Tag Archives: cancer

People with their hands raised

Surrender to Win

(A six minute read)

There was an obituary this week of someone who died from cancer. Yet again, the deceased was proclaimed to have ‘lost a battle’ with cancer. Why is it about winning or losing? Why is this dichotomy even mentioned at all?

Cancer treatment consumed my attention for eight tough months in 2019. But it also consumed my prayer life, and the prayer lives of many who love me. Our declaration was this: ‘Cancer is not my master. Jesus is my Master.’

Very simple yet very powerful. It reminded me of my identity and kept my eye on the solution instead of the problem. This, I have found, is the essence of evangelism.

Please – feel free to come to me with your problem. But when you are done describing it, then let me empathize, so we can turn our attention (through prayer) to the one who can solve it, the one who saves us. This standing at attention is also the essence of evangelism.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says the shepherd leaves the other 99 sheep and goes after the lost one. That’s what he did when he rescued me all those years ago. If you know Jesus, you know that’s what he did for you too. If you don’t yet know Jesus, ask sincerely, repeatedly and he’ll come and do it for you too.

That’s right. You have to surrender to win.

Meanwhile, Back to Cancer

Since my own deliverance from cancer two years ago, God has brought me in contact with an inordinate number of people who either are being treated for cancer or have someone dear to them who is. I share my healing story, and we pray. This is so we tell God we recognize his innate goodness, and thus can make the demand that he do it again. We have the authority.1

But this authority doesn’t come because we do spiritual battle to obtain victory. It’s because we recognize Jesus’ victory at the cross, and so we begin there. We surrender to him in order to release his victory into the earth.

We surrender to win.

This is why my teeth grate when I see that term ‘lost a battle with cancer’ because this warfare language diverts us from the truth. It distracts us from where we should focus: on the healer instead of on sickness. Focusing on disease makes the disease into the most powerful thing. Focusing on the healer reminds us of the most powerful Person. It keeps us right-side-up. It keeps the disease from infecting our identities as well as our bodies.

If I speak of ‘battling cancer’, it implies I think cancer has a good chance of winning. Or, that I somehow fail if I feel unwell, or ultimately don’t live. Likewise, ‘fighting cancer’ implies that it’s a battle I chose to engage in. ‘Surviving cancer’ makes it sound like that outcome is somehow merely a product of luck or coincidence or random chance.

I grieve with anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer, but I don’t find the idea of dying from it in any way ennobling. It’s not my place to fight, but to surrender.

About Identity

Many people refer to cancer as ‘my cancer’, as though they’ve taken ownership of it and grafted it onto their identity. They’ve allowed it to change how they see themselves. I know one man who bought a personalized car license plate that read ‘Sur5or.’ He couldn’t wait to have people ask him about it!

Truth: receiving a cancer diagnosis and getting treatment took up gross amounts of my 2019, and made life painful and inconvenient. Further truth: this was far from the most important thing to happen to me that year. When I’m not praying with someone about it, I rarely think about it at all. Ultimate truth: Cancer is not my master. Jesus is my Master.

More Unhelpful Ideas

Those of us being treated for cancer are described as ‘brave’, as though we had a choice about being treated.2 Calling it ‘The Big C’ brings in the Bogeyman Effect, meaning that cancer is a malevolent force that’s incapable of being tamed or controlled.

And then there are the day-to-day phrases, which are also unhelpful. ‘Coping’ implies that overcoming cancer is somehow not possible, and that I’m in a passive, powerless state.

To ‘deal with it’ says that it’s a nuisance that cannot be controlled.

‘Living with cancer’ tells me that it’s an invited guest.

Finally, for me to say ‘I have cancer’ has me stating that I’ve taken ownership of it. I refused to do that.

December 22, 2021 will be the two year anniversary of the day the Lord told me unequivocally that I was healed. Cancer will never plague me again, I’m certain of it. On the other hand the doctors will never proclaim that I’m ‘cured’ or ‘healed.’ They will only edge out far enough to say I’m ‘in remission.’

I find no freedom in that. ‘Remission’ keeps me in a waiting room and off the train. I remain captive to the idea that cancer will never go away, that it may be lurking around the corner. I’d be no healthier than the paranoiac who compulsively peeps outside to see who might be watching.

Even if I were to say that I ‘beat cancer’ there’s still an assumption that somehow I waged a battle I chose, that it was a war of my choosing. As I mentioned, my best option wasn’t to fight, but to surrender.

That’s the Biblical way. I can’t successfully attack the devil, I can only ‘stand’ against him, or ‘resist’ him3.

Speak Life Not Death4

Warfare words tell me nothing more than I’m afraid of cancer. I once was approached by a friend who ‘caught a cold.’ ‘Why did you have your hands out?’ I asked. The medics tried to give me a diagnosis of cancer, and I refused to accept it. I was treated at Guy’s Cancer-Free Centre5 in London, whose logo proclaims simply, ‘Guy’s Cancer.’ Fine – I didn’t want the cancer. I gave it to Guy.

I have yet to say ‘I have cancer’, ‘I had cancer’, ‘I am (or was) a cancer patient’. I would certainly never label myself a ‘cancer victim.’ It’s definitely not ‘my cancer.’ But I tell the truth. I tell people ‘I was treated for cancer.’

Crisis provokes one of two responses in the human heart. Face up to it, or run and hide. Here is our choice then: Turn to God and lean on him, or turn away and blame him for my problems. Faith or fear. Surrender, or fight. Those are my only options. There is no ‘wait and see.’ One of them always comes out in the end.

I decided in 2019 that I must embrace the way of faith, and reject fear. My expectations were to be set by God’s promises. He hadn’t carried me this far in life to drop me now. I spoke His truth, even when I didn’t believe it. I relied on Scripture, not medical journals for direction.

I surrendered, and won. I won the moment I surrendered.6

1. See Luke 10:19, Mark 16:17-18, Acts 1:8 and Acts 3:1-10
2. I guess we actually do have a choice. Christian Scientists take note.
3. See Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5
4. See Mark 11:23, Proverbs 18:7, 20-21
5. It’s actually named Guy’s Cancer Centre but I didn’t go there to get cancer, I went there to get free.
6. Psalm 37:5

This essay is adapted from my book The Lie Called Cancer.

Photo: Luis Quintero via Pexels

A piece of straw on the ground

Brother Lawrence Did Me Right

(A five-minute read)

A seemingly impossible task

Beginning at the New Year, my first day out of radiotherapy, I began a 40-day devotional by Harold Myra based on the writings of Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite monk featured in a now-beloved tract called ‘The Practice of the Presence of God.’

It’s a combination of conversations he had with his friend Father Joseph de Beaufort and letters Brother Lawrence wrote to others.

The essence of his teaching is how to align myself for an ongoing conversation with God. In those moments when I forget (and they are frequent!) I simply come back round, apologize for turning away, and start over. God’s grace is endless for this, because He greatly desires to be in a relationship with me, with you, with all of us.

In one famous passage it’s written of Brother Lawrence, ‘that he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.’

How can I come to such a simple and unassuming place in life?

Brother Lawrence taught me how: go forward by going backward. Define the goal and then step backward to where I stand. Then I retrace those steps back to the goal. I have a lifetime to arrive.

When I first approach God I’m in an unregenerate state (that’s a fancy theological word meaning I’m not born again in Christ). I’m stubborn and sinful, and stand obstinately in opposition, refusing to accept His love.

Then, for some reason, perhaps a personal crisis, perhaps an ‘aha’ moment, perhaps the silent inward working of the Holy Spirit, I decide to respond to God’s invitation and pursue Him.

That pursuit can only come after a long sequence of changes in me, as I retrace the steps toward the goal. Here’s how it works.

A process for pursuing God

I can’t pursue God until I desire Him.

However, I can’t desire Him until my desire for other things lessens.1

My desire for other things doesn’t diminish until I recognize who I truly am (in Christ).2

That true identity doesn’t become clear until I understand why I was created.3

An understanding of my purpose in life only appears when I decide my way isn’t working, and I humble myself to receive God’s grace.4

It’s a not-so-vicious circle. It began on my knees, but it actually took me somewhere. The Bible instructs us to do things ‘heartily as for the Lord’ and not for men.5 So even if I’m doing work for someone else, I pursue it as though I’m serving Christ directly. Even if I am merely picking up a piece of straw.

The phrase ‘as for the Lord’ in the Modern English Version is rendered ‘as to the Lord’ in the New King James and ‘as though you were working for the Lord’ in the New Living Translation. The Passion Translation suggests ‘as though you were doing it for the Lord Himself.’ The Message Bible reveals that I should ‘work from the heart for my real Master.’

Through it all, I must remain conscious of my imperfection. God can only use me if I’m aware of how inadequate I am. I stand best when I stand on my knees.

This post contains material written for, but not used, in my memoir The Lie Called Cancer, now on sale.

1. 1 John 2:15 – ‘Do not love the world of the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’
2. Romans 8:5-6 – ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.’
3. Proverbs 19:21 – ‘There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord will stand.’
4. Psalm 38:17:18 – ‘For I am ready to stumble, and my pain is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I am anxious because of my sin.’
5. Colossians 3:23-24 – ‘And whatever you do, do it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. For you serve the Lord Christ.’

Cystoscope - photo by Michael Reeve via Wikimedia Commons

My Story’s Far From Over

The Lie Called Cancer is now on sale in paperback; Kindle comes Monday.

(A three minute read)

If you haven’t yet read TLCC, some of this may get past you, but that’s okay. And, in all my generosity, you can read a free sample to fully know how wonderful it is before you order cases and cases of what is surely destined to be given as The Best Christmas Gift Of The Year.

Even as TLCC bursts onto the scene, humorously detailing my 2019 cancer treatment, my story continues.

Those doctors can be a suspicious and unconfident lot, but I love them for all that. I’ve healed 100% but they still want to poke around inside me in case they missed something. 

I had another one of those lovely cystoscopies in September. You know – the 14 mile journey with the big probe up into my bladder. Only one way to get there! However, now that this has been done many times, it’s not as frightening as it once was.

While the probe goes in and knocks around, I can now sit relaxed as one might while having a limb removed with a bone saw, cigarette and highball in hand, chatting with the medic. 

Seriously, it has actually backed off to the discomfort level predicted by NHS, as compared to the screaming-level pain I enjoyed the first time round.

Here’s the travelogue: ‘Normal urethra, non-obstructive prostate, meticulous examination of the bladder done without any recurrences masses or lesions detected.’

Meticulous indeed. 

So, What’s Next For Me?

I have contracted a case of NaNoWriMo. No, that’s not a medical condition. It’s short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to produce a 50,000 word draft by 30 November. That breaks down to 1,667 words per day.

For you non-writers, 1,667 words is about five times as many words as in this post. it’s 340 words more than in the US Declaration of Independence. 20 of the 66 books in the Bible are shorter than that.

Plus there’s the added challenge of inventing compelling characters, penning witty dialogue and devising cracking good cliffhangers to keep you reading through.

The conventional wisdom is to ‘write what you know’, which lends itself well to a novel about coming-of-age in the American Midwest during the 1970s (since I did that). For now it’s called Fortunate Son, which may or may not be an accurate outline of the life lived by the protagonist. You get to wait and see.

To stay on top of this new book, and get other updates on what else I’m writing, you can subscribe to Pleasant Lines here.

If you wish to join the happy throng, you can buy Masterpiece (A Love Story) and The Lie Called Cancer in paperback or for Kindle, or read them free through Kindle Unlimited. Using the ‘Look Inside’ feature you can get a free taster.

Happy reading and Happy Christmas shopping!

Photo: Michael Reeve via Wikimedia Commons