Today’s appointment with my surgeon appears to have brought my journey with breast cancer to a quick and relatively painless end. He gave us good news, and doesn’t want to see me for three months. Having had about a dozen medical appointments in the six weeks since I found the lump in my left breast, I’m looking forward to three months without setting foot in a waiting room!
As you can see from the picture above (taken the day of my return to church after the surgery), my cancer experience did not leave me unscathed or unscarred. I had a mastectomy two weeks ago, an experience which for obvious reasons is less emotionally traumatic for a guy than it is for a woman. Reconstruction surgery is rare with male breast cancer, so I will go through life a tad lopsided. I can live with that.
The oncologist gave us good news last week. The chance of a relapse is so small that there is no need for any further treatment – no chemo, no radiation, not even any medication. I will be monitored closely in coming years, but this cancer experience has come to a close with little long-term consequences.
I posted that news on my Facebook page the day we received it, and was glad to see the response of so many of our friends and loved ones from around the world. It’s wonderful to see people celebrate with us, and their reaction has been one of the most profoundly moving parts of this experience. We are loved. I like that.
Many mentioned the goodness of God in their comments, and I have to admit that I’m not sure how to respond to that. They are right, God is good. I have absolutely no doubt about that. But if we see my prognosis as crucial evidence of His goodness, it raises a troubling question – what if the news were different? A few months ago, I wrote about the funeral of my friend Don, who died of cancer. Was God not good to him? Twenty minutes ago, I wrote an e-mail to a lady whose cancer news was dire, and whose sister has been given 2-3 years to live. Is God not good to her?
I went through this experience under the conviction that the goodness of God was not at stake. He has proven that goodness in so many ways, through His faithfulness to so many promises, that He has nothing left to prove. I was determined to rest in His goodness no matter what.
He never promises to spare us from these kinds of challenges. On the contrary, He promises that they will come. Psalm 23 does NOT tell us that we will avoid the valley of the shadow of death, or that our life will be free of enemies. In fact, their existence is taken for granted. The promise is that He will walk with us through that valley, and that His presence there gives us reason to fear no evil. The promise is that, in the very presence of those enemies (cancer being one of them), He will prepare a refreshing table for us.
That is goodness. And that has been my experience over these last 6 weeks.
The day we learned that I needed surgery, I called home to share the news. My wife and daughter were listening to worship music when I called, and my daughter vividly remembers the first song to be played after they hung up. Matt Redman didn’t write it for that moment, but the song “Never Once” certainly fit. It includes these powerful words:
Scars and struggles on the way, but with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
Yes, there are scars (I won’t show you mine). Yes, there are struggles. But never once, NEVER ONCE, does He leave us on our own. He is faithful.
That has been my experience. That is goodness.
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