Tag Archives: the lie called cancer

Cystoscope - photo by Michael Reeve via Wikimedia Commons

The Lie Called Cancer

This month I offer excerpts from my two memoirs, Masterpiece: A Love Story and The Lie Called Cancer. If you want to buy them, you may. If you want a free copy, tell me in the comments.

Be advised this story contains some adult medical themes and terminology

Spring 2019

The scene is a certain urinal in a certain South London supermarket. The crime was the appearance of a blood clot the size of a pea. Life did a full stop for a few beats as I stared at it, astonished that such a thing should fall out of my body. Bright red, it contrasted sharply against the fresh white porcelain. For a moment I imagined it pulsing with a life of its own, ready to snarl, turn viciously and attack. I stepped away feeling violated.

‘Babe,’ I said, rejoining my wife in the aisles. ‘We need to head to the GP now, and put off the shopping until tomorrow.’ Melanie looked puzzled, but only until I explained. Now it was her turn to have life do a full stop for a few beats. We abandoned the shopping and headed out.

It was the Thursday before Easter, and my surgery* was about to close for four days. They squeezed me in for a quick consultation. I left a sample in a bottle (results not to be known for a week due to the holiday). Dr. Kuracisto gave me a course of antibiotic ‘in case its just a urinary tract infection.’

Well, it wasn’t that. It eventually turned out to be bigger than that. It was a crime, and the crime was a lie. It was the lie called cancer.

I didn’t know it was cancer then, of course, and it was way too early to think seriously about cancer, and I didn’t. The blood and pain could be from many causes. Until I had more information, there was nothing to do but wait.

It’s so easy to think worst-case when something happens to my body, especially with a vivid imagination like mine. That pain in my knee? Could be an inflammation. If it’s inflammation, it might be arthritis. In fact, it probably is arthritis. Arthritis is incurable and untreatable. It’s probably rheumatoid arthritis. My mum had that, and it can be inherited. So, for sure, that’s it.

Before long I have myself so crippled in my mind I’m ready to shop for a wheelchair and a van with a lift. You never know how soon I might need one, right? Best to be prepared!

Why do I think about the worst-case about my body? Well, it’s not like I can quickly whip out a list of best-case items when blood-in-the-urine is involved. I’ve thought about that for almost a year now, and I still don’t have item #1.

Faced with a potentially scary track ahead, my train of thought derails immediately, instead of pulling into a bright shiny station with free coffee and helpful baggage handlers. Those noisy worst-case scenarios always shove to the front of the queue, waving their First Class tickets, ready to ride my train all the way to the last stop.

Let’s face it, even a ridiculously optimistic person like me sometimes has to throw in the towel and conclude the only positive aspect of the situation is that I had an extra towel to begin with.

But I’d ride that train to the last stop as well. I had no choice.

It’s an odd sensation to stand before a toilet and wonder what’s about to come out. It had been so easy to take this for granted. I’d never concerned myself with it. Have you? Isn’t peeing an unthinking act? Until now, my experience only involved pee. But, when you add blood, urination morphs into the fancy Greek medical term haematuria.

Now that I was focused on the bleeding, I also became aware of some discomfort during the act itself. The discomfort was probably there before the previous Thursday’s display made it all obvious, but I hadn’t noticed it. If I had, my trip to the GP would have happened much earlier, I suppose. But I didn’t. And so, here we are.

In the absence of information, how to proceed? Step one for me always should be to pray. That’s what Christians learn. It’s supposed to be automatic, like gently turning into a skid when your car fishtails. I constantly surprise myself at how often prayer is not my first choice. I turn the wrong way into the skid more often than I care to admit.

Then, when I do finally get around to prayer, I must remember that not all prayers are created equal. Let me give you a little Theology 101 about that. Only a couple of paragraphs. Hang in there. I’ll start here: it’s inarguable to me that God is good, 100 percent. If not, why believe in God?

Evil is not from God. It’s either caused by the devil, is influenced by the devil, or results from my own sin. The Bible reveals this repeatedly from the first page to the last.

God didn’t create cancer (or any other illness for that matter). Because cancer isn’t good, it can’t be from God, your love of the book of Job notwithstanding. End of Theology 101.

If you aren’t a Christian, you now have a pivotal choice.

You can take my word for all this and keep reading, your best option IMHO (In My Holy Opinion). Or, you can study the Bible for yourself to see if it’s true and then come back. I’ll see you back in a few months – you’ll need to be thorough. Or, you can decide in a moment that this is all a bad investment and go read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the third time.

The antibiotics came and went, but the symptoms remained, and the test was negative – no Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). I found myself back in Dr. Kuracisto’s office.

‘How do you feel?’ (This is Standard Doctor Question #4).

‘It still hurts when I pee and sometimes blood comes out. Otherwise, I’m just chuffed!’

‘Well you definitely don’t have a UTI, but there is something amiss in there.’ He reached for some gloves.

‘Pull down your trousers and lean against the bed,’ he said. Dr. Kuracisto stepped into his phone booth and burst out as Professor Jellyfinger. During rectal exams I can’t help but wonder, did I wipe well enough? And, how do they teach that in medical school? The probing is rude but not outrageously uncomfortable. It’s mercifully short.

‘Your prostate is slightly enlarged but that’s not unusual for a man your age. That’s good news. I’ll write a referral to the Urology Department at Kings Hospital,’ he said. ‘It’s on a fast track, so you should hear from them in a few days.

NHS prioritises well, to the dismay of some patients who are forced to wait for minor operations. If a GP suspects cancer, a case is automatically on ‘fast track.’

‘What will happen over there?’ I asked.

‘They’ll likely give you a cystoscopy. That’s an internal examination of your bladder, to see what’s going on.’

Well, let me just look that up.

According to NHS documentation, the procedure available to me as an outpatient is called a ‘flexible cystoscopy.’ This device has a camera and a light on the end, and a tube that allows water in and out. It’s about as big around as a pencil.

The cystoscope is inserted in the urethra, which is the tube that allows urine to pass out of the body. The urethra is not as big around as a pencil. It’s about as big around as the stem of a Q-tip.

Read ‘inserted into the urethra’ as ‘inserted into the penis.’ No man wants to hear about this, much less contemplate it. Yes, ladies, I’m certain this procedure is just as physically disturbing for you as for us. But for me, as a man, it’s also an assault on my ego. Just sayin’.

Okay – so now I had some information. It appeared that life was about to get more painful. Much more painful.

I waited as patiently as I could, only occasionally drumming my fingers on the table in frustration. My main occupation had to be prayer, doing nothing about any of this (as though I could). That’s easier said than done sometimes.

(Insert big self-piteous Christian sigh here)

It’s exceedingly tough to sit tight while my head yells at me about doom and destruction, such as the eventual need to buy that wheelchair van. I’ll give you a few examples, but only because I’m certain this never happens to you: official mail is automatically bad news; being called into the head office means I’m sacked; my candidate will always lose the election; it’s not only cancer, but terminal cancer, so pick the bouquets for the memorial service now!

I had to repeatedly remind myself I knew nothing, and shouldn’t decide pre-emptively on something as ‘the truth’. All I knew with certainty was that there was blood in my urine. Inventing a reason for it would be mindless speculation. There’s no truth there, only mindlessness.

Speculation leads me to fear, which makes me lose my bearings. Such feelings aren’t a signpost. They are paint thrown on the signpost so I cannot find the way.

My only choice was to respond through surrender. I kept in front of me the only truth I had, tiny slice though it was. Surrender meant wait, rest and pray. Yes, there was an answer – God’s answer – but it hadn’t arrived yet.

Like many things in the Christian life, the way forward was simple. Wait, rest and pray. I wished I was better at them.

Read more here

Cystoscope – photo by Michael Reeve via Wikimedia Commons

Isaiah 35

A Promise From 700 B.C.

(A five minute read)

Some encouragement is eternal, just like some truth.

When I faced a medical crisis three years ago, Isaiah 35 was my cane when I felt weak, and a steadying hand to the elbow when I couldn’t move forward. It brought life when it seemed there could be death, and completed a picture for me of how God answers prayer.

In June of 2019 I had surgery to remove a tumour from inside my bladder, and spent the rest of the year receiving chemotherapy and chemo-radiotherapy. My wife Melanie and I had already struck the match of faith even before the surgery, and His heat came, as we knew it would. And then God showed me the riches of this passage.

Isaiah 35 is superficially about the future glory of Zion, God’s permanent capital. But at my personal level, it became a byword about hope for restoration and revival.

The prophet offers a picture of how God promises to answer when we cry for help. Then, when He comes in response to prayer, miracles happen. Jesus promised the same when He taught, ‘Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ *

I cried out to God repeatedly. He answered through this scripture.

1 The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;

2 it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God.

The overwhelming nature of God’s promises are shown in the superlatives in the first two verses: glad, rejoice, blossom abundantly, joy and singing, glory, excellency. These are reliable even in our greatest times of spiritual barrenness.

3 Strengthen the weak hands, and support the feeble knees.

4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not. Your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you.”

God comes to those who are obedient and faithful, and who cry out to Him, even from a place of desperation or fear.

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.

6 Then the lame man shall leap as a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For in the wilderness waters shall break out and streams in the desert.

Then’ shows that the healing that happens next is a result of our obedience and faithful prayer. After He comes, then the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf are opened, then the lame walk and the mute speak.

These verses also show that God is not just a Healer, but also heals us beyond what we ask for. The mute may wish to speak, but He also has them sing! The lame may wish to walk – He also has them leap!

In my spiritual wilderness, when I needed a drink, He brought an oasis, He came to me and said, ‘You will spring to new life.’ He always thinks bigger than I do.

7 The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.

The word translated ‘jackals’ is the Hebrew word tannîym, which is doubled in the text for emphasis. It’s often translated as ‘dragon’, which of course is symbolically the devil. In this passage, God transforms a place where only hideous creatures will dwell to one full of gentility and life.

8 A highway shall be there, a roadway, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass on it, but it shall be for the wayfaring men, and fools shall not wander on it.

Highway’ here does means a thoroughfare for travel, but the word translated as ‘roadway’ is the Hebrew derek, which means a course of action, or what we might today call a lifestyle. The wayfaring men are those who choose this path to salvation that God has offered and set out on it in obedience, not knowing their destination, but trusting that it is good.

9 No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up on it; these shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there,

10 and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

I’m one of those ‘ransomed of the Lord.’ When Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for my sin, He bought the rights to my life (and yours). The passage ends with the greatest news of all, that in the end I’ll return to God, meaning I’ll repent of my wrongdoing and turn back (Hebrew shoob) to God, who will be waiting with open arms to restore (Hebrew shoob) me.

Hebrews chapter 12 offers a wonderful New Testament parallel to this. It reads:

‘Now all discipline seems to be more pain than pleasure at the time, yet later it will produce a transformation of character, bringing a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who yield to it.

‘So be made strong even in your weakness by lifting up your tired hands in prayer and worship. And strengthen your weak knees, for as you keep walking forward on God’s paths all your stumbling ways will be divinely healed!’ **

To which I say, ‘So be it!’

Adapted from my memoir The Lie Called Cancer. Read more here.

* Matthew 6:10
** Hebrews 12:11-13

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