Where is God when cancer returns?
This is really a two-part piece: a general devotional on God and suffering, followed by an update on our ongoing personal cancer story. Some of you are aware of our journey over the past year, and a new development has changed things a bit. But bringing God into the picture at the outset seems like a wise way to begin.
There is much that can be said about God and the problem of suffering and evil. It is one of the biggest and most important topics we can think about and discuss. But it is never meant to be a theoretical matter only, since everyone does suffer in various ways, and real and practical answers are what we really need.
Given what I will share in a moment about our own story, what I read again in my morning Scripture reading was really quite relevant and helpful. I am back in the book of Exodus. You know the story: after Joseph gained favour with Pharaoh and he and his family were blessed while living there, things started to change.
Things went downhill over the years when a new king came along who did not know Joseph. The numerous Israelites were deemed to be a threat, and so they were forced into slave labour. The book of Exodus discusses this story, and tells of how God raised up a deliverer in the person of Moses. Early on we read these two passages:
Ex. 2:23-25 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
Ex. 3:7-9 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.
Notice how God is NOT aloof, distant, unaware nor uncaring. He sees and knows all about the suffering of his people. And he not just notices, but he acts. We find this same message throughout the Bible. God knows about our suffering, he cares about our suffering, and he takes action in regard to our suffering.
And this is the most personal and intimate care we can possibly get, because God knows all about suffering. He suffered for us so that the sin issue can be dealt with. He entered into our world and suffered on our behalf. In Isaiah we read about Jesus being referred to as the Suffering Servant (see Is. 52:13-53:12).
So what we find in the opening chapters of Exodus is good news indeed. It was not only good news for the suffering Israelites, but it is terrific news for those who are suffering today. And it is comforting news for my wife and myself on our ongoing cancer journey.
Our cancer journey
Let me share with you the latest on my wife’s cancer story. Many of you have been following it and praying for us. Things have just changed a bit, so to keep you up to date, let me discuss it here. It began on March 4 of last year when we learned that Averil had an aggressive stage three breast cancer.
That changed everything of course. Radical treatment was immediately started, including chemo, radiation and surgery (double mastectomy). She is still doing chemo tablets and immunotherapy infusions for a few more months. Because things seemed to be going along OK, we thought maybe we were getting close to the end.
As many will know, the treatment for cancer can be as difficult as the cancer itself. So Averil has had her ups and downs, but seemed to be doing alright. When we first learned of her health news last year, I began a daily diary of what was happening.
But since things seemed to be moving along alright, I penned my last entry on November 23rd. But now I have had to restart this cancer diary. As I mentioned on the social media last night: “If you do not know what the word metastasis means, you should be thankful.”
I must confess that I did not really know what it meant either. But now I do. My wife had been having a quite sore arm for the past few weeks. An ultrasound was done Friday, and yesterday we heard from the oncologist. It seems she has some cancer in her arm. So now more tests will be needed, to see if there is more cancer elsewhere.
So the original cancer has spread, and the journey continues. Obviously so many others are going through the very same sort of thing, so our story in not unique. However, anyone in this situation knows what a tough journey it can be, and most folks appreciate prayer – we sure do.
We will keep people posted as we learn the next steps. But perhaps I can share just a few bits of our journey – a few things that might encourage others. One thing happened early on last year. We were told of this new immunotherapy that was available in Australia that seemed to work well in the US.
But for most folks it is not yet subsidised, and it is very expensive. We were told we would need to come up with $60,000 for it! That was for the first ten doses done every three weeks. (That works out to $6,000 a pop for a small bag of liquid!) Doses afterwards would not have to be paid for however.
Like most folks we are not exactly rolling in the dough, so this was a big financial ask. But a good friend set up a Christian funding thingee, and within two weeks that amount was raised, either with the crowd funding thing, or by folks putting funds into our bank account. God is good, and so are his people.
But with ongoing medical expenses, that website is still up. Those interested – even just to read the latest updates – can find it here: https://givesendgo.com/HelpBillMuhlenbergHelpHisWife
Another little encouraging thing: My wife and a friend would often go to a nearby cafe for coffees. But with her cancer, her friend would instead bring her takeaway coffee. A while ago when the cafe folks learned of this they gave her a lunch gift card. Very kind of them. We finally used it on Monday, sitting outside. Not many businesses will do stuff like that. But with our new news on Wednesday, I thought that it is a good thing we used it when we did!
One final thing: on Tuesday night I had a real rough night. Now, I always have trouble sleeping – I have had this problem all my life. But on Tuesday night it was really tough, and I kept praying simply, ‘Help me God.’ It was a sort of general plea for help – not just to be able to fall asleep.
The very next day we learned of the metastasis. And this morning, as mentioned, I read those verses in Exodus which speak of God hearing the Israelites’ cries for help. So I believe God heard my cry for help on the previous night. He hears and he cares. He also acts, but of course how he acts may not always be the way we think he should act.
So we are again in a position of needing to really trust God and not allow despair or unbelief to creep in, despite all the trying circumstances. And of interest another Christian couple we know who are quite active in the Lord’s work is going through the same thing. She had cancer, was treated, and seemed to beat it, but a month or so ago she learned that the cancer is back. So they have been talking to each other on the phone of late.
Last night my wife said we need to get the couple over. Yep, we do. During times like this you want to be with others, including those who are going through similar sorts of things. We need each other in other words. And above all, we need a God who hears, who sees, who cares, and who acts.
And we need to keep in mind the words of Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist preacher who went through so much suffering in his own life:
“God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart. When you are so weak that you cannot do much more than cry, you coin diamonds with both your eyes. The sweetest prayers God ever hears are the groans and sighs of those who have no hope in anything but his love.”