How I'm learning to get the power of FAITH in my life
(& How to Help a Loved One Facing Cancer)

Should you worry about things even if you believe in God? This is a true story about myself and what I’ve learned about faith in the last few years through my dad’s struggle through cancer and its treatments. (Just so I will not lose 95% of potential readers of my story, I probably want to preface this by saying that while I am Christian & have a deep respect & devotion to God, I do not belong to any specific church, I do not go to church, & I promise that I will not force any "are you saved?" messages down your throat.  I simply know that God is real and that I must try to live by His commandments so that I may develop a character that is pleasing to Him. That’s it—no more preaching than that will be found here.)  But to anyone that wants to learn how I am trying to develop my Faith and how I think one should deal with the trauma of a loved one facing cancer, please read on.

I’ve learned a lot throughout the past few years. My father, whom I’m very close to (both by friendship and by residence-- my husband and I live about a mile away from my parents) was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and was given a 20% chance of survival by his doctors. He had a tumor in his throat the size of a softball. Fortunately, it hadn’t really spread though; it was a slow growing type of cancer (squamous adeno carcinoma, for those of you curious). He was 59 when cancer was diagnosed on January 15, 1998.

I, we, the whole family, was devastated. We quite naturally went through the normal reactions—shock, denial, resentment and anger, then acceptance. It’s the part after acceptance that I want you to prepare yourself for though. That is the part that is most important to your survival & perhaps theirs too.

First though, let me quickly take you through our story. When the doctors diagnosed him with cancer, we were all in shock. Especially my dad. Everyone close to him knew that he had been sick though—he was tired all the time, he hurt all the time, and he smoked all the time. After all we know now, it should have been obvious to us what was wrong, but we just didn’t know much about cancer or serious illnesses and surely didn’t think that it would strike one of us.  Before dad was diagnosed, he hardly ever complained really. He just kept to himself more than usual and was perhaps a little more cranky that he normally was. We didn’t know that his life and energy was steadily being zapped by deadly cancer cells. We didn’t know that he was eating Advil like candy just to make some of the pain go away.

My dad had always been strong and very healthy, never going to the hospital or a doctor for anything. But, he smoked for over 45 years. It’s bizarre now to remember how shocked we all were to find out he had cancer after knowing these problems that he had.  But my dad was always the leader, the kind of guy that told the jokes at all the parties and functions, the kind of guy that everyone came to when they had a problem.  My dad was always the tough guy, the one that had the courage to rise up against others if he thought it was necessary and he automatically defended those things that he felt needed defending. My dad was simply too strong to get cancer and to get sick—we were all shocked that he might not beat this.  My dad had always beat everything--he was too mean to get cancer!  :-)

After the initial shock wore away, so many of us simply started to deny it.  I don’t mean denying the diagnosis, I mean that we denied how serious it really was and convinced ourselves that a 20% chance of survival was great!!  My mom and I played the part of cheerleaders and treated this serious case of cancer like a toothache—knowing that dad could handle it, no problem!  

Hint #1--Here’s a word of advice: Don’t do this to your loved one. Don’t play cheerleader when the game is this serious.  Encouraging, yes--always encouraging.  But cheerleading, no.  Now I see that the more that we denied the severity of the situation, the more we said "Go get 'em team!", the more stress we put on dad to be perfect and to be strong and to survive.  Well you know what? Not everyone survives, but even if they do, they’re not always going to be strong.  Sometimes even the strongest patient has got to be scared, angry, and want to give up.  So don’t actually push someone into being stronger than they can afford to be.  Not now, not during this momentous episode in their lives. They have enough to deal with without worrying about disappointing your expectations of them too.

Finally, after denial of one form or another, one reaches the acceptance stage. This stage is the stage in which you start wondering what will happen if what you are praying to happen (survival) just doesn’t happen.  This is the stage in which the worry and anxiety reaches a new higher level.  You wonder what you will do after the tragedy strikes, what will your family do, how will you ever deal with it…all these thoughts run through your mind while at the same time you also feel a little guilty for feeling so stressed since, after all, the tragedy hasn’t even happened, yet.  This entire stage of acceptance becomes a form of preparing yourself for the worst. In my situation, I accepted the possibility of my dad’s death, his undeniably horrible struggle and pain that he will endure while facing this sickness, and him being gone from my life forever. This acceptance stage hurts; it’s awful and painful.  I suppose that it’s a natural progression of our human feelings when we are faced with such circumstances, but how long should you stay in this stage?   Is it helpful?  What can you gain of value from this early grief that has originated from your "what ifs" and not the current reality?  

I think that you need to gain the confidence from these worrisome thoughts that you will be all right, regardless. Your life is your life and you determine its value and goodness, not by others around you, but by what you do and how you react towards others and circumstances around you.  I think that the horrible fatalistic stage that you go through needs to evolve to simply a determination for yourself that you will pull yourself together and survive no matter what. And what if you can’t reach this level of confidence? Then you are not yet to the stage of acceptance and are still in denial, thinking that all will all go away, "It must otherwise I will never survive it!"  For your own survival, you must accept reality and face the possibility. Once faced, stiffen up your jaw and resolve that you will be okay anyway.  You will handle it. You will handle the darkest days of his sickness.  You will be strong when he is so weak.  You will sometimes be afraid and grieving over his pain, but you will handle it.  Try to gain this confidence in yourself from acceptance.  Decide to.  It's all a decision.  After you've made this decision & determination that you will be okay, then & only then do I think you can really help your loved one. 

Just by seeing the way that different members of my family reacted after they finally accepted my dad’s sickness, I’ve concluded that there are two basic routes to take after seeing how serious it all is. 

Most people, I think, take the path that shies away from the problem, knowing in their mind that it’s all just a matter of time and that death is near.  They are already saddened and mourning and have already begun to wear black so that they won’t be devastated when it happens. I think that I understand why people do this, but I want so badly to convince you to never do this when faced under these circumstances.  The reason, I think, that people develop this fatalistic attitude is because it gives them a shield to defend their hearts from breaking when the tragedy strikes.   It's a defense mechanism.  If they have been preparing for and acting like the tragedy has inevitably happened, they will already be half way through the mourning stage, since they have already been mourning. It makes sense, doesn’t it that it would probably hurt less to lose someone dear to you if you were prepared and anticipated it, right?  To this defense mechanism, I say "Well, so what?"!  Your loved one cannot afford for you to start mourning now!  No matter how much it might protect your heart & how much you think you act positively around your loved one, you must decide not to start mourning now!  Do you think that people can only communicate through the spoken word?  Don't you think perhaps that your loved one can feel your real thoughts of fatalism?  You'll have lots of time to mourn later if necessary--& it might be--but now is not the time!  People that protect themselves like this are lacking faith, true faith.   You might even think that you have faith but you really don’t if you are preparing for the worst.  I understand that it’s only human to worry and be frightened in times of trouble, and I don’t think that we can completely deny all doubt, but if we want to have Faith in God, we must strive to defeat doubt.  We must decide to replace our fleeting thoughts of hope with intense and determined Faith in God. So many people have hope, not faith. They hope everything will be all right, but doubt it. FATIH IS A DECISION & FAITH MUST NOT HAVE DOUBT!  

I have to give credit to my mother who woke me up about having faith through dad's whole ordeal. I had reached this point of acceptance about my dad’s illness, knowing that he was in great pain, praying daily that he would come out of it, and hoping that he would be my old dad again. I was acting tough and strong on the outside, but I was still worried and afraid on the inside. I had lots of hope, but not a lot of real faith. My mom on the other hand was full of faith. Seeing our differences, I confronted her once about it and tried to make her see how dire things were and that she needed to think about the future. She didn’t seem as worried as I was and I just couldn’t understand it!  What was wrong with her?! She asked me "why should I worry anymore?".  She had worried & thought about all the consequences, but decided to not worry anymore.  The Lord teaches us that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.  She explained faith to me through scripture.

For instance, in Matthew 9:29  we are taught about two blind men that believed in Jesus and believed that He could heal them. It reads,
"Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you." And they were healed according to their faith." 
Here’s the point: these blind men probably never thought, "Oh gee, Jesus probably can’t do it, or even if He can, He won’t do it for me…I wish he would, but…" Jesus healed them "according to their faith", remember, because they believed—not because they just hoped for.  Faith is not a wish when you blow out the candles.

Another example of what I’m talking about is this story from Matthew that explains why we must have blind faith: Matthew 15:22 reads, 
"And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto Him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.  But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.  But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.  But He answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.  And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.  Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." 
See? Here was a woman that was at first even rejected by Jesus, I may even infer that His will was not going to help her, yet, through the faith that the woman had and her persistence knowing that Jesus could help her daughter, Jesus paid heed and healed her. This mother decided that the only way that her daughter would be healed was through Jesus, and she decided that she had to make Jesus hear her pleas. She was determined to ask Jesus for help and knew that if she could only persuade Him, that he could save her daughter.

My mother made me wonder this: What could I possibly I lose if I decided to just let go of my suspicions, my worries, my apprehensions?  What dangers could possibly befall me if I decided to have a child-like blind faith in God that dad would survive?  What is the very worst that could happen? After some serious considerations, I realized that at the very worst, I would absolutely feel devastated if my dad lost his battle and died of cancer after all my pleading to God. But you know what? I realized that no matter how much I might anticipate my dad’s death, I wouldn’t be prepared and I would be devastated regardless.   

So, I figured, what the heck? The very little bit of protection that I might feel later by building a wall around my heart now was not worth sacrificing my dad’s only hope for survival--or at least the only way I could offer him any help.  How could I possibly deny dad of that?  If I could help to convince God that I believe that He has the power to save my dad’s life, perhaps God’s will could be changed and my dad would survive. So I decided to let go of my worry and truly have faith that God could and would save my dad’s life. –And if He didn’t, I would learn why and accept it later.  Now I do know that He loves us enough to not respond to us when He sees it does us good not to—I believe in "God’s will". I realize that He knows what His children need whether we think He's right or not.  But I was determined to communicate to God and to give him good reasons as to why He should help my family.  If God is a real, thinking, living being, then I don’t think that "God’s will" is a script that must be followed, but instead "God’s will" is determined by His decisions as He so wisely decides.  

Daily I prayed to God to shrink the tumor and to heal my dad. I stopped prefacing my prayers with "thy will be done", but instead prefacing them with, "please God, let it be your will to save dad…". I did not merely ask for dad’s survival, by the way, but I tried to explain to God why my dad needed to survive.  I explained to God what a benefit it would be to God to save my dad’s life. I also told God that I did understand that He knows all and will shape our lives as He sees fit, that He will direct our lives according to His will and not only do I accept his will, but I’m thankful for it.  I constantly praised God for healing dad, even when it wasn’t so obvious that dad was healing. I knew that God would take care of him—I really did. 

So what happened? From the very beginning, my dad was suffering with constant massive headaches. His huge tumor was pressing against his carotid artery and also nerves that ran to his head. This pressure on these nerves gave him awful pain. Once his problem was diagnosed, his doctor kept him on constant medication, so his pain was numbed a bit. So from the beginning, he was in pain, numbed, and his thinking was a bit fuzzy.

For his first start toward treatment, my dad had to have all of his teeth removed. The doctors planned on treating his cancer with radiation and anticipated some problems with his teeth becoming infected from it. So, all of his teeth were extracted and his jaw was smoothed out. He had to recoup for weeks after that before any treatments on the cancer began. Remember too, that without teeth, he could no longer eat solid foods. No more steak, hamburgers, french fries, apples, carrots, chicken, pork chops, potato chips…those pleasures were gone.

Then dad was to begin his chemotherapy. He was scheduled for two separate rounds of five day hospitalized chemotherapy treatments that was to give him the chemicals 5FU and cisplatin intravenously. Dad hadn’t been in the hospital since he had his tonsils removed when he was a kid. A hospital stay and IVs also meant that he had to finally quit smoking. Yes, he still smoked. He had gradually slowed down though, but he still smoked. If you wonder why some of us in the family didn’t throw away all his cigarettes or hide them or have a massive ultimatum fight with him, it is for this reason: He had to make the decision to fight this disease and before his hospitalization I think he was still contemplating it.  Remember, 20% chance…not great odds for courageous fighting, no matter what the prize.  Knowing that he couldn’t easily leave his hospital room to smoke, he asked his doctor for nicotine patches and he did it. From that first Monday of chime till today, he hasn’t smoked one cigarette.  He now claims that if he would have known how easy it was to quit, he would have done it years ago.

Chemotherapy is some challenge to say the least. My mom and I stayed with dad during both of his chemotherapy weeks in the hospital. My wonderful husband was so understanding to not feel neglected during this period and was a jewel taking care of our household and my folks too. What I learned about chemotherapy is that no matter how strong you are, chemotherapy will be dreadful, don’t think it won’t. The pain and discomfort that I saw my dad experience was awful, but all the while everyone knew that these chemicals were meant to kill the cancer. The very first and second day of dad’s chemo was not too bad, he handled everything pretty well. It was the third day of dad’s first round of chemo that was the worst day in my whole year. Not only was he getting sick (vomiting, nausea, etc.), but the chemicals were affecting his brain. That Wednesday, he wasn’t making any sense at all and I just didn’t know what to think. It’s one thing to see someone you love lose a limb, eyesight, hearing, etc., but while these are things that are important parts of a person, but is not what makes a person.  It is the character and spirit of a person that make them who they are, it is this intelligence that distinguishes us from other animals—and dad was losing it.  I was scared this day.  I prayed and prayed and prayed, but I was still scared.  I understand now how horrible it must be to see someone you love develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The next day, Thursday, he was still sick and miserable, but his mind was back, thank God. At this point, he couldn’t eat anything and just the thought or smell of food would cause him to gag. But, it was about this far into chemo that we could tell that the tumor was shrinking. We really could and so we were all encouraged, most importantly, my dad.

He was released Friday night and we drove home. We live about an hour and a half from the hospital, so it was a tough trip for dad. We had to stop a couple times for him to get sick. But he was home to recoup now and to prepare his body for the next chemo week.

I can’t remember exactly, but I think his next treatment was scheduled three or four weeks later. He was to endure the same exact treatment because the last dosage had a huge affect on the tumor. (That and prayers!) He really dreaded going this time. He anticipated such sickness that his nausea started before he even received any chemicals. I think that he physically took his second week of treatment better than the first one, but he hated it more. He never even tried the hospital food this time. He just got sick all the time and hated being there.  Without him really saying it, I could tell that he felt trapped and without any choice but to endure the chemotherapy. 

He was frustrated, disgusted and wanted out. (And who wouldn’t!) About Wednesday, I talked to him and tried to help him see that he always has a choice.  I was so scared to tell him, but I explained that he could call the nurses in, tell them to take the IVs out and go home if he wanted to.  It was his life, his body and he could choose whatever he wanted to do with it.  He was so sick of being there, I really thought that he might just do that. But, thankfully, he didn’t and slowly, he stopped hating it so much and started spending his time putting puzzles together and watching television with me. (between gagging and trying to eat)  Whew.

The last week of chemotherapy was over, thank goodness. Dad went back home to recuperate and build up his strength for radiation treatments. The tumor kept shrinking, but was definitely still there. Radiation began weeks later and 38 daily treatments were scheduled for him. The first week was alright, but slowly, the radiation became pretty horrible too, in its own way. Everyday his internal burning continued until he sometimes couldn’t swallow. When this happened he had to skip a few days to allow his body to heal. Weeks passed, the tumor was gradually shrinking more, and finally when his treatments were all finished, we couldn’t see his tumor anymore. He was sent home to recover for at least a month after his last radiation treatment before any tests would be made.

It’s been a over 4 years now and still the tests are coming back with him being cancer free. The doctors don’t call him "cured" of cancer or in remission until it’s been five years, but so far so good. Glory be to God for saving my dad. I told God while I prayed for dad’s battle that I would praise Him forever for saving my father, and that’s what I’m doing. God worked through the doctors that made the right decisions, God worked through the technicians that performed all the treatments flawlessly, and God took his hand and touched my dad to heal him. I believe that with all my heart—I know that dad was given a second chance.

I hope that this has given you hope in your life that no matter what the odds, that withme.jpg (160616 bytes) a strong Faith in God, anything can happen.  I know that it has given me hope in all things. God gives me hope in all things.  Praise God.

(Written by Renee' Meglan)

 

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