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!

12 thoughts on “When Terminal Cancer Hits Home

  1. I’m so sorry about your Dad’s cancer. I will pray everyday for him and your family.
    The love you have for God and the love God has for your family I know he will bring you peace.
    If there’s anything we can do to help you or your family, we are here for you.
    Love you

  2. Your message put tears in my eyes. I’m so sorry for your Dad’
    s illness and the pain you and your family are going thru. I will pray for all of you everyday.
    Your love for God and his love for all of you will bring peace too you all.
    Rollie and I are here for you if you guys need anything. Love you all

  3. Dave, what a great testimony of your deep and abiding faith and your great love for your earthly Father and your Heavenly Father. I pray that you will be sustained by this faith in this journey with your Dad. I pray for the “peace that passes understanding.” God has given it to me during hard times in my life and I know you have experienced it as well.
    John and I will be keeping you and your family in prayer. May you be blessed by the knowledge of how much you are loved by many. In Him, who gives us strength, Ellen Highfill

  4. Dave, I’m so sorry. So much of what you shared resonated profoundly, as my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer last April. Although, my dad’s cancer is not moving as fast, it’s that imminent end that can grip you like a vice. I cling to hope in Him and pray that we all can focus on life in Jesus…that however long our lives are, that they would be abundant in His love, peace, hope and even joy.

  5. I’m sorry to hear this. Rob’s dad had pancreatic cancer, and I remember this well. We’ll be praying for you and your family. His mercies are new every morning.

  6. Dave–
    So sorry to hear this. I am praying for you and your family. Spend every precious moment that you can with your Dad. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

  7. Oh Dave! Geez! I’m so sorry! Thanks for sharing from your heart! Your words are a good truth that I need to hear right now…it seems that there is a lot of heartache and physical brokenness surrounding me. I’m so thankful for the staff at GBMC and am truly praying that God will give you exactly what you need for every step of this journey…it’s really hard! Jeff and I are here if you need us to help out with anything.

  8. David
    You ministered to the difficult post divorce relationship between my son and I – I was always grateful for your love and prayers. My son graduates seminary this May and become a father himself July 15.
    As I read about the renewed relationship you discuss with your father my heart goes out to you. I stayed home to care for my father for over five years and know if the ups and downs. Your scripture references were some of the rocks I clung to myself during this difficult time. I will pray that this precious time of clarity (as you perfectly named it) allows you the sense of awe and wonder in God that it did me. In the worst times, I found God sending unexpected and unexplained miracles and witnessed the selfless caring of neighbors and friends.

    Although I lack the words to say it, I pray for this time to be a tender loving time of great healing for your father and your family.

  9. Dave, I’m so sorry to hear that your dad has begun the battle with cancer. And, that you have to begin the battle of preparing to lose him. I pray that your conversations with him will result in true hope for both of you and that when the day comes, you will be able to say goodbye with the hope of spending eternity together. May the Lord comfort you as only He can as you grieve and groan until the day when there will be no more sorrow, crying or pain because all things will be made new.

  10. Thank you Dave.
    A very touching and poignant article. I pray for healing for you and Marty as well, as you journey through the pain of your father’s illness. Like you, I wish hope had one definition, and in a way, it does. Ours is indeed a “living hope” in the person of Christ. May that hope live in our hearts even as many earthly hopes diminish.

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