The National Cancer Survivor’s Day Foundation defines a survivor as “anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.” It was on February 28th, 2020, that I got that diagnosis, and March 1st of that year was the start of my Survivorship.
That’s still a little weird to think about. But the past 12 months have included hundreds of hours in doctors’ offices, diagnostic scans, blood work and chemotherapy infusions. I was so fortunate to be classified as “in-remission” after my third infusion, trusting that the additional three infusions ground it away for good. I’ve experienced some of the side effects I was told to expect – and fortunate not to experience any serious or too intense forms.
And yesterday, on the very day that I was diagnosed, I got to sing on worship team, again – something that a year ago I was not sure I’d ever get to do again. It was so much fun! It was such a joy to be with my brothers and sisters and thrill to the presence of God as we sang the songs of His triumph and grace.
What does it mean to be a survivor?
What does it mean to be a survivor … of anything injurious or traumatic? As that definition above states, “anyone living with a history of ________”. Yes, getting a cancer diagnosis is scary – but there are a lot scary things that make cancer seem like a walk in the park. When I contracted COVID, dealing with that was way worse than going through chemotherapy! Brenda never thought I would die in the short run from lymphoma – but she seriously said her good-byes to me when I was languishing with COVID.
For you, it may have been childhood abuse, date rape, feeling helpless beneath the emotional boot of a bully, burying your spouse or child – or both, coming under-fire in a strange land while watching your buddy die, unjustly dismissed your job, dealing with chronic depression, dealing with the guilt and pain of effects of addiction, helpless in supporting your adult child with a mental disorder or emotional injury, getting hit by a car, suffering from an incurable disease taking your life millimeter-by-millimeter …
Every one of those examples are people that I know. THEY are the real survivors! They are the ones for whom – for some of them – there is no helicopter rescue to a better place; there is no happy sunset. But for some of them – and this, they have taught me – they have something better. They are my greatest sources of inspiration and courage.
Paul wrote “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31)
I used to think that this was a proof text that everyone would get a helicopter rescue. It was through the suffering of others I realized that “all things” sometimes means the gracious conferring of the stewardship of infirmity and pain. Some of you will vehemently disagree because it is incompatible to your theology. I may be wrong - but to me, it makes sense. The writer of Hebrews (5:8) wrote: “Although he (Jesus) was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” What makes me think my discipleship will incur less cost?
But Paul went on:
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
We are meant to be more than conquerors through Jesus. That really is the secret sauce of a Survivor – they know that their infirmity, visible or not, is a servant to God’s purpose. They know that any report from a doctor or injustice or unresolve or “anything else in all creation” can make us into a trophy of his Grace. And that brings them more than comfort; it is a consolation.
Here’s a bonus lesson I’ve learned that makes me joyful: my body is not going to survive forever. I know: profound! So why are we surprised when they breakdown? Do you really think you’re going to make it out alive? If I live another twenty years, fine. I’ll do what I tried to do 366 days ago: live my life to the hilt for Jesus. But if I find out I’ll only survive twenty more months – well, same thing: I want to be all in for Jesus, no regrets, no remorse, open to growth and change. Isn’t it ironic that it is the knowledge of our deaths that makes the seriousness of our lives more real?
Jim Elliot wrote: “When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have left to do is to die.”
How about you? Are you working cooperatively with the Holy Spirit to be the point of His glory you’re meant to be? Or are you wasting the time, body, abilities and opportunities for things that worthless and meaningless?
I am grateful for my Survivor Day Anniversary! I have enjoyed more time with my wife, my children, my brothers and sisters at Grace, and even a good restoration of activities that I enjoy! I am thankful to God for my remission and hope it stays that way for a very long time.
Cancer has reminded me of a great truth of my life: There is only one “safe” bet – one sure thing: unconditional surrender to Him as Lord. This is the most important thing a human being can hear: “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus demanded, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
How does one become a Survivor? I’m not entirely sure. Is surviving simply existing with as little pain as possible, or does it mean that I live for a purpose that is by-design – and therefore – by a Designer, and that pain can be my servant for that purpose?
Cancer can take my health and even my body – something will; BUT it can’t take my life. This is more than clever word crafting. You see, I already beat it to the punch by surrendering it to its rightful Owner: Jesus Christ. For the Christian, the Bible says “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” My life is untouchable; and not me, not you, not cancer can do anything about that.