The only way to tell this story is in the order of events as it actually happened.
Several months ago my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It had originated in the breast and had metastasized. By the time the scan was done, the cancer had traveled from the breast, to the lungs, to the liver. The meeting with the oncologist brought worse news. The cancer she had battled over a year ago had returned, and it was aggressive. To this point, the chemotherapy regimen was not working. In a small percentage of patients this particular chemotherapy drug could damage the heart. It had damaged her heart. The oncologist sat in the room with my mother-in-law and told her that if she could find a cancer treatment center, such as Sloan-Kettering to treat her, this was her only avenue. She couldn’t treat her with this cancer drug as it was not working against her cancer, and also because it was damaging her heart.
That week I had a brief encounter with my mother-in-law at my home. As she sat on the sofa in my home full of people, she wept. She looked at me with the rarest form of fear I had ever seen in anyone’s eyes and with tears streaming down her face she said, “I don’t want to die”. And then I heard my mouth says these words that I didn’t believe in my heart – “You are not going to die”.
The tedious and practical tasks followed. The insurance company was called, the scans were sent to Sloan-Kettering, and we awaited news. The specialist’s answer to this case was to continue treatment as is. There was nothing new they could offer. With the cancer center’s recommendations to back her up, her oncologist agreed to continue with the same chemotherapy regimen that wasn’t working, and that was damaging her heart.
The treatment was to begin on Monday. On Sunday night we decided as a family to spend the day at my in-laws home, to eat, play games, keep each other company. We also invited the two other pastors of the church to come and to pray with us at the end of evening. We had a pretty clear image of the road we were about to head down. There was fear and apprehension gripping our hearts. There was sadness and sorrow consuming our minds. In this state we came to God, and asked Him to do what only He could do. Each one took a turn and prayed, each one offered what they had in their heart; and I will never forget opening my eyes and seeing the grandchildren gathered around with their hands upon their grandmother praying with the faith that had been extended to them.
As a family, we can so clearly mark the change to that night. Something shifted in the atmosphere. There was still fear lurking and sadness creeping, but it started to be overtaken by something else. Faith, hope, assurance? I’m not sure I can name exactly what it was. I’m not sure anyone could.
My mother-in-law went to her treatment and came home feeling remarkably good. She said probably next week she would be sick from the treatment. She knew from experience how this worked. But then the next week came and still, remarkably well. She was eating well. She was sleeping well. The pain in her bones was starting to alleviate. The scans were showing a healing taking place in her heart. By this time she was feeling so defiant she went and got her hair done and declared to the family “I am not going to lose one hair on the top of my head”. And thus far, not one hair has dared to fall.
The doctors were taking notice. At first her faith made them afraid. They knew the outcome; they had seen it so many times. Her diagnosis was not good, and they were not going to encourage false hopes in a God they had seen remain silent all too often. During one meeting my mother-in-law asked her oncologist “When this is all over, and when I am a miracle, can you promise me that you will write down my miracle just as it happened?” And her oncologist said “Millie, if that is the outcome, I will write it down for you”. But then her family doctor asked the other question, “Millie, what happens if this doesn’t turn out the way you want it to?” and she replied “Then God is still in control”.
Last week, as promised, the full body scan of her body was done to determine if the treatment was working. On Monday evening, the night before she was to receive the results, my family gathered together and we prepared a full Thanksgiving dinner. We gathered to give thanks. This unwelcome journey had changed us all in so many ways. We had all seen our faith increase as we cried out to God for her healing and in the process grew closer to each other as a family. Now there was nothing else to do but wait for the report and be thankful to the God who was in control.
The words that keep running over and over in my mind are “regressed” and “resolved”, “no new nodes”, “no longer appreciated”, “no longer identified”, “favorable response”, “significantly smaller and less avid”, “previously there was evidence, currently not identified”. These are words taken from the PET scan report I am holding in my hands. The substance of things hoped for…
I was asked by someone recently, “If God does this for your mother-in-law, do you know why?” Can I say God did this for us because the elders came and laid hands on her? Can I say God did this because my mother-in-law drew close to God during her time of great darkness? Can I say God did this because we made a Thanksgiving turkey and we were thankful? Can I say God did this because He loves us? Why would He do this for her, and not another? The answer to that question is easy. I have absolutely no idea. There is a peace in understanding that we can not muster up enough faith to wrench what we want out of the Hands of a Sovereign God.
A little girl in our youth group last Tuesday night recounted the story of the loss of her cat. She said she had prayed the cat wouldn’t die. She prayed the cat would be found. This cat meant so much to her and this cat was one of her closest friends. God didn’t answer her prayer and she has had to suffer with this loss. What she shared about this experience holds the key to so much for our lives. She said “I realized that although I don’t know exactly why bad things happen, I believe this turned out the way it did so I would draw closer to God”.
My mother-in-law is halfway through treatment. There is another PET scan awaiting us near Christmastime. We are not out of the woods and this is not over just yet. My prayer is that we continue to draw close to the Only One who can heal us, the Only One who can set us free, the Only One who can provide true comfort … and that no matter what the Sovereign hand of God provides, we will know that He is in control.