Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dad's Diagnosis

My father lost his painful battle with cancer on December 21, 2008. 9 months almost to the day of his diagnosis. He battled bravely & is now completely whole & healed & in the presence of the Lord.

Dad’s diagnosis was on March 20, 2008. This Thursday will be one year since that date. So many things about that day stand out so strongly in my mind & heart. I almost come to tears quicker thinking of that day than any other day on this journey. Earlier that day I had heard of the sudden, tragic, & heart breaking loss of some dear friends. My heart had been heavy & burdened & filled with prayers throughout the day. It was a Thursday, which was the day that me, Erin, & Ashley cooked & served food at the shelter. As I got in my car to come home, I noticed I had a missed call from Dad, so I decided to call him back on the drive home. Honestly, I was expecting a conversation about his concerns for me returning to China at the end of the summer & I really didn’t have the time on that day to sit through another conversation of that nature.

*Sidenote: I had committed to serving the next 2 years in China teaching University students, had sold & gotton rid of most everything I owned, had raised support, & was excitedly looking forward to that chapter of my life. My dad (& many family members) just didn’t want me to be so far from family. So this often was the subject of our conversations.*

I called him while I was sitting at the stop sign across from the Porterdale Lofts about to pull away from the shelter when Dad answered (to give those of you local folks a visual). He said that he had been to the doctor for the pain he’d been having in his back and his chest. He quickly rushed out the words ‘I have cancer.’ So quickly that I almost didn’t understand what he was saying. As I processed what he had said, he started crying. I was still sitting at that stop sign. I turned onto the street, thinking that this just couldn’t really be true. And that people get cancer all the time & are treated & survive. That it probably wasn’t very serious. As Dad continued trying to explain what the doctor had said, he continued crying. I had to pull over in the parking lot of Mosley Electric so I could process this & really talk to him. Plus my heart was breaking wide open from the news & hearing my dad crying & so scared. The doctor told him that the cancer was in his spine & ribs, & that they didn’t have much more information than that at the time. This was his general practitioner & he referred him to an oncologist, whom he was going to see the following week. I wanted to cry & scream, but obviously that wouldn’t do Dad any good at that point. He wanted to get off of the phone (we didn’t talk very long at all). He was so very upset & scared, as was I. Before we got off the phone, I stopped to pray for him. I think that was the first time I had ever done that, pray FOR him WITH him. Of course I prayed for my dad often, & I had prayed before meals with him, but never quite like this. I could barely get words out without breaking down. In that moment, I know that the Lord gave me such strength to be strength for my dad. As I prayed & encouraged him with Scripture, I knew that the Lord was doing a great work, though my heart was also breaking.

We got off the phone, & I just sat there in that parking lot & cried & cried & cried. I had a towel in the backseat, & I buried my face in it & sobbed. The loud kind that you can’t control that shake your whole body. Then I look up & see this lady pulled up next to me with her window down, so I rolled down my window. She sweetly & with such concern asked if I was alright. I told her I would be fine, that my car was fine, that I had just received some bad news & needed a moment before driving home.

So, I drove home to Susan’s. I can’t even remember if I called anyone at that moment or not. I may have. I got home & just sat in the car for awhile. Susan came out to water the plants. I finally got out of the car & she looked at me & asked me if I was ok. I, of course, just started crying & said no. But no other words would come out. She came over to my car & hugged me. I couldn’t even SAY the words that my dad had cancer. It was so scary & saying it made it real & I didn’t want it to be real. I’m sure I choked out the words eventually.

I decided to go upstairs & spend some time with the Lord. I sat down to journal &pray, but literally could find not a single word to pray. My heart was so heavy with sadness & fear. My mind just wouldn’t form words. I asked Him to speak to me from His Word because I just couldn’t wrap my mind & heart around what was happening.

This is some of what He gave me:

Hebrews 12:1-3
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author & Perfector of faith, Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him Who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lost heart.”

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gently and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Wow. Those verses from Hebrews were so incredibly fitting & insightful. I had also sent a quick email to some friends telling them about Dad & asking for prayer. After reading Scripture & taking a nap, I checked my email & had many, many responses.

I was (& have continued to be) so very overwhelmed with love & support from the people in my life.

The next day was Good Friday & I went to the service at my church. Our pastor referenced those same verses from Hebrews. Then a different pastor referenced them on Sunday morning. I couldn’t get away from it. Running the race with endurance. Fixing my eyes on Jesus. Jesus knew the joy that would come AFTER the shame of the Cross, so he endured. And not to grow weary & lose heart in thinking on those things.

That weekend I shared those verses with Dad & asked him to write them down & look them up in the Bible I had given him (like 7 years before). He sheepishly admitted that he had never actually read it, but it was right there on the bookshelf near his bed. He called me the next day & his message was so encouraging that it still makes me cry. He said that he had read those verses, & was so encouraged by them that he wrote them on an index card & carried it with him. That whenever he was in pain (which was often) or feeling discouraged, that he read them & was encouraged. He then said that he wanted to print them on cards with a picture of a cross to give to others in the cancer center who looked so sick & discouraged, since he had been so encouraged by it. Wow! My dad had always believed in Who Christ was, but had never placed much of an importance on Him in his daily life. I think he didn’t fully understand the depth of what Christ had done on the Cross for him. Throughout the following weeks, my dad & I shared some very sweet & meaningful moments. Moments of prayer, sharing of the Gospel, understanding & belief in what our Father has done for us, sharing Scripture & faith. It truly was beautiful, despite the pain Dad was experiencing & the heartache & fear we both were facing.

I had no idea on that day just how very much my life was about to change.

Throughout the coming weeks, we also found out that Dad's cancer was very advanced. Stage 4. It had orginated as a tumor on his left kidney & metastasized to his bones. Many bones. This was the reason for so much pain. Though we had not been told at the time, his cancer was considered terminal. I'll be sharing more in future about his doctors & some of the specifics that were happening.

I grew up in Georgia with my Mom & her side of the family. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old, & Dad lived most of my life in New Jersey. The last 12 years or so in North Carolina. He was always very involved in my life & I always knew how much my dad loved me & how much I meant to him. I really was ‘daddy’s little girl’. I spent each summer & Christmas break with him in New Jersey, he came to GA for my spring break, he always sent cards & packages, & we talked often. I had never actually lived in the same state, and the only time I had lived out of Georgia was the year I had spent in China. Quite suddenly, the path that God was preparing straight to China took a very different course, straight to North Carolina.

After much prayer & seeking, I decided to postpone returning to China. How could it be so easy to decide to move across the world but so hard to decide to move a few states away? I guess because I knew that what waited for me in NC was something I didn’t want to face, & something that I knew would be excruciatingly heart-breaking.

So that’s what I did. I packed up most of my things, & left for NC. A very big & scary unknown ahead. With no other family, no friends, no job, no church family, & nothing familiar. I knew that my dad needed me & that taking this period of my life to care for him would be absolutely worth everything I was leaving behind or putting on hold. And it was. That was the end of May/beginning of June. It is now March 15, almost a year later.

I will continue sharing this journey here, both the brutally honest things from when I have been in the pit, & those beautiful moments when I truly have seen the Hand of God. There have (& continue to be) many tears shed over heartbreak, loss, suffering, & grief. There also is a hope that comes only from knowing the Truth of Who God is & that though I may not ‘feel’ certain things, that His constant love for me does not change. What a beautiful thing to know that our Heavenly Father holds on to us tightly even though we’re often too weak & broken to hold onto Him.

This is a picture of Dad May 2008. These were cards that my 3rd graders in Georgia had made for him. It's not the best photo, but it's the only one I have from the beginning of our journey.


  1. Beautifully written, Jen.

  2. Jen-I love you and your realness. It brought me to tears as I read all that you and your dad and Grandma walked through-and although your dad is whole and healed in the Lord's presence, I am confident He is making you whole again in a new way.-He truly is redeemer and healer.-

  3. Jen- Your faith and strength in the Lord is amazing to me. You have touched my heart. I love you and we'll continue to keep you in my prayers