Don’t take your next birthday for granted

weddingA good friend once said that wedding anniversaries were more significant than birthdays. He made a good point that I’ve since repeated to others. Birthdays just come around year after year. You don’t need to do anything. Whereas wedding anniversaries take work. You need to keep investing in the marriage or you might not get to your next anniversary.

Yesterday was my birthday and I received many wonderful greetings—mainly via Facebook, the new greeting card! Many of the comments were very similar and they made me stop and think about whether he was entirely right. Let me share a few:

Happy birthday Macca! Praise God for another year. Hope you have a great day!

have a great day… thanking the Lord you’re still here with us and for your ongoing ministry…

Happy Birthday Dave! It is wonderful to celebrate another year!!!

Happy, happy birthday! Thanking God for the gift of the last 365 days and all that has happened since your last trip around the sun. Lotsa love

Happy birthday Dave! Thanks to God for another one!

Happy birthday cus! Glad you’re here to see another one.

Happy Birthday! May God bless you! And give you many more!

What thankfulness that you can celebrate another birthday! Have a great one!

Happy birthday Dave! Thanks to God for another one!

Happy birthday Macca! Glad God gave you another one.

I don’t expect everyone receives birthday greetings like these. I’d describe them as joyful and thankful, with significant undertones of sobriety. They are a reminder that birthdays don’t just come around. There were no guarantees last year that I’d celebrate another this year. Mind you—there aren’t ever any guarantees, for me or for you. I see the last year as a gift from God. It’s his grace that has preserved me for another year.

And I’m praying that his grace will sustain me for many more birthdays—and wedding anniversaries—for years to come.

Thanks for all your greetings!

(first published in macarisms.com on 13/8/13)

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When it’s good to get bad news

I used to think that bad news was always bad news. How could it be anything else? But I see things differently now. Sometimes we need to hear bad news to have any chance of hearing good news. My cancer is a case in point.

The bad news: you have cancer.
More bad news: you have a non-small cell lung cancer.
Still more bad news: there is a tumour on the left lung and it has spread.
Even more bad news: you have an ALK+ mutation that is driving the cancer.

No one wants the news they have cancer. It’s always bad news. But the bad news pointed the way to hope. Subsequent bad news provided a specific pathway to hope. It has been indispensable to treating the cancer accurately. My diagnosis and my subsequent prognosis were seriously bad news that I needed to hear.

I know people who have not wanted to know what’s wrong with them. They’ve had cancer, but have not been willing to have it accurately diagnosed. Some have endured the wrong treatment. Others have avoided dealing with it until it’s been too late, and nothing could be done to help them. Some have died from cancer, when an early diagnosis would have saved them.

It’s the same when it comes to God. We don’t want to hear the bad news. We don’t like to hear that we’ve pushed God aside, that we prefer to live independently, that God will hold us to account, and we’re facing God’s judgment. This is bad news, it’s uncomfortable, it’s distasteful, and we’d prefer not to hear it.

I’ve discovered that it’s good to hear this bad news. We need an accurate diagnosis of our rejection of God. We need an accurate prognosis of the consequences of our rejection. The bad news prepares the way for hope. Unless we understand our desperate state before God, then we will not understand what God has done to turn things around. The bad news of our independence and judgment prepares us to hear the good news—the gospel—of hope through Jesus Christ. There’s hope for a renewed relationship with God in this life and beyond. God has the cure. It’s freely available.

Don’t ignore the bad news. It can help you to hear and grasp the good news that God wants you to enjoy.

Bad news
Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us,
Good news
God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
(Romans 3:23-24 from The Message, my headings)

(first published in macarisms.com on 11/8/13)

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God have mercy

Today I sat by the bed of a friend in hospital. He too has lung cancer. On the outside he looked weathered and aged. He was frail and broken. And yet he radiated an inner contentment. He wasn’t looking for distractions. The television was off. There were no games or books or magazines or electronic toys. He preferred to reflect and to pray. Life had a potency for my friend. He meditated on life and death. He’d spent many hours contemplating these words by Jesus:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.  (John 3:36)

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  (John 17:3)

My friend knows eternal life—now. He knows God, because he knows the one whom God has sent, Jesus Christ. He spoke joyfully to me about Jesus. His eyes were filled with tears of wonder and thankfulness as we spoke.

Looking at my friend reminded me of the unrelenting surge of disease, decay, and death. But listening to my friend pointed me to the one who has overcome it all. He knows that the hope he holds is real. Death holds no fear for my friend. He’s facing life’s harshest moments with a contentment that can only come from God.

And there’s nothing presumptive about my friend. He understands that God doesn’t owe him anything. He has no rights before God. He’s not claiming any religious or moral superiority. My friend simply knows that God is a merciful God.

We prayed together. We asked God for many things. And I was humbled to hear my friend say these words:

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Years ago Jesus told a story about two people with very different outlooks on God and themselves. I was reminded of this story today, as my friend and I prayed together.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’  (Luke 18:9-14)

(first published in macarisms.com on 17/6/13)

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NED

Dave & Fiona‘No evidence of neoplasm.’

This was the final sentence of the radiologist’s report on my CT scan from Tuesday. I went straight to wikipedia. Neoplasm wasn’t a word I’d been using. And my guess was right. There was no evidence of a tumour. Seriously? I don’t think I ever expected to read that. No evidence of cancer? I was stunned.

It’s exactly eighteen months this weekend since I was admitted to hospital, had my first CT scan, and discovered the tumour on my lung. It was about 24mm at the time. I’ve had two surgeries, twenty six courses of chemotherapy, and a number of CTs in this period. We’ve seen the tumour increase slightly to 26mm, then reduced to 18mm, to 12mm, and to 7mm in February this year. It went from a golf ball, to a pinball, to a marble, to a pea. A friend was praying it would shrink to a mustard seed next! Seems like it has. Whatever may or may not be there is too small to be seen by a CT scan. :)

We’ve discussed this with a couple of oncologists now. They were both amazed by how things have gone. My regular oncologist, who is very careful and conservative, kept saying this doesn’t normally happen with my type of cancer. I told him I was quite happy to be abnormal! Both oncologists have stated the importance of continuing with the chemo for now. The tumour is not evident on the CT scan, and this is a great outcome, but it doesn’t guarantee that I am cancer free. Cancer cells are microscopic. They could be anywhere and everywhere without having developed an observable tumour. The fact that my cancer was discovered at Stage 4 once it had already spread, and that cancer cells were discovered in other places, is a reminder not to make assumptions.

This scan result is the best result I could have received. To be described as N.E.D. – No Evidence of Disease – is a wonderful result. But it carries with it a huge amount of uncertainty. It’s like the results of a satellite image of a national park revealing no evidence of an escaped criminal. Higher resolution would be needed to gain more certainty. But even then he could be hiding behind a rock or under a tree and not observable. They cannot be sure with me. Even surgery, biopsies, and other types of scans have their limitations. They can identify cancer, but they can’t rule out it’s existence.

Our plan is for me to continue with chemo for a while and ask more questions. We’ll seek advice about other options for assessing how I’m going. We’ll seek to monitor the toxic and damaging impact of chemo. It’s clearly been the recipe for attacking my adenocarcenoma, but it’s leaving its mark on my body as well. I’m experiencing some neuropathic symptoms again, energy levels are low, fitness is harder to maintain, and I’m on medication to counteract significant side effects.

In short, the journey with cancer continues. In some ways I expect it will be harder. Until now I’ve had certainty. I’ve been sure of having cancer because I’ve seen the evidence. Now the evidence isn’t there. I assume there is still cancer present, and will act accordingly, but I can’t be sure.

My scan results are great news and I’m filled with gratitude to God for bringing me to this point. I thank you for your love, support and prayers. God has been listening and answering our prayers. He’s been kindly giving me time and opportunity to serve him. I’ve been praying since early last year that I would get to see Matt married and that I would get to be a grandfather. [I didn’t tell them this!] There’s now four weeks until Matt and Elizabeth get married and Luke and Sharon are halfway through their pregnancy. God willing, Fiona and I will also celebrate thirty years of marriage this year. Awesome. Thank you God for the days that you give me!

God has done a lot of work in me over this past eighteen months. In particular, he’s been strengthening my hope. Not hope in a cure necessarily, but a hope beyond cure. Hope that gives me reason to live, however many days I might have. Hope in life now and in eternity. Hope that is real even if cancer should one day overrun my body. Hope that sustains me through the ups and the downs. Hope grounded in God keeping his promises in Jesus Christ. My desire is for each one of you to know this hope. God is good.

Thank you again for your friendship, support, help, and generosity. As we continue this journey please rejoice with us and please keep on praying that God will remove all traces of cancer from my body. Please pray for wisdom for the medical specialists and for us as we decide what paths to take.

(first published in macarisms.com on 31/5/13)

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Hope beyond failure

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion for ever.  (Psalm 73:26)

So true.

My body is breaking down. It’s the chemo today, but it fits with the trend. I’m not getting any stronger, faster, or fitter. I keep wearing out.

My spirit waxes and wanes. Today I ache and groan. Misery clouds the sunshine. Who knows about tomorrow?

I cannot depend on my flesh or my heart. They’re unreliable. They’re weak. They’re fickle. They’re false.

God is the one I can trust. He will not let me down. It’s not that I keep hold of him, but that he doesn’t let go of me.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
(Psalm 73:23)

Thank you God.

(first published in macarisms.com on 24/5/13)

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Eternal hope

‘Cancer free to no hope in less than two weeks.’

This was the headline to the post I read on a cancer forum yesterday. How could things change so quickly? The truth is, they hadn’t. There’d been a bad case of miscommunication.

I browse these forums from time to time. I can’t do it daily. I find it too sad, too overwhelming. People are sick, confused, powerless, dying, and so often lacking in hope. Every day there are desperate cries of anguish. There are pleas for prayer. There’s the outpouring of grief. Sometimes there’s an explosion of anger at the merciless killer, cancer.

As I read the headline above, it clarified in my mind what it is that I so want to communicate. It’s what I’m praying my book will achieve. My goal is to offer hope beyond cure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% pro-cure. I want my cancer to completely disappear. I pray that it will and I pray the same for others. I’m excited by medical advances and new discoveries. I absolutely love hearing that someone with cancer has no evidence of disease anymore. I love the hope that comes with this pronouncement. In a sense, life can begin again. A new chapter with a new outlook.

Yet when the prognosis is bad, when all attempts at medical intervention have been exhausted, when prayers have not been answered as we might wish… what then? Is there hope still? Or has all hope been exhausted?

Is cure the ultimate hope for those of us with cancer? Is this what we hope for beyond all else? I don’t know really. I haven’t asked enough people. My guess, is that we have a range of hopes. But I’m concerned if the hope of a cure for cancer is where we stop.

What happens if we are cured? We go back to life. Not as normal. More likely as radically changed people. But then we’re likely to get sick again. It could be the recurrence of cancer. It may be something else altogether. We may recover and we might keep recovering, but there will come a day when we won’t. Death will catch up with each of us eventually.

What then of hope? Is it a meaningless platitude? Was Nietzsche right when he wrote…

In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.

Or is there hope yet for those facing death? This is such an important question and yet so often it doesn’t get asked. We become so consumed with life here and now, that we don’t pause to consider the inevitability of our death. I may not have cancer when I die, but I will still die. Is there hope for me? Is there hope for any of us?

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
(1 Corinthians 15:18-19)

God’s Word tells me that the answer is YES! There is hope beyond death and it’s found in Jesus Christ. I long for people to know the certainty of this hope. This is a hope that stands on the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If Jesus is alive today, then there is hope beyond cure. There is hope beyond death.

(first published in macarisms.com on 2/5/13)

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Pain

pain
in my chest
an invader
yet part of me
sharp
dull
squeezing
grabbing
piercing
pulsing
throughout the day
as I wake at night
an ever present reminder
of my mortality

(first published in macarisms.com on 18/4/13)

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Our time is in God’s hands

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  (Psalm 90:12)

My days are numbered. So are yours. There’s no point in denying it or ignoring it. It’s a fact we can’t overcome. What matters is how we choose to spend the days we have. Will we waste them away in meaningless trivia? Or will we make them count? My prayer is that I will number my days. Not literally count them down, because I don’t have sufficient information to do this. But understand deeply that they are limited, so that I use the time I have wisely.

I want my life to count for eternity, not by making a name for myself. It would soon be forgotten anyway. But by bringing honour and glory to God. By declaring his praises. By drawing people to his love and kindness. By showing people to the gateway of heaven, Jesus Christ. He alone is the way, the truth and the life.

In December last year, I celebrated a year since my cancer diagnosis in a rather strange and almost eerie way. I was invited to speak at the same conference I’d spoken at the year before. This was the conference I was attending when I was admitted to hospital. To tell the truth, I didn’t expect to be at another conference, let alone give the opening talk again. God had other plans! It seemed fitting to speak on Psalm 90. This is a psalm that highlights our weakness and mortality.  It calls us to fess up to who we are, to get real about our limitations, and to make the most of the time given to us. There is a rawness to this psalm and it spoke powerfully to my circumstances.

I believe it speaks to us all and the wise course is to consider it very carefully. I recommend you take the time to read over Psalm 90 and ask God for wisdom to help you number your days.

(extract from macarisms.com on 17/4/13)

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Try a little kindness

Little acts of kindness may not seem like much, but they can go a long way and have a lasting impact. They bless the recipient and that’s good enough. But sometimes they can become contagious. What you receive, you pass on to others. If others get caught in the acts as well, and they become infected, and the kindness continues … WOW! You could even start an epidemic of kindness. How good would that be?!

I don’t watch much so called ‘reality’ television, but there’s something about the acts of kindness shows that tugs at the heartstrings. Sure, they’re more BIG acts of kindness, like doing up the back yard, or changing rooms, or winning the holiday of a lifetime. But how good is it to see people who are down on their luck, getting a treat. To see the tears of joy. To share in the experience.

We can create our own experiences. We don’t need lots of time, money, skills, expertise, or television crews. We can start with little things. And the place to start is with our eyes wide open. It begins with seeing beyond what’s going on in our own lives and noticing the needs of others. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Who do you know who could do with a little act of kindness? Someone doing things a bit tough? A single mum struggling on her own… or dad? Someone recently separated from their spouse? An unemployed friend? A neighbour whose yard has got beyond them? Is there someone you haven’t seen for a while? Perhaps they could do with a call or a visit? Who might appreciate a meal dropped around? Or the kids minded for the afternoon? Or some movie tickets? Maybe your mum has been overwhelmed by all that’s going on and you could pay for a massage for her? Do you know individuals or families who might never get invited out? Why not have them over to your place?

Sometimes people’s problems don’t go away. Bereavement and loss. Chronic pain or fatigue. Depression or anxiety. The serious illness, such as cancer. It may seem like there isn’t much we can do. But, let me encourage you to think again. Maybe there’s something you could offer that would just make things a little easier. In fact, it might make all the difference in the world. It could be as simple as popping over for a cup of tea. Maybe you could offer to read the Bible with them or pray for them. If you offer anything, please make sure you follow up on it. Little things show that you are still thinking of them. They indicate that you care. They demonstrate commitment. They’re not hard to do. Little acts of kindness can make a very big impact.

I thank God for the little things that people have done for us. For the gifts, the visits, the calls, the practical help, the messages. And the prayers. A little prayer to our awesome God is a kindness of huge proportions. Thank you.

(first published on macarisms.com on 7/4/13)

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New life on Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday. Resurrection Sunday. The day Jesus Christ rose from the grave and first appeared to his disciples. The first day of the week. The first day of a new life, a glorious future, for all eternity, with the God of all grace. What a day! Then and now.

chins2For you, Bronwyn, a day of glorious change. Like a butterfly, transformed from a caterpillar, only far more beautiful. All that was damaged and dying has been resurrected in wonder and joy. Weakness has been raised in power. The perishable has clothed itself with the imperishable. The earthly has been replaced with the heavenly. The mortal with immortality. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The sting of death has been taken away.

You now dwell with your God and Father. You are his precious child. Your tears have been wiped away. Your cancer has gone. You are suffering no longer.

Nothing could separate you from the love of Christ. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, could separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You are now with Christ, which is better by far.

You are loved. You are missed. Your husband, your children, your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You inspired so many with your kindness and love. Your joy in the midst of sorrow. Your fighting spirit. Your love for your family. Your patient endurance in the face of suffering. Your concern for others. Your testimony to Jesus. Your passion for God’s glory. Your strong hope of life in God.

Bronwyn, you have shown us faith and hope and love in the face of death. We thank you. We miss you.

(first published on macarisms.com on 2/4/13)

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