Against the Odds
by Nancy Merical
“Have you ever heard of multiple myeloma?”
My doctor sat across from me in the examining room, relaxed and smiling. She could have been telling me I’d caught the common cold. Her easy manner relaxed me. I accepted her prognosis with odd composure, as an onlooker. I hadn’t heard of the disease, but something told me it was a type of cancer.
“That’s right,” she confirmed. “Cancer of the bone, generally occurring in the skull, but sometimes turning up in other parts of the body as well.”
Holes in the bones of my hands and feet? Was I becoming a human chunk of Swiss cheese? If so, that explained the ache in my hands when I gripped the car’s steering wheel or lifted heavy items. And the unusual tenderness in the soles of my feet.
I could barely walk on soft carpet without pain. My kitchen linoleum and sunroom’s hard ceramic tile demanded thick socks and cushioned shoes.
I had become lethargic, spending hours reading in bed. My hips hurt; sharp, quick pains shot through my toes and shins. When I noticed my teeth loosening and my gums shrinking and discoloring, I made an appointment with my dentist. He thoroughly examined me, then called my physician for an immediate appointment.
The dentist’s solemn expression as he warned me not to neglect the appointment caused a lump of fear to mushroom in my chest. I drove across town to my doctor’s office, fighting tears. Why can’t my husband be with me? Facing this trial without Jack, I prayed for God’s presence.
God answered my prayer with peace. As my doctor explained multiple myeloma, I seemed removed, my mind calmly digesting her words. She stood behind me, kneading the circumference of my skull and feeling, I suppose, for evidence of those holes.
“I’m scheduling you immediately for tests,” she said. “If they’re negative, a good bone specialist will find what you do have. If they’re positive, we’ll begin immediate treatment. Bone cancer is incurable, but good treatment can give you twelve to eighteen years. You’ll go into remission. The disease will become active again. Then we’ll resume treatment.”
Now the fear struck. Twelve to eighteen years? Quick addition told me I could live into my sixties. Fine. How many people made it past sixty? It wasn’t death that worried me; it was the state of my life before death.
Thoughts of treatment frightened me. What sort of treatment? And what about pain? Can I live a fairly normal life, or will I be an invalid? Will the cost be enormous? Will I have to travel? I didn’t ask any of these questions; they would be answered in time.
But I did ask, “What if it isn’t multiple myeloma?”
“We’ll not discuss that unless it’s necessary,” the doctor replied. “I’m almost certain my prognosis is correct. One thing, however. There’s no evidence of excess protein in your urine. That’s a good sign, yet doesn’t rule out the disease.”
A thread of hope. But how could I burden my husband with the news? Jack had suffered so much with my previous infirmities. He was looking ahead to retirement; what could he look forward to now? Nursing an invalid wife, or soon becoming a widower?
Jack and I met in our youth and fell instantly in love. As our relationship grew, calamity struck: I was diagnosed with a heart condition. No marriage, no children, the doctors said. But we fooled them. Our love must have been medicinal, because marriage and four children found me healthier.
Twenty-six years later, calamity struck again: My heart suddenly weakened. Jack assumed many of the household chores. A doctor told me I had a tumor — possibly cancerous. But after much prayer and faith, God intervened; a biopsy after surgery proved the massive tumor benign.
Prayer and faith
Now I was being told again I might have a life-threatening illness. Prayer and faith had beaten the odds before. Could they again? Aren’t there limits to our expectations from God? Wouldn’t it be presumptuous to ask Him to restore my health? I left the doctor’s office that day and sought consolation from a close Christian friend.
“Nancy,” she affirmed, “we’ll have faith that you’ll be victorious over this and be healed.”
I didn’t expect victory in healing; God had spared me so much already. But I immediately received victory over fear. God enclosed me in a bubble of perfect love and peace. I would accept the cancer without a struggle. My life had been restored so many times; I dare not ask for more.
“What did the dentist say?” Jack asked when he came in from work.
When I told him, the blood drained from his face. He bent over on the kitchen counter, too weak to hold himself up. “Oh, God!” Jack cried. In his arms I cried for him, not for myself. Despite an uncertain future, amid the concern and prayer of family and friends, I was the center of calm in the eye of the storm. Fear couldn’t penetrate my peace. I actually felt surges of joy thinking of what waited beyond death.
Bursting the bubble
However, that night in the darkness, reality struck. I could almost hear an audible “pop!” as my protective bubble burst and fear rushed in. I needed Jack’s arms around me.
As if I had spoken, Jack turned, pulled me close, and held me tight. Though not a word passed between us, I felt his love flowing through me, renewing my strength. Fear turned to sudden joy. Though Satan was trying to distract me, God was shaping another protective bubble around me.
“Do you know what I asked for you last night?” my friend Nancy questioned over the phone the next day. “Knowing fear thrives in darkness, I prayed Jack would hold you close and comfort you. I felt so strongly you needed that.”
Sweet Holy Spirit, at work in the long night hours, instructing Nancy, nudging Jack, comforting me. Why shouldn’t I rejoice? God was not forgetting me in my trial.
Seven days passed before the results of the tests returned, seven days of the greatest spiritual fulfillment I have ever known. Like the biblical writer Paul, I rejoiced in my infirmity. No one could believe my calm. During other times I thought I might have cancer, I feared my life might be over. This time I felt it was ready to begin. I anticipated eternity, though I mourned leaving my family.
One evening I picked an apple from a tree. The apple was large, smooth, perfect in appearance; but biting into it, I discovered it wasn’t so perfect. “Lord,” I contemplated, “I’m like this worm-eaten apple. I see no sickness in my mirror, but inside I’m full of holes.”
“Take a good look at the apple,” God impressed on me. “Isn’t there still good in it?”
God was right: I could still be useful to Him. This began a period of soul-searching, rearranging values, and narrowing my spiritual focus. God and the Bible became top priorities, and Jesus my constant companion. During my remaining time, I would devote my life through my writing to help those I might leave behind. My compassion for the ill deepened. I learned to empathize and fervently pray for those who suffered.
I didn’t want to be Swiss cheese, but if the Spirit could flow freely through me, so be it. I felt the need to put my house in order, to clean out the clutter. I also began to clean the clutter from my spiritual life, to rid myself of any unnecessary weight that would keep me from soaring.
In the midst of my spiritual growth, the tests came in: No cancer! And no holes!
Overcome with relief, Jack wept openly in the doctor’s waiting room. As I watched him, joy welled up in me and I laughed — and laughed. A fourth reprieve! Once again we were given back our hopes, our dreams.
I was almost disappointed in the aftermath. For one week I had lived in a bubble of God’s perfect peace that surpasses all understanding, free from fear, free from depression. Now He seemed to have relinquished me to walking more on my own. Eternity must wait.
Although my dentist and doctor were positive I had multiple myeloma, tests ruled out any disease. Had God healed me? I only know that in those seven days of being surrounded in perfect peace, at some point all my symptoms disappeared. No more aching hands and feet. No weakness. No loose teeth and shooting pains.
I took my x-rays to another dentist for a second opinion, and was stunned when he told me they were normal. I marveled that the bone lesions, so clear before, did not exist. God had healed me!
I’ve learned that no matter what the odds, prayer and faith work. The result many not always be healing, but in response to them, God will work what He wants both now and for eternity.