Don’t judge a book by its poorly photographed cover! There is hope: for those who are ill and those who care for them. That includes me, and my wife and children, my parents, my in-laws, our church, our friends, and so many more. There aren’t too many scarier diagnoses than lung cancer, especially once it reaches stage 4. Lung cancer kills more people than the next 3 cancers combined. So where is the hope? And are we talking about hope for a cure, hope for a better life, or hope for eternity?
Bob Hillman wrote this little book over 20 years ago, toward the end of his journey with ‘non-curable’ cancer. He had a long and difficult struggle over many years and was sometimes tempted to give up. However, the love from God and family and friends gave him reasons to continue and he left a powerful legacy in the lives of many. Friends gave me their copy of his book for my birthday, and it’s already made a difference in my life.
This book outlines different types of hope: 1) present hope that helps in everyday life, improving the quality and, sometimes, length of life; and 2) future hope for life beyond death, found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and shaping the character of life here and now. It also warns against the dangers of false hope. When you’re seriously ill you can be tempted to expect too much from your therapy, depend too much on being cured, and fall prey to all sorts of claims and promises of miracle treatments and cures. I found this outline extremely helpful. While my hope lies ultimately in the God who raises the dead, hope remains essential to living today, tomorrow and the next. Without hope we have nothing to live for.
Bob is candid about his experiences in battling cancer and the things he found helpful. He recognised his limitations, but he was willing to work within them, and often push beyond them. He was patient with others who were sometimes unhelpful and occasionally cruel in their claims or advice. He’s a testimony to God’s grace and power at work through human frailty and weakness.
There’s a lot of talk these days (but often very little action) about multi-disciplinary healthcare and the need to understand and treat the whole person. Bob devotes a number of chapters to addressing emotional, relational, physical and spiritual factors that give present hope in dealing with cancer and other serious and chronic illnesses. It strikes me that these insights are just as important for the healthy as they are for the sick.
Psychological factors have a major impact on our health and general well-being and functioning. Bob described his battle with depression weighing on him more heavily than his terminal cancer. He encourages us to speak up about our struggles and to not be ashamed to seek help. Counselling may uncover issues contributing to our poor health and may provide better strategies for dealing with them. Anti-depressants could be the help we need to cope more effectively with the struggles of life. Perhaps we need to stop living on adrenaline, de-stress and remove the clutter in our lives. If we believe that we’re personally responsible to keep the world spinning, then maybe we should hand it over to God and enjoy the benefits of doing so!
Serious illness is a major wakeup call. Changes are forced upon us, and sometimes for the better! It’s not too late to change our diet, begin some exercise, increase our hours of sleep, enjoy some recreation, pick up a hobby, laugh a little more. The importance of good relationships with others is heightened. Maybe it’s time to resolve that grievance, offer him or her forgiveness, or seek reconciliation with the estranged friend. Time with family, having fun together, showing love and kindness, serving others – all valuable stuff and all so health promoting! Incidentally, I read an article in the Canberra Times yesterday that provided evidence that married people have much better outcomes than single people in dealing with cancer. Whether it’s a wife, a husband, a good friend, or an organised support group, relationships are so important. God has given us relationships to invest in and reap the dividends from. Don’t neglect them.
Bob Hillman’s hope is shaped by his knowledge of God. God’s word is the spiritual food we need to survive and we’re encouraged to set aside time to meditate on his word. God invites us to speak with him – to pray – and he takes all our calls. We’re urged to spend time with other followers of Jesus, to support one another, share each other’s burdens, celebrate one another’s joys, and point each other to our God and Saviour.
Shaping our present hope, is the confidence we have of an eternal hope in Jesus Christ. If this life is all we have, then I can understand people clinging on at all costs. I can appreciate the despair that comes when all the medical evidence is against us. But one day, whether by cancer or some other tragedy, each life will come to an end. We must face this reality with an open mind to God. The message of this book, and of God’s book, is that there is hope for eternity to be found in Jesus. The Apostle Paul prayed that others would know this hope, and this is my prayer also.
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 1:17-20)