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My First Year With Cancer

Author
Category Articles
Date October 30, 2003

EVAN SPARKS

One year ago, April 29, 2002, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease. I immediately thereafter began intensive chemotherapy and radiation regimens, and was declared cancer-free on October 31, 2002. What follows is my testimony about what God has taught me and done in my life since then. I hope you will enjoy reading it. Please feel free to forward it to anyone you know who was praying for me and whose e-mail address I do not have, or anyone else who you think would profit from it. The Lord is good, indeed!

One year ago a doctor told me I had cancer. He had just looked at an x-ray of my chest. There could be no doubt – the large, nebulous white object over my lungs was a tumor. My months-long fatigue, my night sweats, my anemia, my swollen neck and nodes, my rapid weight loss all pointed to cancer. As my parents and I left the doctor’s office that afternoon, I had little idea of the course that lay ahead, and no idea that I would ever look back on this day with gratitude. I had no idea that I would be glad I had cancer.

The day after that initial diagnosis, in the first week of May, I was admitted to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The official diagnosis was Hodgkins Disease, and my doctor laid out a protocol. I began chemotherapy the very next Monday. It ran for twelve weeks; by the end of July I was finished and my family and I took a week’s respite in Lemolo, Washington. Throughout August and September I was treated with radiation to kill the last remnants of the cancer. College in New Orleans had already started and I spent the rest of the semester working and recuperating from the therapy.

The Lord blessed me by placing me at St. Jude. It is an environment wholly unlike any hospital I have before seen. There is no morbidity there. All day, little bald children with wristbands fly by on tricycles down the brightly painted hallways. The doctors and nurses are upbeat and happy to be there. For them, St. Jude is not just a job; it’s a calling. The children there are brave, considering what they face. They face long protocols. Mine was only six months; some of the leukemia patients are two to three years. They face long stays in the hospital; I was treated as an outpatient. They face long stays away from home; I lived thirty minutes from St. Jude. If I ever start to pity myself, it helps to remember the hundreds of other brave children who face far greater trials daily.

That’s not to say my trials weren’t great. I experienced a full range of side effects: penetrating nausea, bone pain, irregularity, fatigue, heartburn, and many times when my immune system effectively went to zero. I wore a mask a lot in those days. Sometimes, after a particularly powerful chemo treatment, I would spend nearly the entire week on the couch at home with a bucket handy. One day I went for a new chemo treatment: etoposide. Thirty seconds into the drip, I suddenly felt as though my head would explode and I couldn’t breathe. I choked out, "Turn off the medicine! Turn off the medicine!" A friend rushed to find a nurse, who immediately came in and shut off the drip. The dosage had made my blood pressure drop to zero. Whenever I received that treatment, I had to have it administered over four hours to keep from having another attack, and I had to have preparatory medication too. Those days, I might be in the medicine room for six or seven hours.

On October 31, 2002,1 went for my off-therapy visit and was found to be cancer-free. I spent the rest of the fall recuperating, and then in January 2003 I went to college at Tulane University. I have thrived here. My bout with cancer delayed my plans a little, but with God’s help I have emerged successfully. I look forward to a smooth road from here, but who knows what the Lord will do?

A few weeks after my diagnosis, I said: "What I considered a terrible misfortune and disappointment is, I believe now, going to be good for me. I am getting a rare opportunity to see the hand of God. He is drawing me closer to Himself, helping me to, like James, ‘consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.. so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’ (James 1:2,4) God’s plans are infinitely better than ours, and they are always for our own good."

Cancer is a harsh professor. But though harsh, it is a good teacher. One emerges from it with greater wisdom and appropriate humility. It is a chastening experience to be called down for an incorrect answer in lecture or faulty reasoning in seminar. In the same way, cancer chastens. As it chastens, it instructs. I am convinced that cancer is one of God’s many tools for instructing his children.

God used my cancer to teach me that he is a haven in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1-3,10 says: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride . . . ‘Cease striving and know that I am God."’ During the times when I was too sick to do anything but lie on the couch with my bucket beside me, I began to learn anew the importance of being still. Before I got sick, and even now at college, my life is packed full of activities – but that’s by design. I get restless if I lie around and do little. But too often I forget that God reveals himself through stillness and silence too. Through my cancer, God taught me to "cease striving" and trust in him.

When I had cancer, God reminded me that he provides enough grace for everyone’s need. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." In whatever circumstance I find myself, the Lord is there giving me grace to deal with the difficulties. I never imagined that I would have cancer, and I thought I could never make it through it. I described above my first treatment with etoposide, how within thirty seconds my blood pressure went to zero, my head swelled up, and I could barely breathe until the nurse came to shut off the drip. I had never imagined such a situation, but God gives grace to endure. One thing I can say: I never thought God would have given me the grace to say that I’m glad I had cancer. Here’s a brief story I’m fond of: a man was walking across a beach with the Lord. As they walked, scenes from the man’s life walked across the sky. The man looked back and noticed that during the most difficult times in his life, there was only one set of footprints. "Lord, I don’t understand," he said. "Why did you abandon me during the most difficult times of my life?"

"My precious child," the Lord replied. "I love you and would never leave you. Those difficult times, where you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

James 5:16 says, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." During my illness, God showed me the way his people care for each other with prayer. There were prayers coming from all over the country, northeast, northwest, south, midwest. People were lifting me up all over the world: in other countries and on four continents. In the first few weeks after my diagnosis, I received cards and letters from both close friends and people I had never met before. To think: had I not suffered cancer, I never would have seen such a widespread cascade of the love of God’s people. Today I am more conscious about praying for others who are sick and I am more grateful than ever for the love of friends across the world.

God is the great Savior: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. God is to us a God of deliverances; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death." (Psalm 68:19-20) He saves our souls, washing us in Christ’s blood. And according to his will, he heals our bodies too. God is the ruler of everything; he used my cancer to strengthen my conviction of this. He used my cancer affirmed my faith in him.

I write this one year removed from my diagnosis, and six months after I was declared cancer-free. My original plans were changed, but my life worked out well. I entered Tulane in January 2003 and quickly dived into campus life. The Lord has sent me both Christian and non-Christian friends, and has opened doors on campus to share the Gospel with some people. I thank him for my life now. I thank him for my cancer. Strange as it may sound, I’m glad I had cancer. Here’s one final anecdote: last December, when I was at work in the performing arts center box office, I received a phone call inquiring about tickets for a show. She asked, "Can I get an aisle seat?"

I said, "Well, we have continental seating, so there are no center aisles; there are only aisles down the side. Is that all right?"

"Sure, I just don’t know if I’ll be on chemo and need to make a quick exit."

I took a venturesome step: "I hope you don’t mind, but what kind of cancer do you have?"

She said my asking was no problem. "I have non-smoker’s lung cancer." We talked about the disease for a few moments, and I told her about my cancer. Then she said, "I don’t know if you’re a believer…

"Yes, I am!" I replied.

"Oh, the Lord is good. He is so merciful. You know, since I’ve been sick, six people have professed faith in the Lord. I don’t know if I’ll make it, or whether I’ll be in chemo or not come April, but God has worked through me." She bought the tickets and then we talked for a short time afterward, sharing our testimonies of what God was doing through her.

I pray that I will someday share in this legacy. I can say little more than this: one more soul in Christ’s kingdom is worth all the cancer in the world.

My times are in Thy hand:
My God, I leave them there;
My life, my friends, my soul
I leave entirely to Thy care.

My times are in Thy hand,
Whatever they may be,
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright,
As best may seem to Thee.

My times are in Thy hand:
Why should I doubt or fear?
A Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

My times are in Thy hand,
Jesus, the Crucified;
Those hands my cruel sins had pierced
Are now my guard and guide.

My times are in Thy hand,
I’ll always trust in Thee;
And, after death, at thy right hand
I shall for ever be.

(William Freeman Lloyd)

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