way unto God and pray: "Lord if we are missing something, or you have another plan, please reveal that to us." When we pray this we are reminded of what James wrote in James 1: 5- 8: "If you need wisdom – if you want to know what God wants you to do – ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can't make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do." Now this doesn't guarantee that we'll get it right every time. We are imperfect human beings and it's always possible to forge God's signature to our plans, but God knows our hearts. I am comforted by Psalm 37:23,24: "The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand." So Julie and I will be leaving for Mayo on Sunday, August, 11th for three weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. Londa and Marlin will be holding down our fort at home. Please pray for us during this time.

Now for the questions I raised up at the beginning of this article. Let me say up front that this has been a tough journey for Julie and I. Sometime it's harder on the spouse. I deal with fatigue (that's one of the harder ones) constipation, diarrhea, nausea, chills, stomach pains, and most recently, lack of appetite, and the shut down of my taste buds. I can feel food in my mouth but I can't taste it. Now it's easier to write about these things than to live them. I try not to allow fatigue to get the best of me, but it does bring me down. I will not attempt to spiritualize any of this or make myself sound stronger than I am because I'm a Christian. Sometimes I just feel like burying my head in my hands and crying. For me it's suffering. But I don't blame God or think he's left me or doesn't care.

Here's how I think about God in my situation, and I'm not going to attempt to spiritualize this by removing it from the earthly reality of it. I don't believe that God "gives" anyone Cancer. Cancer is one of the tough results of living in a "fallen world." I'm no different than anyone else when it comes to sickness and disease. I don't embrace the theology that,"If you had enough faith you'd be healed" (implying instantly following a prayer for healing). Neither can I embrace the view that not having cancer is the reward for "being good" or being a pastor. Cancer is no respecter of moral or spiritual status. Although, we can create health problems for ourselves by abusing the way we live.

I believe that I would have had cancer regardless of my spiritual perspective. It runs on my mother's side of the family. But I'd rather have cancer with Christ than without him! Which brings up something that I return to frequently during this journey. God called me to be his through Christ when I was 18. According to Scripture, I am a child of God! And the Lord's Prayer reminds me that God is my heavenly father.

Is this any way for the Father to treat his child? I believe that God could have raised me up from cancer with a word. God speaks and things happen. But he hasn't chosen to do that. I do pray, "Father, this is so hard; you know how I struggle" (and this is daily). But I don't know the mind of God. Here's something I'm convinced of though. When we give our lives to Christ God does not remove us from the world that is! I believe that the greatest biblical examples of this are Jesus and the apostle Paul. Jesus lived as a fully human being (as well as God) in full identification with us. He knows when it hurts and why. I turn frequently to Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine." (Matthew 26:39). I pray this prayer frequently.

I believe that God allows me to suffer so I can come along side of others who are suffering; maybe you the reader. Please let me know. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. "He gives us God's purpose in verse 29:"...to become like his Son..." And I believe that includes suffering.

I believe that for Julie and I our approach to this journey with cancer can be summarized with the words of Psalm 62:5: "I (we) wait quietly before God, for my (our) hope is in him." Thank you for caring and praying for us along the way.

Until next time,

Pastor Joe

 

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