I WAS NUMB, but deep inside I knew what he was talking about. “What do you mean by ‘nodule?’”, I asked my Gastroenterologist. I had to know but wasn’t sure I wanted to. The unthinkable for the majority of males over 50 was happening to me, and by June 11, 2016, it was confirmed: I had prostate cancer.
Frustration was the first word that came to mind. I was going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life. I’m a “doer,” so I don’t like to be distracted by the facts. I rise to a challenge and move through the obstacles standing between me and my goals. But, this kind of cancer makes you wait. “Active surveillance” or “watchful waiting,” as the Urologists label it, means never a day goes by that you don’t think about the “C” word, even though, as my doctor said, “It’s the best kind of cancer to have.” If that wasn’t odd enough, he also said, “The only thing working against you is your young age.” So, if I were 72 instead of 52, I might outlive this usually slow-growing type of cancer?
By May of 2017, a PSA increase, an MRI, and another biopsy revealed that the small, unusual nodule now had a name— “tumor”—and it had doubled in size.
Words I had spoken so often to others now looped through my mind:
Circumstances don’t make you, but reveal you.
A difficult situation reveals where you are in your faith journey.
What comes out when you’re squeezed? Whatever’s inside.
Suffering is not God’s way of making you miserable; it’s God’s way of making you.
God’s not interested in changing your circumstances until He has used your circumstances to change you.
If you get out of the trial you’re in, you won’t get much out of the trial you’re in.
A revelation of Christ always comes in contrast to a revelation of your flesh.
Now, it was my turn to practice what I preach. Test day was upon me.
I responded to my trial in a variety of ways: some emotional, some spiritual, and some practical. Of course, I prayed to be delivered from this trial. I followed my doctor’s orders. I did my research and read books. I even met with six different doctors from three states representing four different treatment options: surgery, proton therapy, high dose radiation (HDR), hormones. Hearing about the side-effects made me want to talk to patients more than doctors, so I interviewed survivors of prostate cancer with a multitude of medical and extremely personal questions. Who knew there were so many survivors all around me?
Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? So, I bought a juicer, changed my diet, thinking if I got aggressive enough maybe I could out-run the dysfunctional cells. But the risk was more than I could chance, and the odds of not winning the race were too great to gamble on.
I had no choice. I had nothing left to do but to trust God. I surrendered under the heart-felt and Spirit-filled prayers as hands were laid on me and as I was anointed with oil. But healing did not arrive in the way I wanted. Eventually, I settled where the peace of God directed me for treatment — to the very option I resisted from the start: surgery.
When the morning of surgery finally arrived on November 29, 2017, several nurses guided the gurney through the double doors, then down a subway tiled corridor. “The coolness helps with germs I suppose,” I overtly observed. The nurse agreed as she said hello to her colleagues, each one on task as their morning shift commenced. We turned a corner and several, numbered, stainless steel, barn-style doors lined each side of the hallway. The door labeled #2 opened, and I felt like I was being rolled into a deep-freezer.
The operating room was spacious and white. There was a large-screen TV, the word DaVinci stenciled to several sophisticated machines, one with multiple, stainless steel arms, each one covered in plastic. As my gurney parallel parked beside a padded table in the center of the room, a male voice instructed me to slide over into position.
Nurses were on every side of me now. One covered my feet with a warm blanket. Another took my left hand, which was already “pierced” with an IV where the anesthesia meds would soon trickle through. A third took my right hand and strapped it outward, away from my body, securing it to an extended portion of the table. “We don’t want you to fall off the table,” he said. Finally, someone “crowned” my mouth and nose with an oxygen mask. “Take a few deep breaths for me. This should help you relax.”
It was impossible for me to not realize that my body was securely fastened in a position similar to Jesus on the cross. There was no turning back. ‘By His stripes we are healed,’ I thought.
As I was anticipating the glorious fact that I would not feel or remember any part of this operation, I prayed out loud, “May God guide your hands.”
In that moment, I identified with Christ in a way I’ll never forget, feeling Paul’s prayer: that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Phil. 3:10, ESV). It was as though Christ’s life was transposed over mine, like a double exposure overlay in an old-fashioned film lab. I was suffering; He was suffering with me. I was being healed; He was healing me. Of course, my pain was peanuts in comparison to His, but death was the common threat. And because He faced it and conquered it, I could now rest in His resurrection power, knowing death could never conquer me. My life was hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Even if death swallowed me, I knew Jesus swallowed death in victory (1 Cor. 15:54), so I was victoriously secure in Him.
From the beginning, I wanted to be delivered from this cross, from cancer and from surgery, and I prayed to that end. But instead, God chose to deliver me through it, just like Jesus. He, too, begged for another way. But the Father knew the cross was the only way. Jesus submitted to the Father’s will, and by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53).
Less than a year later, I am triple-zero cancer-free (PSA 0.00). I wouldn’t wish prostate cancer on anyone, but I wouldn’t trade the faith journey either. I came to know Jesus Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship in His sufferings in a way I could have never known apart from this experience. That’s kingdom living. We must praise Him, trust Him, and let His joy be our strength. An ever-present help in time of need.