Handling the Last Stages of Cancer
As I sit here this side of death I look ahead with fear and yet with hope. I do not want to die yet.
by Ruairidh D. Macrae
It has been a long journey from when I sent my first e mail about being diagnosed with cancer back in early 2001. My first encounter with the "Big C" caused me to write quite a few e mails to you all. Your outpouring of love and prayers then was an amazing encouragement for myself and for Audra. You came on our journey through the valleys and mountains – the valleys turning out to be the Bacca’s Vale (Psalm 84), with rejoicing over the Lord’s hand and healing. Then 3 months later, as I started the College, providence again needed to be rejoiced in and God praised, though this time from the other side – with being rediagnosed with cancer. Now this was a harder blow in many respects to the first diagnosis. The question "Where is your God now?" from one of my doctors was already screaming in my own heart and mind. The answer I gave was the only answer I knew then. It remains the only answer I know now. Many of you will know it – so forgive the retelling. I come from the Black Isle, where the northern view is dominated by Ben Wyvis. Easter Ross being as it is has rain a lot and often Ben Wyvis would be shrouded in cloud or mist – causing it to be blocked from view. If someone came along to me and said that Ben Wyvis was no longer there I would laugh and say "don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s still there – its just the clouds are blocking it from view." So it is for me with God – I know He’s still there as He always has been and promised to be. It’s just the clouds are blocking Him from my view.
Much has happened since that day just over a year ago. This year has been my sweetest, as well as my most painful. Firstly, I would like to give you all a heart felt apology. This time I shrunk away from the whole mass e mail thing which I had done the last time. The reasons for this are probably varied with some being legitimate, others not. However, I know now more than ever, that this providence that we face was never meant just for me, not even just for us as a couple or a family, but for many. I don’t mean that in a boastful way, just that I have a deeper sense now of the Body of Christ. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28) That means this is not just for my good, but for yours as well. It is for His glory and purpose. The interconnectedness of Christ’s Body the Church shows that to be true. I have not really been able to work that out in how I have lived and attempted to cope with a difficult providence. And yet, I have continued to be amazed, humbled, overwhelmed and gratified at so many people’s faithfulness in prayer for us. I have not deserved such but I do thank you for it and ask you to continue to remember us in prayer.
As I sit here this side of death I look ahead with fear and yet with hope. I do not want to die yet. I am young (despite what my friends in the Youth Fellowship say, 25 this month is young!), and have been married for only two and a half years. I believe I have been called to the ministry and am in my second year of training at the Free Church College. Despite my cancer, the last year or so has been awesome, being in St. Columba’s Free Church here in Edinburgh, training with great guys who love the Lord, his cause, people and the lost, growing together, being taught by some of the greatest theologians that Scotland (and much further afield) has today. I want to be there with them at graduation, working alongside them in the gospel, growing in our friendships, being married, having kids, etc.
So you will excuse me if I don’t give relish the thought of death. I yearn for heaven, but not the means of entry. It is my enemy, robbed as it is. It is of great comfort to know that when Lazarus died, Jesus himself wept. Nor did he condemn Mary and Martha for mourning, rather he joined them and pointed them to himself as the resurrection and the life. Paul says that to die is gain. He is not saying dying or death is gain although it brings gain in heaven. Here is a subtle point I think we miss(?) Perhaps the same meaning would be going to heaven is gain. Paul is not talking about the dying process nor of death itself. My example here, as always, is Christ. He knew what was coming in Gethsemane and yet he was willing to do God’s will not his own will, but God’s be done.
As I’ve said I don’t want to die just now. I know that for me, if things go as medically expected, it will be painful and frustrating. I hate being weak, and hate crippling pain. I can’t get to college often, or do things with my friends as I would like, or get out to church as much etc. But the amazing thing is this, that God uses us in our weakness, our weakness as those made in His image and yet fallen, or whether it is particular weakness, like illness, dying, or whatever it is. I also know that all my pain, frustration, weakness and yes, even as I am dying, is in his Will. We serve a sovereign God, who is in control of everything, right down to the very sub-atomic level. He is in control of all. So while I would far rather not be dying of cancer, I am able to be strengthened and say it is his good will. That doesn’t mean I like cancer, but it does mean I can rejoice in his divine purpose being worked out for His glory, and our good. I don’t look at my cancer to answer the question "Does God love me?" rather I look at the Cross and ask it. The answer therefore is so much. Therefore nothing that happens to us can prove a denial of his love to his people.
I fear what lies ahead. I want to live, to grow old with my wife, work with my brothers in the ministry for the extension of the kingdom, upbuilding of the Lord’s people and for his glory. I want to grow with my friends, see their kids grow up etc. to see what the Lord has in store for us. There was a very encouraging bit in the new biography of the late Jackie Ross where he basically said it was all right to want all these things just now, but when the ordained time came then he believed God would in a sense take earthly desires away, and he would be thoroughly and unequivocally prepared for heaven. I think such is a gift of grace given when it is needed.
Yea, even when I walk through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me (Ps. 23:4). The everlasting arms are underneath us all, sustaining and holding us through everything. They are everlasting, because they are the arms of the eternal God, our refuge (Deut. 33:27) and so they hold us even through dying and death. It is not what we want that is important, rather God. That is difficult and yet it is glorious. For not one of us will in time turn around and say I wish it had been different, because it is all in his plan and we’ll see it was perfect, even the pain. We see a tiny corner of the tapestry, and even then just the back with all the mess of threads, criss-crossing and loose. One day it will be completed and we’ll see the whole finished masterpiece from the front, and see all the mass of seemingly messy unplanned threads form a thing of such great beauty that we will bow down and praise the Artist all the more.
Death is our great enemy, and I will not trivialise or apologise for my fear and loathing of it for all it is and stands for. However, my Lord has taken its sting for me and for that I am eternally thankful. I can therefore with confidence be assured with the Psalmist "You will keep on guiding me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny," (Ps. 73:24) and "Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD for ever." (Ps. 23:6) Whatever God has chosen for me whether it is that I will soon die or whether it is for me to be healed, I hope and pray that I and all my friends and family will rejoice in the Sovereign Lord for working out his purposes for our good and His glory. We serve a gloriously good God.
But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.(Ps. 74:28) I don’t feel particularly close to God just now. In fact, because of pain, difficulty in concentrating and my own sinfulness, prayer is difficult. I rejoice that our groanings are made perfect by the Spirit. I know that He is with me because He has promised to be here always as He is with all His children. Death is awful, but I am glad that it will be a temporary separation from my loved ones and that I will see them perfectly in Glory when they die or the Lord Jesus returns.
What makes death more hated and awful for me looking at it is all my loved ones who are not in Christ. My Dad, Gran, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. For them death has not been defeated, which makes it all the more painful preparing for mine. All that is to say that I hate death as I hate sin. I know I will die whether it is soon or not, (unless Christ returns) and I fear the process of dying. I hate all death represents, our fallenness, weakness, sinfulness, corruptness etc. I don’t want to be separated from my loved ones, I want to work for the gospel cause now. I fear that I will fail and not die well. Yet the marvellous hope giving such awesome things is that Christ has gone before. He has defeated death, robbed it of its victory. It is still awful in its unrobed state, but nothing compared to what it was, or what Christ has done. It is nothing compared to the reunion we will have after our separatedness if we are in Christ. Death has been defeated, the Resurrection guaranteed. Death, along with all my, all your sufferings, is nothing compared with what lies before us in Glory.
I long to go Home, even though I understand so little of it. As C.S Lewis said "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I know who is there, Christ Himself, my Lord. All the majesty of Scripture on heaven (i.e. Heb. 4:9-10; 1 Peter 1:3-12; Rev. 4:8-11; 5:9-14 (wow); 21-22 just to name but a few) make us yearn, yet still the barrier between me and that is so huge for me to comprehend that I say not yet! I hope my clinging is a lot more to do with concern for my loved ones and the cause of Christ than my own fear and sin. I know it is both. Death is powerful, but Christ is greater. My hope and prayer is that I will in his strength die well and bear testimony with my last breath to the Lordship and uniqueness of Christ, with the praise of him on my lips."And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads." Rev. 22:5
The story of the past year has been that a couple of months of radio therapy did nothing to stop the cancer spreading (other than averting an operation to have my spleen removed). Last December I started weekly chemo. Some nine months later almost to the day the cancer has continued to spread and has intruded into almost all my organs. On August 30th they decided to cease treatment for two main reasons. It was beginning to seriously damage my heart and lungs (as well as other bits and pieces) It was not being successful. This was a shock, if not much of a surprise. It was also fairly devastating and fairly relieving at the same time. Chemo was a great struggle for me – all the way through. Each and every time I got it felt like I was walking to be executed (how’s that for being dramatic!) and was heavy. The hair loss was surprisingly disturbing for me – not least people’s reactions. God is good even in that however! I remember being petrified of how Mairi, Donald and Sine (Kiki and Anna’s amazing kids whom we’ve adopted as nieces and nephew) would react to a completely bald (including eyebrows and goatee beard) me. They were totally cool. "Woowie (Donald’s name for me) where’s your hair gone?" "It’s fallen out pet". "Oh, O.K." Then we were back to playing again. How good God was. Mairi and Sine were the same. It even got to be a game – whether my hair would be growing back in again or not or how my head felt. It never fazed them once.
Thus there is now nothing else, at this present time at least, that can be done for me medically, and humanly speaking I have a few months to live. I have started Christianity Explored group with folks I had chemo with – and that’s been a great opportunity. Somebody asked me recently what I would ask them to pray for. So many things!
1) that I and everyone else would be able to accept God’s will whatever it is.
2) that if it is His will, I’d be healed.
3) if it isn’t that I would be a good witness and as someone said recently "your job now is to die well". I am not afraid of death (lots of other emotions about it though!) but the process, which is going to be pretty awful, petrifies me. I don’t want to let God or anyone else down.
4) that my non-Christian relations would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour soon.
5) that Audra (my wife from First Presbyterian Church Jackson Mississippi) and I (along with Mum, Dad, Gran, the MacRae’s, and other friends) would have great times
6) that I would be kept in my walk with God.
Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you want to. Thank you for reading and praying. I pray that you know the Lord’s presence close to you.
RUAIRIDH D. MACRAE
CANCER IS SO LIMITED …
It cannot cripple love
It cannot erode faith
It cannot eat away peace
It cannot destroy confidence
It cannot kill friendship
It cannot shut out memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot reduce eternal life
It cannot quench the Spirit
It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection
Rob Muncy, Cicero, Indiana.
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Amen — ‘A Sound Like Thunder’ 4 February 2020
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