…to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us… (Ephesians 3:20)
In the days which followed the one on which I was diagnosed with cancer of the parotid gland I tried to gather whatever information I could about the disease. Each time I received an additional piece of information I would then have to come to terms with how I felt about it. When the news was positive, as it was when I received word about my MRI, I had no difficulty sensing the Lord’s hand upon me, healing and protecting me. But when the news was not positive, especially what I was reading online about this particular cancer, I would have to pray through my fears and doubts and try to reconcile the information with my belief that God could heal me. In the months that followed, I got used to the fact that upsetting news would shake my faith, initially, but that in time, the Lord would help me find my way back to trusting in Him, no matter what I had been told. But it would take a while before I was able to recognize this pattern and become somewhat comfortable with it.
The weekend before my appointment with the specialist at the UNC Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill I grew more anxious. I tried to do things which would help me feel like I had some sense of control over my life: I cleaned the house, did the laundry and signed up for an account on CaringBridge – a website used for communicating with friends and family members by those who are experiencing a health emergency of some sort. I was attempting to plan for whatever lay ahead for me, but these activities did not give me a sense of satisfaction; they only tired me out.
It didn’t help that the tumor seemed larger than it was the previous weekend and appeared to have shifted slightly forward. Initially, it was just under my ear lobe; now it was also beginning to protrude in front of the lobe on the side of my face. The tumor continued to press against nerves behind my ear; however the pain, which was sporadic only two weeks before, was now much more frequent, both during the day and especially at night as I lay down to sleep. Over-the-counter pain medications were not effective in relieving this pain so I would pray as I lay awake, sometimes asking the Lord to calm the pain as he calmed the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee during a storm, and at other times envisioning myself living out of God’s strength after surrendering to Him what little strength I called my own. It was a great comfort to pray this way and eventually I would fall asleep.
Understandably, Gil was also quite anxious. His usual way of dealing with a problem is to learn everything he can about it. In a brief period of time he is able to comprehend incredibly complicated studies and reports. So, he set out to learn all he could about parotid gland tumors – causes, treatments, and where the best research on them is being done. He read medical abstracts and reports of clinical trials – and by the time he finished he knew as much, if not more, as any 4th year medical student with an internship in head and neck oncology. My interest was somewhat different: I was reading about statics concerning survival rates and the possible and likely side-effects from radiation to the head and neck – and the more I read the more upset I became. At first, I thought I needed to know as much as possible, but I quickly discovered the danger of reading indiscriminately, especially since I was the patient.
Gil was eager to take a look at the compact disk I was given which held the images from the MRI scan of my head and neck. At first I declined to view it, but when I heard him exclaim, “Oh Look!” from his study down the hallway, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at Gil’s computer screen. What I saw when I walked into his study was an image of the inside of my head – with an enormous ugly bulge below my right ear. I turned away, instinctively, horrified by what I saw on the screen, but not before I had an opportunity to see this cancerous tumor for what it truly was – something evil. A large protrusion was all that was visible to the eye when looking at my neck, but now, seeing it inside my head, it looked ominous – a foreign entity that would not stop growing until either it succeeded in killing me or it was killed by the surgeon’s knife and any subsequent “artillery.” I understood in that moment why cancer is spoken of in terms of war. There is no making peace with it. As a Christian, I believe this is true of anything that is evil – it must be overcome or it will overcome.
Shortly afterward, our friend who is a surgeon called to check in with us. He gave me some helpful advice when I told him about what I had been reading online and my reaction to seeing the tumor from the point of view of the MRI. From years of experience he knew that no one will truly know what the type of cancer a tumor is, or even its size, until it has been removed and a pathology report has been compiled – and only then will it clear what the next step is.
Woody’s advice was very helpful because it gave me the freedom to see my future less determined by the reports and statistics I was reading about and more in terms of what God has the power to do. As I continued to seek how to pray for my healing I had the sense that I was to draw on God’s power and use my imagination to see it working in me. A phrase from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians kept coming to mind that weekend – and this verse would soon become the bedrock belief on which I would stand: [God]… is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us (3:20)
So, in those moments when anxiety would suddenly overwhelm me, I would find a quiet place to pray and imagine God’s power in me, doing way more than I could even imagine Him doing. And in time, God’s peace would settle over me and once more I would be able to stand in the belief that He could heal me, regardless of what was ahead.