What Can I Learn from Cancer?

Posted by on Sep 25, 2019 in Blog, Sam | 0 comments

Four weeks ago, my doctor told me that recent tests indicate a high likelihood I have kidney cancer.  The tests were the result of an appointment I made because I felt run down. I thought I should take a sleep test or maybe a melatonin. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind.

Since then, the weeks were filled with doctor visits, a bit of googling, a few degrading procedures and uncomfortable, humbling recoveries. And a little more googling.

The procedures involved transporting an assortment of telescopes, flashlights, and pickaxes through my internal plumbing. I failed the first procedure because my ureter was too small. I promised the doctor I would try harder next time. He inserted a tinier tube inside my already tiny tube in the hope of making it bigger. He said, “Let’s put in a stent for a stint.”

The stent failed but something else worked, and they were able to spy out the cancer, hack away at it, and mine a tissue sample for further testing.


When I first heard the scary word cancer, time slowed down: I heard the bathroom fan across the hall, I noticed my phone battery was at 37%, and I saw dust settle on the desk behind my laptop. I thought to myself: don’t deny it but don’t dramatize it either.

When I googled my doctor’s description, the range of prognoses was so widely contradictory that I quit searching. I google when I am ignorant in some area. This time around, I was so ignorant that I couldn’t even do helpful internet research, unless I wanted to get lost in obsessive speculation. I was either too dumb or too smart to google. I don’t know which.

A friend emailed me to have faith because, “The eyes of the LORD watch over those who do right” (Ps. 34:15). But in my honest moments, I know I do lots of wrong, and in my dishonest moments, well my self-delusion is not so virtuous either. To rest my hope on how I “do right” seemed contrary to all I believe and write about.

Another friend advised me to claim my healing in the name of Jesus, because God has need of my service. But that suggestion felt oddly self-serving. It missed the God-centeredness of Job’s great line, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.” In fact, my friend’s counsel triggered the thoughts that led to my last article, Finding Meaning in Suffering.

After multiple procedures, my doctor said the cancer is lower grade and the odds of a pretty normal life were very good. I was comforted, and then I was immediately convicted: I realized I was trusting in the odds of life but not in the God of Life.  

My responses revolved around avoidance of being “that kind of person”: who lives in denial, or overly dramatizes, or has faith in his goodness, or faith in his own faith, or who over-values his own contribution to the kingdom. Those responses all seemed a form of self-hero-worship.

So What Do I Think God Is Saying?

My days right now are like being on a layover at an airport, some random city between departure and arrival. I feel fine for several hours and then feel exhausted, my mind is clear for a bit and then murky. I feel in limbo until my next scheduled surgery. I keep saying to myself, when that is over and the recovery is done, I’ll be ready to get back to work.

But I also keep hearing God say that my entire purpose on earth is to glorify Him, not tomorrow but today, not there but here. He engineered circumstances where I think I have nothing to offer—certainly not heroism—and I hear God ask, “Will you glorify me in your own emptiness?

During one of the visits, my doctor asked me if I wanted a chaperone. I asked, “What for?” He described a personal examination he needed to perform, and he offered me a witness. I told him I didn’t even want him in the room for that procedure, I certainly didn’t want witnesses.

He laughed, said it was policy to ask, but no one had ever opted for a witness. He said, in the medical practice, sometimes it is not the surgery that hurts most but the humiliation.

I think God is inviting me to glorify him in—and maybe especially in—the humiliation of just being me, with no great heroism to offer. After all, even my cancer got a low grade.


P. S. Our biggest need on earth goes beyond physical healing; it is the spiritual new life of knowing God. Jesus even said, “This is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah whom you sent.” And the deepest relationships require conversation.

To grow in a divine dialogue with our Heavenly Father, please watch the video below (Is that all there is?), and read, Hearing God in Conversation.

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