So You’re A Calvinist? How Do You React to Cancer?

[Today is national cancer day and my wife wondered if I plan to blog about it seeing I once had a bout with cancer. I thought the better thing to do is to repost my original article from 2005 I wrote the first time – Fred, Feb.,2014]

Guess what? I have cancer. I just found out this week. I was sort of surprised by that news seeing that Butler men fall victim to strokes and heart attacks.

I have had this small lump in my neck for years and years and years. I would imagine maybe 20 years or more; since being a pre-teen. We would routinely ask doctors about it when I was getting my check ups. Everyone of them would ask the regular questions: Has it changed? No. Has it gotten bigger? No. Does it hurt? No. Everyone of them would always conclude that it was a cyst of some sorts. If it doesn’t change or hurt, don’t worry about it.

When I got married, my wife was obviously concerned about a lump in my neck. I would repeat to her what every doctor had told me since being a child. She was skeptical and pestered me to have it looked at. Again, I asked my doctor what he thought and he again asked the same, regular questions all my previous doctors asked. His conclusion: Its a cyst. If it doesn’t hurt or change size, don’t worry about it.

This year I switched to a doctor that was nearer to where I lived. A few months ago I go in for a chest cold and a terrible cough. He pokes and prods and writes up a prescription for some medicine and then asks, “Is there any thing else you have a question about?” I just blurted out, “Well, I have this lump in my neck, what are your thoughts?” I gave him the background and he concluded… You guessed it, a cyst. However, this time I told him that recently, when I am sick with head colds or a sore throat, the lump is tender. “That’s typical,” he stated, “because it’s probably next to a gland that is fighting your infection.” “But, if it is bothering you, there is no harm in having it removed,” and he writes up an order for me to see a specialist.

The Ears, Nose and Throat guy basically told me that it could be one of two things: either a cyst (what everyone had been telling me) or a tumor in my parotid gland (what makes your spit). He sets me up for my first ever MRI and my first ever biopsy.

This past Tuesday, his assistant nurse calls to tell me to come to his office immediately. “Did he say exactly what is up?” “No, just to have you come down today or tomorrow.” So, the wife and I go to his office, he comes in, closes the door and tells me, “You have an acinic cell carcinoma. (mine is not nearly as bad as the one in the picture)

me: an acidic cell what?
doctor
: an acinic cell carcinoma.

me
: a what cell carcinoma?

doctor
: an acinic cell carcinoma.

me
: is that a bad thing?

Well, yes and no. Yes, if it is my lymph glands, but no in that it is quickly treatable by removing it. The one draw back is that there is a facial nerve near it and if the tumor is around the nerve, there is a slight chance they may have to cut the nerve, which means half my face will have a Droopy Dog appearance. I am not too excited about that bit of news.

My wife and I are taking this all in stride and are not the least bit worried. What we have found disconcerting, however, is how our friends react upon hearing the news. Everyone we tell becomes somber, straight-faced, and dour, and with a hushed tone asks, “So… How are you doing?”

My wife has told several of her girlfriends about my plight and they respond by saying “he is so young; and you have a baby on the way.” People, its a little, treatable bump in my neck. I am not lingering in the final stages of leukemia here.

Because my wife and I are optimistic, it is as though our friends are annoyed with us for not being more worried or something. I am deeply appreciative of everyone’s concern, but as a Christian, how am I suppose to react? Am I not to have a spirit filled, biblical reaction to all this? Are people expecting me to become weepy when I tell my story and ask for prayer?

These last couple of days have sharpened my thinking to reflect upon how Christians should react to bad news. What we typically know as trials. It is these trials God uses to verify your theology. Sadly, I believe a good many Christians these days react poorly. It breaks my heart to see Christians fall under a trial only to react by curling up in a fetal ball and rocking gently back and forth on a bed in a darkened room.

I think this adverse reaction is due in part to the easy lifestyles we have come to love and expect here in America. Our worldly culture promotes youth, vitality and a carefree life, and if you are not youthful, athletic with toned legs and a six pack tummy, and enjoying a vigorous, fulfilling sex life, then you have a second rate existence as a person.

Couple this secular view of life with the notions promoted in some evangelical Churches of a Christian faith being all hearts and flowers and fun and there is stewing a disastrous mixture of wrong expectations and muddle-headed theology that results in a negative reaction to faith challenging circumstances.

I wish to maintain a high view of God’s goodness during these times. Consider the detrimental cascading effect that will happen if a trial occurs and yet I respond by falling to the ground in a heap.

First, such a reaction impacts my testimony among my Christian friends. I am telling them during the good times that I trust solely in God’s sovereignty and grace. I teach these truths regularly from a pulpit and I even dutifully remind my friends to trust the Lord’s sovereignty when they are struggling through trials. Now, am I only a fair weather Christian? Do I only pay lip service to the Bible where it tells me of God’s goodness? Or, am I to trust His sovereignty in my life through the difficult, uncertain times? How does a negative reaction reflect upon my testimony and the weaker brother’s confidence in the Lord?

Also, what about my evangelistic endeavors. In other words, if I have neighbors or family who are lost, they know I am a Christian. I have mentioned the goodness of God to these folks in the past. They listen quietly in the background of how I trust His sovereignty. I may have even told them at one time or another that they too can trust God. However, if I am having a nervous breakdown over a trial, how can I rightly maintain my platform of evangelism? If I am not trusting the Lord as a believer, how can I with certainty call them to trust God with their salvation?

Have I forgotten what the Bible teaches about dying and death? I hate to have to remind folks of this fact, but every single person on the planet has a terminal illness. Either the doctor will give you 3 months to live, or maybe 40 years, but the stark reality remains, all men will die.

As Hebrews 9:27 states, And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment and Psalm 89:48 is even more emphatic, What man can live and not see death, can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?

Yes, I understand from a human perspective the grief of losing a loved one in the young years of his or her life, but living another 40 years is only prolonging the inevitable. Of course I want to see my kids grow up, get married, and Lord willing, and He hasn’t allowed the Islamic hordes to take over the world, I want to see grandchildren. But I never want the eternal to become out of focus. This life is but a vapor. I want to be mindful of that truth so as to redeem the time I have been granted.

A life of painless, non-suffering is not guaranteed by the Lord
. I find it amazing how there are some Christians who become upset with God if they happen to have tragedy ruin their expectation about life. A catastrophic accident may occur or perhaps a serious debilitating medical condition and God is viewed as a meanie who has abandoned them or doesn’t love them or something of that sort.

But where has God promised this personal utopian lifestyle? He hasn’t. What God has promised is that His grace will be sufficient. I in no way wish to minimize or dismiss a person’s suffering. I recognize that it is very real and wearisome. But that does not mean we put away a biblical perspective and stop walking in the spirit.

Then lastly, I have hope. I don’t think my cancer is serious in that it will spread and claim my life in 9 months. Obviously, there is a far, far remote chance. (I could also be killed in an accident). But even so, my wife and I have hope. Our trust is in the Lord, the second Adam who has conquered death and has granted me eternal life. I could not imagine struggling through any major, life threatening illness as an atheist. What terrible despair. Having to fake happiness and optimism to basically face being absorbed into nothingness or just going out of existence.

In a way, I am even some what embarrassed to mention all this, because my situation is so minor compared to at least two other individuals I know who are really struggling with cancer. One couple in particular, who were once members of my Church, are preparing for the death of the wife who is slowly succumbing to a cancer that has affected her spine. She has been given a short time to live and compounding that bad news, the cancer has taken away her motor skills and she is confined to a wheel chair. I do not know these folks. My only contact is with mutual acquaintances, but I marvel at the up-dates I receive, because I believe they are a family who are reacting in a God-pleasing way. May I have their courage when my theology is forged in trial.

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4 thoughts on “So You’re A Calvinist? How Do You React to Cancer?

  1. Hey Fred,
    Thanks for the story. It’s similar to ours although the cancer survivor is my son. He was diagnosed 15 years ago one week before his first birthday. I wish I had the maturity you expressed of yourself and that of the other couple. My wife and I didn’t fall apart but, I can’t say we grew a lot either. We were young having just celebrated our first anniversary. We certainly turned to God in prayer but it was over as soon as it started. Diagnosed on a Thursday, surgery on a Monday, and back home again on Thursday. He had stage 3 neuroblastoma but was cured by one surgery. Thanks again for the reminder of trials verifying our theology. I know it’s been many years but it’s refreshing to hear when people’s responses are grounded in God’s sovereignty and guided by his word.

    I’m also enjoying the reviews of Authentic Fire… Keep up the good work!

  2. Wow I’m thankful God has been gracious and merciful to you Fred. I hope the Lord use this to minister to those in major health crisis or have cancer. Seriously, wow.

  3. Pingback: Kids, Please Don’t Do This at Home… | In Favilla et Cinere

  4. Pingback: Round Up | Rated R For Reformed

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