When Terminal Cancer Hits Home

My dad started losing weight in October. Initially he felt proud because he needed to lose the extra pounds. But he grew concerned when his energy dropped precipitously. At the family Christmas party we encouraged him to see a doctor as soon as possible.

One visit to the doctor turned into many. At each stage my dad braced for the worst, yet hoped for the best. Then on Thursday, February 4, 2016, surrounded by his wife and three children, my dad was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. His cancer is clearly aggressive and terminal.

Kieffer_James_Family-2016Sometimes clarity is a most unwelcome friend. But this friend helps you focus. I now know how I want to spend the next several months with my dad. I’ve made notes to myself about conversations I want to have with him — conversations about God, his childhood, our family history, and our relationship.

We’ve already started to talk about things my dad would like to do during his last days. Unfortunately it probably won’t include a cruise or long distance travel since he feels too ill.

There will be hard days ahead. Doctors will shoot toxic chemicals through dad’s veins hoping to slow the cancer and improve his quality of life. Thankfully my dad has a peace about him. It surprises me given his bent toward anxiety — something I reflect to my own chagrin. I believe God has given my dad a foretaste of divine peace — a calm that “transcends understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I pray that God’s grace, as well as his family’s love, will strengthen dad for the fierce storm now making landfall.

I am so thankful for the doctors and nurses of oncology at GBMC (Greater Baltimore Medical Center). They care deeply for people and want to help.

Hope has many definitions.” Dr. Donegan leveled with us.  “Sometimes it means being cured. Sometimes it means managing the symptoms until The Good Lord takes us home.”

I wish hope had one definition.

Thankfully Jesus promised, that someday, hope will have a singular definition. It will mean “a full and complete recovery”.  When we reach glory, the earlier definitions of hope will seem crude, like the word nice which used to mean “silly, foolish or simple” — far from the compliment it is today.

Jesus spelled out God’s ultimate definition of hope. When He walked on earth Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the leper, forgave sinners, restored the outcast and raised the dead. Jesus healed in every possible way: spiritually, relationally, physiologically, and physically. Through Jesus, God still plans to fully recover what has been damaged by sin and death.

At least in this life, my dad’s time will end sooner than we wanted. Yet at 75 years old, whether you live an extra six months or ten years; both seem right around the corner! Knowing your time is short focuses the mind. The central question becomes, “How will you prepare for what’s next?”

Jesus told us how to prepare as he faced his own imminent death. He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.” (John 14:1-3).

Jesus asks us to remember what He did on His first trip to earth and then trust him to return and finish the job. When God finally restores this broken creation it will be better than new. Jesus’ bodily resurrection was the “first-fruits” of a new and glorious harvest — a transformed cosmos.  Heaven will be no disembodied consolation prize but a vibrant, sensual and incorruptible material reality. God shall walk on earth with man yet again; just as He once did in the Garden of Eden.

This singular hope means cancer’s victory is only short term. It will be conquered, once and for all, at the resurrection!

Come, Lord Jesus!