Guest Post: Dad's Biopsy

by Amber
Four years ago, my dad was diagnosed with an advanced form of a rare cancer next to his heart. He did four months of chemo to shrink the tumor to make it operable. This was followed by surgery, which left the nerves to his heart and lungs permanently damaged. After the surgery, the schedule for radiation was moved up so that it could begin immediately and continue for four months.

I was alone with my father the night he received his first chemo treatment: I held his hand as the nurse, clad from head to foot in disposable protective gear, injected a malicious vile of blood-red liquid into my dad’s IV. My dad, who has been compulsively healthy, was internally terrified at the poison, and it hurt for me to watch this happen to him.

During my dad’s treatments, my family received a multitude of spiritual blessings. Love poured out from heaven and every cranny of our social network. People he knew through business all over the world, and of all religions, prayed for him. One man of Indian origin told my father, “I don’t pray, but for you I will pray.” Amazing fasts were held. People in my family had personal spiritual experiences that are too sacred to share.

Eight months later, my dad was healed.

Despite the blessings, it was a terrible ordeal.

After it was over, my dad said three things:
1. He would never wish cancer on anyone, even his worst enemy
2. If the cancer came back, he would probably refuse to go through chemo again
3. He now believes that the Savior cares for him personally (and not
just through loved ones or ministering angels)

His cancer does not have a good five-year outlook. I don’t want to cite the percentage who survive it, but it is very small. Despite the three month (and later six month) check-ups and scans, I believed my dad was healed.

A few days ago, my dad had one of those check-ups. Apparently at the last one, there had been some spots on his lungs that they wanted to watch. The current scan showed multiple spots that have grown significantly. There are also two large masses on the top and bottom of his heart. The radiation oncologist overseeing the scan believes that it is a return of cancer, and that the cancer is too scattered to make surgery or radiation viable options. A biopsy is scheduled in a week to determine what kind of cancer it is and how it might react to different chemo combinations.

When I visited with my dad yesterday at his house, he appeared very quiet and small. Like my dad, I am still barely processing this. Even Lazarus, who was raised from the dead in his early adult life, eventually passed on for good and left mourners behind. I suppose a miracle can be legitimate but not last forever.

I can’t help but have some personal struggles with this, despite how selfish they may be. It’s just that in the last few months I have been coming out as a non-believer to my family. I have been requesting privacy from their well-intentioned quests to convert me. I have felt a lot of anger at my parents for certain teachings and religious beliefs they taught that inadvertently gave me a very hard time accepting myself as I grew up.

During my dad’s cancer, I fasted and prayed with the family despite my doubts. I didn’t have any personal spiritual experience besides observing my dad’s eventual recovery. As I occasionally thought about my religious doubts after my dad’s recovery, I felt like it would be ungrateful of me to articulate my lack of faith after the apparent miracle I had seen.

Now I can’t help but feel that this new cancer scare is somehow related to the fact I have articulated this very thing – that my dad’s health hinged on my only professing what people – and even God – wanted to hear me say, rather than what I really felt inside.

I have decided am going to fast for my dad and send my prayers/energy/intentions his way. I feel there are many reasons to do this even if I do not “know” of their effectiveness: to commune with my family, to connect to my dad, to show a small amount of devotion to the principle of faith. However, the debate is stronger now inside my heart, as is the anger that the cancer would come back to an innocent, believing person. I don’t know for sure how this will work out with my belief, but I know I will need that space to figure it out.

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Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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7 Responses

  1. jks says:

    My husband went through chemo and he said a similar thing, that if the first 5 months didn’t work, he wasn’t going to do whatever was left as an option after that. No way to know what he actually would have done had it been the only choice, because we didn’t have to face that since the first treatments works.
    Amber, I am sorry about your father. I would like to reassure you that you did not cause your father’s cancer. Cancer comes to many, many good people. Faithful people die of cancer.
    Your family has had some experiences. Are you sure that him being “healed” was the only miracle?
    There are many things you can be praying for. Your father being cured is only one.
    There are many other ways that your family might be blessed. There are many other ways that your prayers will be answered.
    Your father feels like the Savior cared for him personally when he is cured. His Savior will care for him just as personally if his cancer is back and his time on earth is limited.
    Best wishes to you and your family.

  2. Deborah says:

    Amber:

    My heart goes out to you. I lost my dad suddenly last summer, and I’ve been losing my mother-in-law slowly to cancer over the last 18 months. I could (and probably should) write posts and posts about what these experiences have done to my mind, heart, and spirit. Prayer has become a deep part of my being in the last few months. Prayer to God, to my dad — prayers to give some direction to my tears. Losing a parent untethers deep emotions.

    Funny that you mentioned Lazarus. As you note, no one escapes death, but this fall a nun I visited gave me a new way of looking at his story. When I spoke of feeling “wrapped” in grief, she wondered if Jesus’ command to “untie” Lazurus from the bands that held him couldn’t be viewed as a metaphor for releasing our soul from what suffocates it. Gave me something to think about.

  3. Caroline says:

    Amber, what a gut-wrenching story. My best to you and your family as you go through this difficult time. I think it’s great that you’re willing to participate in fasting/praying practices right now in solidarity with your family. I think that will mean a lot to them.

  4. Jana says:

    Posts like this one are so difficult to reply to. As I read it I feel my own pain all too acutely.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    A crisis of faith coupled with the timing of another bout of cancer–I can’t even imagine. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story.

  6. G says:

    amber, thank you for sharing this, my heart goes out to you and your family.

    I am also working out where things like prayer, fasting, etc fit into my belief system.
    What I think (right now): while I am disillusioned with the idea of faith healings, I do think that the recipient gains some measure of comfort from the knowledge that prayer and fasting are being done on their behalf.
    A show of human solidarity. moral support.
    and those things can be powerful.

    best wishes to you and your family.

  7. kmillecam says:

    I know a little of where you are coming from Amber. Even though I have experienced a disillusionment the last year or so, I find comfort in fasting and praying even though I am not sure I define those two things the same anymore. I am glad to hear that you have found similar comfort, even while reevaluating. I hope and wish the best for you and your family.

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