Anger, Cancer, Depression, When Cancer Comes Home, Words of Endurance

And if one member suffers,
all the members suffer with it…
The apostle Paul referring to the family of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:26

Many people know that I had cancer, but many people don’t know that although I was a patient, I wasn’t the only one who suffered. My whole family battled cancer. Not one of us escaped its grasp.

When cancer comes home, every member of the family is launched on a new and challenging journey. Nobody knows quite what to do. Jan and I didn’t know what to do. We bumbled our way through it. We handled some things remarkably well, but in other ways we fell flat on our faces.

From the very beginning, we were totally honest with our children. That was good. It was also scary, especially when amputation became necessary. You see, our six-year-old son Jonathan was afraid of people who had physical handicaps. If he saw a child who was deformed, he panicked. He ran away from children in wheelchairs. Although we did our best to prepare him for the amputation of my arm by telling him the truth, answering his questions, and addressing his fears, we didn’t know how he would respond.

When I came home following the amputation, Jonathan stared at me for a long time. Then he ran outside and gathered up his friends. They called me into the garage and Jonathan said, “Dad, take off your shirt. Show ’em where they cut your arm off.” So I did. They all looked at the fresh wound and said, “Oh, gross!” then they ran outside to play. That was how Jonathan broke the ice and began accepting what had happened to me. Today he no longer fears physical handicaps. Instead, a deep compassion for those who suffer has been built into his character.

I wish I could say that Jan and I handed cancer as a couple as well as we did with our children, but we didn’t. Just as intense heat brings the impurities in gold ore to the surface, the pressure of cancer brings a couple’s flaws and impurities into the open. Jan describes that time best: “For a time, Dave was angry. Although I knew his heart and didn’t lack love for him, I didn’t like seeing that ugly side of him. And I didn’t handle my role as caretaker well. I ended up depressed, burned out, and guilt-ridden. At the time my husband really needed me, I fell apart. My weakness was frustrating to both of us.” Despite our unfailing commitment to one another, we fell apart to the point that my parents needed to come into our home and care for us for six weeks because Jan and I had become incapable of doing it ourselves.

We don’t know exactly what you face on your cancer journey because every individual and family responds to the demands of cancer in their own way. But we do know that cancer is difficult for everyone in the family and that each member’s response has a dramatic impact on the other members. Some people are able to pull together and work through the process. They don’t experience the same things Jan and I experienced. Other families are just like us and have to deal with difficult, often ugly, issues. And in some families, the crisis is so great that the marriage doesn’t survive.

We certainly don’t have all the answers. We don’t offer a formula of dos and don’ts when cancer comes home. But we are willing to share a glimpse of our cancer experience and the experiences of others in the hope that it will encourage you and help you press on and endure the journey as a family. You are not alone in dealing with these issues. Many other families, through loving acceptance of one another and open, honest communication, are learning how to deal with cancer when it comes home.


When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrow, and familiar with suffering.
Isaiah 53:3

When we suffer, when we feel abandoned in our pain, it can be so hard for us to know that God is with us or that He cares about our pain. Yet the Bible loudly proclaims the truth that God is with us, that we, in fact, cannot be separated from His love. Throughout the Scriptures, we read that He cares about us more than we can imagine.

But God does not leave us with merely the cold, objective fact of His love. He is with us in our suffering not only by virtue of His divine presence but also by virtue of the fact that He, too, has suffered. Thus, He shares in our pain because He, too, is a fellow sojourner through the valley of suffering.

How do we know this is true? We look at Jesus. Philip Yancey, in his book, When Life Hurts, describes Jesus as “the historical fact of how God responded to pain on earth. He gives the up-close and personal side of God’s response to human suffering. All our doubts about God and suffering should, in fact, be filtered through what we know about Jesus….The fact that Jesus came and suffered and died does not remove pain from our lives. Nor does it guarantee that we will always feel comforted. But it does show that God did not sit idly by and watch us suffer alone. He joined us and in His life on earth endured far more pain than most of us ever will.”

William Fintel, M.D. and Gerald McDermott, Ph.D., in their book, Dear God, It’s Cancer, have observed what Jesus reveals about God’s intimate involvement with us in suffering. They write:

Many Christians who have felt abandoned by God in their suffering have been comforted by remembering that even Jesus felt that way in His time of greatest stress. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried out while hanging naked on the cross. Jesus, too, discovered that in His supreme hour of pain God denied His agonized requests for relief. The Gospel writers portrayed Him sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His brutal scourging and crucifixion. He pleaded three times with God to “take this cup away from me.” And no sooner had He finished praying the third time than Judas and a contingent of soldiers appeared. His desperate appeal had been denied! God was going to abandon Him to the fullest rigors of agonizing death.

…Jesus’ crucifixion shows above all else the suffering heart of God. The Bible says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and that Jesus was God – the Word – made flesh. If Jesus was God in human form, God Himself experienced the act of supreme human suffering – hanging naked on the cross, with gnats and flies crawling over His wounds and soldiers mocking and spitting – for the sake of drawing us to Him.

If the cross was where God chose to reveal Himself most clearly, to perform His supreme saving act in human history, then we have a God who suffers. If God chose to reveal Himself in a man who was “acquainted with grief,” then we have a God who suffers. In fact, suffering appears at the very heart of who and what God is.

…If God in Christ suffered on the cross – then we cannot so readily accuse God of injustice when He allows us or our loved ones to be afflicted with pain…The God who cried out in pain when nails were driven through His wrists and ankles shares our pain and enters into our sorrows with His compassionate love.

As C.S. Lewis put it, we can know that, like a schoolteacher teaching a child how to print, God is holding our hand as we try to trace the difficult letters. Because we are following the example of a suffering God, our script need only be a copy, not an original. He can help us endure our pain because he suffered before us and still suffers with us.

Quote portions of this article from: Dear God, It’s Cancer, by William Fintel, M.D. and Gerald McDermott, Ph. D., Word Publishing, and When Life Hurts, by Philip Yancey. Multnomah Publishers, Inc. Used by permission.