“You have a fifty-percent chance of survival.” As I laid in a free bed in Chang Gang Memorial Hospital in Taiwan, these words uttered by my doctor caused my heart to sink. I was strong for a moment…until the doctor left the room.
It was about 9pm, and I was in the hospital by myself. I had been there for a week while the doctors did all sorts of blood tests, scans, etc. The doctor came into my room and said they had concluded that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and that they would need to do a series of biopsies to confirm the diagnosis. Immediately after the doctor left, I looked up what Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was on Wikipedia. Finding out that it was cancer in the first few sentences of the article, my body shut down. A fear I hadn’t ever felt welled up in me and manifested itself in tears. I cried. I cried like a baby for maybe ten minutes. My week had started with a stomach ache and fever with me thinking that I had food poisoning, and it ended with news of cancer spreading throughout my body.
I had been engaged to be married for about a month at this point. I texted Erica (who is now my wife), “Please come to the hospital as soon as you can after work.” I didn’t want to tell her because her dad had just recovered from liver cancer. He had half of his liver removed and was recovering well, but the stress of the situation economically, physically, spiritually, and emotionally takes its toll. I didn’t want her to have to deal with that again. Shortly after finding out that I had cancer, we learned that her uncle and aunt both contracted liver cancer. It has been a tough time for the whole family.
Erica arrived at the hospital, and I told her the news. We cried together, and the questions started pouring into my scattered and frail mind. “Why?”, I thought. Unimaginable thoughts of God punishing me came to the forefront of my mind. “What had I done?” “How had I sinned?” “Had I lost favor with God and wandered from His grace, shelter, protection, healing…?” These thoughts were lingering, and I had to deal with them quickly. “Maybe it wasn’t that I had sinned, but I had exposed myself to a bad diet, or chemicals, or…or….what!?” I was a man who had lost control of his own destiny. A man whose life was hanging by a thread. A man who desperately wanted answers but had none.
The next day, I found out that I more likely had a ninety-percent chance of survival with proper treatment. That was much needed good news and a bit of relief for my worried family. I was told that I had to go under the knife to confirm the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis. The surgeons did a series of biopsies that were more or less horribly painful experiences. My body was becoming more and more frail as I had been cut with knives and poked with needles continuously for three weeks. I just didn’t want to feel any more pain.
The doctors told me that I could go home and that I would need to start chemotherapy treatments the next week. The total treatments recommended for stage III Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is sixteen. That is treatment every other week for eight months. So far, I have done eight. Half way through. Chemo is no walk in the park. Nausea, vomitting, loss of appetite, weight loss, and the inability to work very much has made me want to quit at various times throughout the last four months.
Yet through all this, I have felt God’s love and provision more than ever in my life. I have come to understand that really believing in God as your Father is an altruistic human ability especially in the midst of crisis. You have to have training and understanding beyond man’s wisdom. It has been about two and a half years since I left Antioch. I can see how God used the time I lived in the house and was the house pastor for two years to prepare me for my current situation.
As humans, we have the tendency to think that our works or acts are attached to God’s favor. This is why in ancient times, people groups would sacrifice even humans to appease the gods and earn their blessings. Christ tells us not to fear the world because He has overcome the world.
John 16:33 states,
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
and John 14:27 states,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
He truly gives those who follow him a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7). In Philippians, Paul tells us that this peace will guard our hearts and minds. Paul knew this as he was writing this letter from prison. He was content whether he was abased or abounding. He could sing worship songs in prison. This is NOT a natural human gift, but a gift from God. It is a fruit of the Spirit.
Many people have said to me, “I can’t believe this is happening to you. You were such a good person.” It is just like the disciples who asked Jesus about a blind man,
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:2-3)
Instead of believing that I or my parents have sinned in some way and am deserving of this cancer as punishment for my sin, I have chosen rather to see that God has saved my life to display His glory and love.
When I started feeling sick, my fiancé told me that I should go to the hospital to see what was going on. I would never have gone to the hospital on my own because (due to past experience) I do not particularly like doctors, and I am also a stupid and prideful man. If they wouldn’t have taken me to the hospital, I might not have found out that I had cancer because I had no symptoms whatsoever. The doctors still don’t know if the stomach ache and fever I had was related to the lymphoma.
Also, I had been working for six months in Taiwan and had good health insurance. With all my surgeries, prescription drugs, and three-week stay in the hospital, I only paid around $150 to $200. If I would have been in the U.S. during this period, I probably would have been bankrupt.
It is hard, however, to be away from family and friends in the U.S., but I have been so blessed here in Taiwan with a new family that truly cares for me. I have seen us grow closer than we ever would have without this struggle.
As I continue to work here in Taiwan and learn the difficult Chinese language, I pray that my life is used to impact the people here for God’s glory. Only three-percent of the population is Christian and many are in desperate need to know a God who loves and cares for them.
The question still remains, “How did I get cancer?” I can honestly say that I nor the doctors know exactly how it happened. It can be from a number of causes including: bad diet, deficient immune system, pollution, heredity, and a number of other things. Cancer is becoming more of an epidemic around the world every year. From research that I have done, it is caused by some things that you have control over and some not. Those exposed to radiation, in Japan, from the nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on their country didn’t really have a choice on whether they contracted the disease or not. However, many of us in the U.S. are getting these diseases from the foods that we are putting into our bodies. We do have a choice on what to eat, whether we exercise, and whether we get a proper amount of sleep.
Over the last one hundred years of human history, our ways of life have drastically changed with the advent of the “Oil Age”. Throughout this experience, my eyes have been opened to a number of harmful things that we are allowing in our lives systemically speaking. My main area of concern is with our western diet, and I want to issue a warning to all of us who are young men. Please take consideration of what you eat and what ingredients are in the food that you consume. Our mass produced food culture has to go, and as Christian men, we should be leading the way and not “eating the king’s meat” so to speak. God’s creation is good and beautiful, but man has tampered with it more in the last few years than at any time in previous history. Know that yes, we are a fallen people and have been cursed with death. Every one of us must die someday, but as a man of God you must be aware of the current state of affairs and how you can protect yourself and your family. I don’t want to tell you what you can or can’t eat, but just be aware of the corporate food system that our lives our intertwined in. Do your own research and investigate these things for yourself and your family. Be very wary of food products that are provided for you to consume by institutions whose primary concern is to increase their share price for their stockholders. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I can see that the current food system can and will have dire consequences that God never intended and does not desire for His children.
A leading factor in many diseases is a poor diet. This is a cultural problem. Many of us, especially guys do not know how to cook. We don’t know how, and we don’t have time. So what do we do? We just grab a pizza or a hamburger and dinner is served. I did this during my tenure at Oregon State all the time. It is easy and fast and tastes good. That is the problem.
If I can leave you with two things it would be this: nurture your spiritual walk so that you are prepared for the crazy times that life will most certainly bring, and nurture your physical body with a good diet and exercise. The first Christians were not afraid of death because they truly believed Christ was the firstfruits of the resurrection and that they would be resurrected in the second coming. Nothing the Roman Empire could do could waver their faith in Christ. Jesus invited them to participate in His kingdom. It is a different kind of system where you are called to love your enemies, bless those who persecute, have peace in the midst of trials, and give to the poor. All these things were against the culture of their day and are still very applicable today. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. It is a narrow road that only a few have traveled. The young men at Antioch can and should lead the way.