The cancerous truth

national-cancer-institute-0YBIMOqQzt0-unsplashCovid-19 isn’t the only big C going around. Do you remember cancer? Yep. It’s still with us. We haven’t found a cure and there is no vaccine.

I was shocked this morning to hear that Tim Keller has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Who is Tim? I’d say he’s one of the most thoughtful, winsome, well read, visionary, author, preacher, and church leaders of our day. If I get fifty people listening to a sermon, then he’ll get upwards of fifty thousand. If we’ve seen a new church started in a neighbouring suburb, then he’s overseen the planting of large churches in major cities all around the globe.

But “Who cares?” says cancer. It doesn’t discriminate. It will take down the rich and famous, the powerful and erudite, the Chinese and the Americans. Cancer is no respecter of persons. It hides in the background, waits until you least expect it, then… pounce! It finds a location, sets up a base, assembles its troops, and plans its attack. Sometimes it fires a few warning shots—a lesion on the skin, a lump in the breast, a cough that doesn’t pass, some blood in the faeces. But more often than not it works secretly, stealthily, silently, scheming its next moves.

Or so it seems. The truth is that cancer is not ‘out there’ to be avoided by social distancing, lockdowns and hand hygiene. It’s inside us, and from us, and part of us, fighting the rest of us. Cancer is like the internal riots we’ve seen recently in the US. Only it’s happening inside us all the time. Damaged cells. Genetic change. Mutations in the chromosomes.  Glitches in the DNZ code not picked up by the spellchecker. Cancer is me going rogue and attacking me.

Cancer brings grief, heartache, pain, suffering, and loss. Many, many will pray for Tim Keller. Many prayed for me. I thank you. Please keep praying. Pray also for wives, husbands, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and communities.

On Sunday my heart sank to hear that my good friend Andrew has lymphoma. I will be praying for him, and his family. And I will keep praying for many other friends in the grip of this disease. To live with cancer is to walk in the valley of the shadow of death.

The coronavirus has reminded our world that we are mortal. But I fear that it has only half-reminded us. It’s warned us of the possibility that we will die. We’ve heard that we are all at risk. We must take every precaution. We have to protect the vulnerable. If we don’t, then people will die, and in catastrophic numbers.

All that is true. Well, almost. The deeper reality is that we all walk through the valley of the shadow of death. That is our life. The shadow is ever present. We just choose to ignore it. When coronavirus threatens, it gets harder to ignore. When cancer hits, it becomes almost inescapable.

My networks are filled with people finding it very hard to escape this awful truth. Our cancers won’t let us. Lisa, Paul, Lillian, Corey, Alison, Alastair, Anita, Marilyn, Gary, Paul, Graham, Kim, Rita, Zack, Liam, Stephanie, Vangie, Sam, Wendy, Linnea, John, Natalie, Norman, Colin, Jim, Drew, Janet, Steve, Jack, Peter, Max, Jill, Lachlan… and I could go on. We need these words from the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
for ever.

Jesus said in John 10:11

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Turn to the good shepherd while you can.

So much to be thankful for

Having lived for a number of years with a terminal illness, there is much about the current crisis that is very familiar. Some with cancer have been asking the question whether people are now experiencing what they experience—living under the cloud of death, always fearing that the next scan or blood test will reveal the means of the end.

And yet, in the midst of these tensions, challenges, dangers, and threats, I find there is so much to thank God for. Good government, generous financial relief packages, careful strategies for isolation, the support of neighbours and friends, excellent medical resources, current good health, a loving family, a beautiful view, a comfortable bed, computers and phones, and FaceBook and Zoom, and coffee and family.

Is there any hope? Yes! Absolutely. In washing hands and social distancing, in good health care, in ICUs and ventilators, in flattening the curve, in the search for a vaccine, in government grants, in business bailouts, you name it. But our deepest hopes will only be realised as we look to the the one who made us, became one of us, died for us, and was raised again.

Good Friday reminds us of the sacrificial, costly love of God. When I see the body bags and catastrophic death tolls, I am tempted to doubt God. But when I look again at the crucifixion of Jesus I’m reminded just how much he cares. He could have left us alone forever to live with our mistakes, but instead he became one of us to offer us forgiveness.

What are you grateful for this Easter?

 

1456

I’ve just passed six months of daily chemo. That’s eight tablets a day, four with breakfast and four with dinner, seven days a week, totalling 1456 tablets. A friend recently shared with me that my silence on social media had made her anxious that perhaps I wasn’t doing too well. So I figured that it was time for an update.

Health-wise, I’m doing pretty well, thanks. The chemo seems to be doing a good job of shrinking and keeping the cancer in check. My last scans showed no observable changes. No change is good with this treatment strategy. It means that the drugs are stopping the cancer from progressing. And probably better than that.

IMG_4676I’ve grown use to most of the side-effects. Seems I’m now allergic to sunlight! The drugs make me burn very quickly and I’ve had to invest in hats, long sleeve shirts, and carrying a small pack of sunscreen with me. This has been kind of weird for someone who has just moved to the beach! I’ve been experiencing fluid retention, swelling to the feet, and muscle myalgia, especially in my legs. I’ve put on weight, gained the alectinib belly, and felt rather bloated a lot of the time. Chemo brain has returned and I find myself forgetting things, but what’s really bad is that chemo brain has returned and I find myself forgetting things. My resting heart rate has dropped over 20bpm to the rate of an elite athlete—except I’m not. When it gets really low (mid 40s) I find myself feeling totally smashed. Fatigue is a big issue for me now. But, I’m alive, getting on with life, and the cancer has been dealt a blow for now. Thank you God.

2020 marks a lot of changes and they’re not fully worked out as yet. Technically, I’m unemployed at present. My work with FIEC has finished and I’m waiting for our local church to work out a firm offer for me to pastor with them. My plan is to work with Salt Community Church at Bonny Hills, and run for President of the US in my spare time. (Did I say that chemo brain makes me think weird thoughts?) I’d love to keep active in ministry, take up opportunities for sharing the good news of Jesus, speak on Hope Beyond Cure, and perhaps move into doing some mentoring/coaching of pastors.

I’ve got a few personal goals. Trying to lose 10 kilos—4.8 so far in 2020. Getting back into writing. Travelling the Great Ocean Road with Fiona—in a couple of weeks time. Taking regular days off—something I’ve struggled with the past 3 years. Our son, Marcus, is studying in Indonesia, so we’d also like to pay him a visit sometime this year. I’ve got a few more goals, but I’m not overly ambitious. Mostly, I want to love God, love my family, love my church, love my friends, and share the love of God with others. I’m not awesome at it, but I know God works through my weakness and failures to bring about his good purposes.

Eight years closer to eternity

rhodi-lopez-Cxpqnzd3Psg-unsplashWe spent this morning at the funeral of a friend’s mum. She died at 64, leaving a husband, 4 kids, 10 grandkids, and so many friends. The church was packed, the overflow was packed, and it was standing room only outside. We’d been to the church before and it was all but empty. I’m talking single figures of regular attenders. Today there were literally hundreds.

Church mattered today. People flooded the building. People engaged with spiritual matters. They prayed the Lord’s Prayer. They recited the 23rd Psalm. Today God was on their agenda.

I thought to myself, “Why are we normally content to mindlessly fill our lives with trivial pursuits?” “Why do we drift toward death, without pausing to consider what life is all about?” “Why does it take the death of someone we know, love, care about, to cause us to stop and think about matters that really matter?”

Today is exactly eight years since my cancer diagnosis. Eight years I never expected. Eight years of lows, highs, and everything in between. Eight years of being personally plugged into my mortality. Eight years of continual reminders that life is brutally short. Eight years of growing, deep conviction about the meaning of life and the purpose of existence.

Is it all blind meaningless chance?

I don’t believe so. I’m persuaded that there is a God behind it all, that he can be known, that he is good, that he gives hope, and that hope is real.

What do you believe?

And why?

Stepping down

fiecDear friends

I’m letting you know that I will be stepping down as FIEC National Director next year. It’s been a tough decision and a while in the making.

There have been a number of new stressors this year, most significantly declining health. My health problems reached a crisis point in June, when I was trying to function with constant pain, coughing, and breathlessness. Scans and biopsies confirmed that the cancer had been growing in my lungs and pleura. My poor health, fatigue, uncertainties, and stress, are among the factors behind my decision to step down. However, it’s not just the last year—it’s been eight years of living with the effects of lung cancer.

I now have reduced physical, mental, and emotional reserves, and I need to listen to my body and make some changes. While the pain and difficulties of the cancer have been reduced through the treatment, the side effects continue to limit me. I have increased fatigue, need more sleep, and yet often don’t sleep well. My stamina and durability have declined. I am still seeking to discover my new ‘normal’, but I am aware that it must be lesser than the previous normal. While I pray regularly for healing and relief, I must factor in continuing daily chemo for the remainder of my life.

A friend said to me this week, that not only have I had to drive the ship, but I’ve had to build the ship while driving it. It’s had its challenges, but I’d take the opportunity all over again. And I will miss it—that’s for sure.

This is not to say that I intend to stop serving within FIEC. Fiona and I have developed significant and supportive relationships among pastors, wives, and churches. We enjoy being able to offer practical ministry help, mentoring, and encouragement. It’s a joy to partner with churches to spur them on. It’s been a privilege to represent FIEC, as I’ve visited colleges, spoken at conferences, and exercised wider ministry. I will share with you more of our future plans as they become clearer.

I want to thank everyone involved with FIEC for the honour of serving you over the past three years. Thank you for your faith in me as I’ve sought to pioneer this role. It’s been a privilege to serve alongside each of you. I’ve appreciated your support and your fellowship. I’ve loved the opportunity to invest in the FIEC ministry, and to encourage men and women to work together in building God’s kingdom. Visits to churches and our annual conferences have been highlights for me over my time in this role.

As I’ve said, it’s been a tough decision to step down as National Director. I am stepping down from this specific role, not from ministry. I want life to continue to be about the service of God and others, it will just take a different shape. I understand that this will be disappointing news for some—we feel the grief ourselves. We would value your prayers and encouragement at this time of change.

It’s not a cure, but it is good

IMG_4661My new targeted chemo regime is now in full swing. So much easier than the previous routine of hospital visits, IV chemo, crash for a week, regroup for two weeks, then do it all again. Now it’s just four tablets with breakfast and four with dinner. Instead of a chair in hospital, I can sit on the deck at home.

This week I had my first CT scan since starting treatment and the results are exciting. The drugs are working, the cancer is shrinking, and life is stabilising. The pain has all but disappeared, the coughing has gone, and my breathing is getting easier. There’s increased fatigue, some aches and pains, my heart has slowed down, and my brain has become a bit muddled at times. Latest blood tests show that I am tolerating the impact on my liver and other organs. The breathing is getting easier and I’m keeping fairly active.

Thank you for your concern, your prayers, and your encouragement. I’m very grateful for God’s kindness in giving me a renewed lease on life. God has put a smile on my face and an increased desire to number my days for his sake. It’s not a cure, but it sure is good.

Round 2

This post is by Fiona McDonald. We are in this together.

attentie-attentie-ig7vN6OkGNE-unsplash

Ding. Ding. Ding.

The bell sounds the start of round 2.

This will be a different round from the first round.

Round 1 had seen an unknown featherweight sent into the ring against a known heavy weight—LC.

No one had known why the round had even been scheduled. It was a total mismatch.

There had never been any doubt in the minds of most as to the outcome.

It had just been a warm up round for early spectators to the main event, a small sideshow off to the side.

But as the young featherweight danced around the ring, in his naivety throwing punches that LC hadn’t expected, fighting in a totally unconventional style, this round had gathered the interest of the spectators, both professionals—medical and theological, and amateurs—believers and non-believers.

Much to everyone’s amazement, including the featherweight himself, blows had been delivered that had knocked LC around, causing him to stumble and fall.

The judge’s decision was totally unexpected—the featherweight had won the first round.

But now the bell is ringing for the second round.

It has been a long time since the first round.

The crowd has drifted on to other matches, other things in life.

The featherweight himself has moved on from that first round.

The unexpected win had given new lease to life.

There had been the book written of the experience and talks to encourage others in their unexpected fights with LC’s brothers.

There had been a new job—leading a church in the Stromlo region. Then taking on and shaping the first FIEC national director job. With pastoral ministry to the local, national and even international church.

There had been the fulfilment of bucket list prayers—kid’s graduations; weddings; special birthdays; the joy of four grandchildren; family holidays to beautiful places; joy, beauty, life; celebrating the life God continued to give; celebrating NED.

But there had also been occasional reminders—scanxiety every 3 months; the serious oncologist with somber warnings; the progression of LC in others; and the deaths and funerals of fellow LC and other C brothers and sisters.  Life, and sometimes even breathing were reminders of LC not being far away.

And now the bell sounds for round 2.

Years later…

Some had thought the battle had been won and there would be no round 2.

But the wise, including those in the corner of the featherweight, hadn’t been caught totally unsurprised when LC suddenly scheduled a second round. LC didn’t like losing. His backers didn’t like losing. They’d bided their time before turning up again, hoping to catch the featherweight off guard, untrained, unprepared.

It’s now an older, middleweight who now steps into the ring against LC.

Older, wiser, more tired, still bearing the bruising and scarring from last time.

But not totally unprepared.

Not quite so naïve as last time.

Maybe more skill than last time?

They’ve been working on the left jab, fighting hard, building strategies.

Jab… the research and experimenting with new treatments that has happened in the last 8 years. No longer is the world so scared of LC, or his siblings. Great advances have been made.

Jab… no longer is all LC the same. Now it is understood at the molecular level, cell types and genetic mutations promptly looked for.

Sure, there’s still the discrimination… “you must have been a smoker” and “You get what you deserve”.

Sure, funding for other Cs is still greater… who doesn’t want to help their mum, their girlfriend when they’ve got BC? Which bloke hasn’t come to realise more about PC? Who hasn’t been encouraged to do their poo test when the government sends it out? Which lady hasn’t been cheering that pap smears are now only every 5 years and encouraging their teenage girls and boys to suck it up and have their HPV immunization.

The middle weight is grateful for groups like the Lung Foundation Australia, and for their support, research, and advocacy. He’s got involved. He’s joined the team. He’s been in the papers and on TV.

HIs involvement in Rare Cancers Australia has opened doors to better government understanding and funding.

The middle weight has been glad to be another little voice in the PBS listing of new medications and the need for genetic testing. It’s been a pleasing change from the initial “I’m sorry, we don’t speak with the public” to now being asked to participate in public forums, as a ‘consumer’.

Jab… many LCs are able to be treated more like a ‘chronic disease’ than a ‘death sentence’. It’s still the largest C killer, but things are changing.

Jab… in 2011 research was still deciding that chemo could continue beyond the first four doses to a maintenance regime—something the featherweight had proved in person, with four gruelling years of maintenance chemo to back up his surprise win.

But the glimmers of targeted therapy had been just beyond the featherweight’s reach. Now they are a reality, things have changed.

Jab… the targeted drugs are now first line therapy, and second line therapy and even third line therapy. They are now standard treatment. And they are available to our middleweight combatant. The question is more “which one to use?” rather than desperately trying to get access.

Jab… we’re not alone. Last time the featherweight coach had been desperately researching, desperately trying to find specialists with understanding and experience. Now these people are all in place. They are on our team.

A respiratory physician/oncologist in our neighbouring town of Port Macquarie.

A world class researcher and expert in Melbourne.

Access to the best research through the LC international symposium. Research that comes straight to our email box, rather than having to wade through the internet.

Initially it was the patient experts on the online community, Inspire, and the medical experts who took time to answer on CancerGrace.

But now a specific ALK group—connections in Australia, NZ, Canada, the US. Friends online have become friends in person. Friends we’ve shared our lives with, who’ve stayed with us, and at whose funerals we’ve wept.

Jab… Jab… Jab…

Our technique has certainly improved.

But it was the right-hand knockout punch that caught us as much as our opponent by surprise.

It totally blew us away. LC throwing in the towel. NED being announced and continuing to be announced with successive scans.

The joy and privilege of life granted, the miracle of healing despite the odds and the usually powerless chemotherapy combination.

The knockout punch forged through desperation last time, has now strengthened.

The right-hand cross of trust in God, forged in the battle last time, supported by the reading and writing of books and, most importantly, given its power by people’s prayers.  This punch has continued to be practiced and used and refined.

It’s been humbling to have had so many people say to us over the intervening years that they’ve been praying for us.

David didn’t want you to be uninformed.

You prayed and many have given thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted to us in answer to the prayers of so many. To see prayer—intentional and interventional—makes us more aware than ever that we’re not alone, and we don’t suffer alone or in silence. God had given us the community of the church to care, love, support and pray for each other.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

It’s been amazing to see God at work in so many ways through this first round.

To know the reality of Romans 8:28 in our lives, and to see the effect flow on into the lives of others.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.

It’s been wonderful to enjoy the peace of Philippians 4:6-7, rather than anxiety.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It’s been a blessing to rejoice in our physical, emotional and spiritual sufferings, and to know the hope that God gives. It’s been a privilege to see God act in mercy, reconciling people to himself.

we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

It’s been a joy to receive comfort from God and to seek to offer real comfort to others, through the comfort we have received, praying with and for them, trying to encourage others to persevere through suffering because the rewards are immense.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It’s been a privilege to continue to minister to God’s people, to hear David preach, to be part of our local churches—Crossroads, Stromlo, and now Salt.

It’s an awesome thought to know that we’re in the plans and purposes of God for our lives. To know that nothing is beyond his control, his knowledge, his reach, his working. To know that our time is in his hands, that he is all powerful and all good, and that he is indeed our Rock and our Redeemer.

The bell rings for round 2.

They had never wanted to enter the ring first round. They wouldn’t have wished it on their worst enemies, and yet it has been a joy and a privilege and something that had brought them closer to God and given new ways to serve others.

The bell rings for round 2.

Slowly the middleweight climbs onto the canvas. The scoffers and jeerers can be heard. The doubters are fearful. The resilient stand grim-faced and determined.

The crowd is expectant.

The bell rings.

The combatants face off, mentally preparing for jab, jab, jab, right cross.

But this round and many others were all won so many years ago.

Jab… the creator and sustainer of the world entered our world as a human being.

Jab… his teaching brought wisdom and understanding of the one true God.

Jab… his miracles pointed out the presence of God in their midst.

Uppercut to the jaw… his crucifixion.

Knockout punch… his resurrection.

The bell rings for round 2.

The combatants step up.

There is confidence and a trusting smile, for we know that Round 2 was won many years before. And even if we lose, yet we win.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
(Philippians 1:20-24)

And through it all, we keep trusting in our great God—faithful, kind, good, sovereign, loving, and powerful— and we are deeply grateful for those who will pray with us through this next round, comforting, encouraging and spurring us on.

Goodbye NED

I’ve got some news to share and I apologise for the impersonal nature of this communication. Some of you have kindly asked about my health over recent months and I have given partial and non-committal answers. I haven’t been that well, and have undergone many tests and scans and have not had clarity until very recently as to what is going on.

The bottom line is that I’m no longer NED (No Evidence of Disease). My cancer is back. There is clear evidence of cancer growing again in my left lung and pleura. I have suspected this for some time as I have been unable to shake symptoms, such as back and chest pains that have grown more severe, a cough that will not go away, and increasing breathlessness after minor exertion such as walking up the stairs in our house.

IMG_4073It has been a slow and detailed process to reach a confident diagnosis. I’ve had multiple CT scans, a PET scan, blood tests, and a lung biopsy taken under CT. All this has confirmed that the original cancer has progressed in the same area of the left lung and pleura.

The diagnosis was not a surprise, but it has been hard to take. I’ve enjoyed more than three years without chemo and I’ve been enjoying a pretty ‘normal’ life. With a phone call from the oncologist, all that has changed, and I have once again become a cancer patient.

IMG_4166I am very grateful to God for the availability of new drugs that target my cancer sub-type: ALK. When I was first diagnosed, these types of treatments were only just being developed. In fact, Fiona and I both lobbied the PBAC to have these drugs available in Australia and placed on the PBS to make them affordable to people. I have now been on one of these targeted oral chemotherapies for a few weeks. The regime is completely different to my previous four years of intravenous chemo. I take two lots of four tablets every day. The drug is a targeted therapy. It is a new technology, developed since I was first diagnosed. It would have cost us $100ks, but is now available on the PBS for less than $40 a month.

We don’t know whether or how well it will work, but our prayer is that God will use this treatment to give me many more years to come. There is initial evidence that it is doing something as the pains in my chest aren’t as severe, but there is a long road ahead. We know some people who have done really well on this treatment—some who, like me, were given months to live, but have been no evidence of disease or contained disease for years now.

It will take a little while to get used to this new regime and to manage the impact of this treatment. The side effects are becoming more obvious. The main impact so far has been with swelling in my feet and ankles, myalgia in my legs, fatigue, and photosensitivity— hence my new hats! We will need to monitor the impact on heart, liver and kidneys. There will be regular visits to specialists, blood tests, scans, and more. I will need to monitor my energy levels and work out my capacity for various tasks and ministries.

If you are one who prays, then I ask you to pray: for healing; for the treatment to be really effective; for the ability to cope with the ongoing chronic nature of things; for our mental health—that we will trust God and not get too down; for Fiona who has asked for patience; for our love and kindness towards each other as we process life together through different lenses; for our children—who are older now, but have strong memories of last time.

There will be much more to say, we will need encouragement, prayers and support on this journey. We know God is with us, loves us, and will never leave nor forsake us.  God, in his mercy, listened to the prayers of so many in 2011/12 as people pleaded with God to extend my life. My hope is that God will grant me many more years in his service. So please join us in prayer.

Feel free to get in touch, but appreciate that there is a lot going on at the moment and it might take a little while to get back to some of you.

December 2 seven years on

IMG_2831It’s December 2nd—my seventh anniversary since diagnosis. Wow! A few tears fill my eyes. This is real. And it was never going to be. Life was over. It was all downhill. There was no hope. Expectations were gone. And then…

To be alive. Intoxicating. Blessings. Fiona. Luke, Sharon, Matt, Liz, Grace, Sid, Marcus, Liam, Connor, Jesse, and the little one we are yet to meet. Family. Friends. Brothers and sisters in the Lord. Friends with cancer. Deep bonds.

Ministry. Work. Travel. Beaches. Lessons. Blessings. Opportunities. Words. Writing. Speaking. Listening. Learning.

Father in heaven, thank you for life and living. Thank you for health and possibilities and a future.

And forgive me. Yes, forgive me, for unlearning. For once more taking breath for granted, for my growing sense of entitlement, for pride, for becoming casual and flippant and attracted by trivia. 

Father, you have taught me so much on this journey with cancer. You have been with me in the valley of death, you’ve carried me through so many trials and temptations, you’ve been merciful beyond description. You have taught me lessons, encouraged my faith, and disciplined me in my wandering. You have comforted me, that I might comfort others. 

Father God, you have adopted me into your family, you have redeemed my life through Jesus, you have filled me with your Spirit. I can never thank you enough. You have reminded me that I’m not self-sufficient and shown me the your sufficiency of your grace. Thank you that my life is in your hands and teach me to number my days once more.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!

(Psalm 139:13-17)

Serendipity or God works in mysterious ways

God works in mysterious ways.

q400A fortnight ago I boarded a plane for Sydney in order to speak at the Managers Conference for Koorong Books. They wanted me to speak devotionally and to share about Hope Beyond Cure. My plans had been to shut my eyes and add a little sleep after what had been a very busy fortnight in New Zealand. But it wasn’t to be.

The woman in the seat beside me asked what I would be doing in Sydney. I replied that I was planning to speak at a conference about ‘How to find hope in the face of a terminal diagnosis’. At this she choked up, and began to share with me that her husband had died only weeks before. Her grief was palpable as she described the heartache and devastation on her family.

She asked my how I came to be speaking on this topic and I shared that I’d received a terminal lung cancer diagnosis a few years back. We talked for a while and shared a connection through the heaviness of our conversation. I wanted to be able to offer her a copy of my book, but I didn’t have one with me. Why would I? I was off to Koorong Books!

As the flight continued, we talked through many shared experiences. I told her of my struggle with cancer and also the challenges to my faith in God. As I described the context of my circumstances, something clicked for her, and she asked me whether I had written a book.

“Yes”, I said.

“Is it just a small book?”

“With a black cover?”

“With a picture of someone in a tunnel?”

“Yep, that’s it”, I said.

When hearing of her husband’s diagnosis, her aunt had sent her a copy of Hope Beyond Cure, which she then read to her husband each day in hospital. They both found it encouraging and hope-filling. She said that she wasn’t religious, but something deep struck a chord with them.

She wept at the serendipity of sitting beside me in the plane. Who’d have thought? What were the chances? She asked if we could get a photo together to show her aunt. She lives in Victoria, but her aunt lives close to us and works in the local Op Shop. I’ve since popped into the Op Shop, met her aunt, and thanked her for sending the book.

I continue to thank God that this book is helping people. And I thank him for connecting the two of us on the plane.

Returning to the scene

IMG_8551It’s been an anxious week as I’ve anticipated returning to the exact place and the same event where I first noticed the symptoms of my cancer. It was the Geneva Push church planting conference and I was speaking on leadership, church planting, and the vision to reach Australia with the good news of Jesus. It was the end of November in 2011 that I climbed the three flights of stairs at Scots Church in Melbourne, stopping on each landing, completely breathless, not knowing that within a few days I’d be in hospital fighting for my life.

Fast forward six and a half years and here I am at Scots Church, speaking on ministry, team work, and persevering as a Christian, and listening to others teach about the urgency of sharing the message of Jesus with those around us. I walked the same stairs to get to lunch today, pausing on each landing and reflecting on the amazing kindness of God. Wow! Who’d have thought I’d be remission? But more than this, I mean the wonder that God cares so much as to reach out to us, send his Son to die for us, welcome us into his family, gather us together in unity, transform his children into the likeness of Jesus, and equip us to work together to build something that will last for eternity—the church of God. Not human institutions, but the gathering together of people belonging to him.

We’ve been reminded once again that God’s vision for this world is to restore broken relationships. Primarily our broken relationships as sinners to a holy God, but also our relationships with one another. In days where the church seems out of touch and past its use by date, we are encouraged to understand our world, to listen to others, to show kindness, love, and patience, as we seek every opportunity to share the amazing news of Jesus Christ. No, not religion—Jesus!

davemaccaIt’s a joy and honour to be able to gather with men and women, young and old, to spur each other on to reach Australia with the life transforming, eternally consequential message of Jesus. People are getting jaded by the endless cycle of meaninglessness promoted by our society. People are searching for meaning. Surely there has to be more that work, sleep, eat, over and over again. Or are we just caught up in an endless Groundhog Day?

Our scientific materialism has ripped us off. It can’t deliver answers to the questions that matter most. It doesn’t offer meaning or purpose. It leaves us rudderless, lost, and unsatisfied. No, the truth is there is much more to life. The transcendent, living, almighty God has entered our world in Jesus Christ. Jesus has shown us what it really means to be human. He’s taught us what life is all about. More than this, by giving his life for us, and through rising from the dead, he has placed God within reach. He’s made peace with God possible. He’s gathering people to himself. He’s planting, growing, and building churches—gatherings of weak, ordinary, forgiven people. People who deserve nothing but are given everything. That is such good news.

Thank you God for bringing me back—not simply to Scots Church and another church planting conference—but to you, to Jesus, to your family, to a certain hope for all eternity.

Do you need an echocardiogram?

echoThis morning I had an echocardiogram. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I until this morning. It’s basically an ultrasound of the heart. This is one of a number of health checks I’ve had in recent months. Since it’s six years since I was diagnosed with cancer, and two years since I’ve had chemo, and since we’re planning on moving cities, we thought it wise to book in for a major service or two. So far, I’ve had the cameras in both ends and seen some of the damage chemo has left behind. I’ve managed to take on another ‘C’ disease—well developed coeliac. So we’ve had a pantry purge and I’ve started to become one of those difficult people who is always asking what’s in the food I’ve been given. I’ve had lung function tests and discovered that despite the beating my lungs have taken I’m sitting on the low end of average for a bloke my age. My bone density has been checked and I’m osteopaenic. Don’t know that word either? Well, it’s much better than osteoporosis and osteopathetic. I’ve even spoken to my first specialist, a lung physician, who was willing to explore another ‘C’ word—cure. I liked the sound of that one, but we can’t ever know for sure.

Back to the echocardiogram. They were checking the health of my heart. Occasional atrial fibrillation or arrhythmia. I’ve had it a few times over the years and I’ve usually been able to explain it away. But then the heart is one organ to take seriously. It was behaving itself today, but there was something a little remarkable. The echo showed that my heart has become somewhat hardened. The muscle has thickened. Probable causes are high blood pressure and insufficient exercise. Yes, I know what to do. More exercise, get the heart working a bit more. And slow down, relax, rest, recreate, de-stress. In other words, I mustn’t harden my heart any more than it is.

As I walked away from the cardiologist this morning, I remembered having heard something like this before:

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

‘Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.’

Hebrews 3:12-15 NIV

I need to pay attention to my heart. This muscle is indispensable to my continued welfare and existence. I can’t do without it.

But, more importantly, I must also pay attention to my spiritual ‘heart’—the centre of my being, my values, my conscience, my choices, my priorities. God is calling me to listen to his voice. Not some mystical connection found in solitary introspection, but his message of good news focusing on Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is the only one to live for, the one who deserves everything, including my complete allegiance. He has given his life for me, to rescue me from the futility and judgment that comes from living for myself.

When God reminds me of this fact, I mustn’t harden my heart against him. When my will aches for independence, when I simply want to do my own thing, when I’m tempted to despair, when I’m feeling that God is remote or irrelevant, then I mustn’t harden my heart. When the world around me is shouting that there is no God, and when consumerism keeps luring me to live myself, then I must listen to the true word of God. The voice that reminds me that my heart will never be satisfied until it finds its rest in God.

And I urge you too to listen to God. Take a look at your spiritual echocardiogram, get your spiritual heart checked, while you still can. Good heart health is smart and spiritual heart health matters even more.

6 AD

You know I’m a Christian, right? So BC and AD to me reflect the most significant events in human history: BC—before Christ and AD—anno domini (in the year of the Lord). It makes perfect sense to me to divide our calendars at this point.

So it is with humble respect that I claim another BC and AD hinge point in my own life. BC—before cancer and AD—after diagnosis. And today I reach 6AD. Today is my six year survival mark. It’s exactly six years since my friends ushered me from the coffee shop to the cancer journey. On 2nd December 2011 I was admitted to hospital and today I begin my seventh year of life AD.

IMG_7390Yesterday I had the privilege of catching up with the same blokes who cared for me on that first day. As we have done every year, we drank coffee (or chai lattes and hot chocolates—we’re getting older), we shared stories, and we prayed for each other. Much has happened in this time. So much has changed. But the goodness of God remains. As I drove home, I found myself singing (yes, truly—and I believe I was even in tune!)

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come
’tis has brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home

There have been so many dangers, toils and snares, and I am so conscious of God’s grace in all of them. God’s abundant kindness and mercy astound me. All of my bucket list prayers have been answered. I’m not supposed to be here—the doctors said so. And yet God has given me more days in this life to sing his praise.

But, you know, it’s not about me. The original BC-AD divide leaves my personal experience deep in its wake. The coming of Jesus Christ offers us forgiveness, life, and reconciliation. The sting of death has been removed. Hopelessness and despair have been replaced by joy and assurance. I can look forward in confident anticipation to an eternity with my saviour, not because of anything on my part. No, it’s all of grace, amazing grace. The same grace that transformed John Newtown, and William Wilberforce, and millions of others throughout the centuries. And you too can know this grace.

Five Years

IMG_0542I lay alone in my hospital bed, the words and music of David Bowie filling my headphones…

Pushing through the market square,
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
We had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
Then I knew he was not lying

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

Five years
Five years
Five years
Five years

I wept to the music. Five years seemed so far away. A future I would never experience. A very remote possibility at best.

I’m listening to it again now. Bowie has gone. Another lost to cancer.

Five years is a landmark for those with cancer. We measure the statistics for five year survival. Early detection increases the odds. Isolating the cancer and effective surgery seem the keys to success. Sadly, many cancers are detected late. Symptoms go unrecognised. Patients and doctors assume there must be a simple explanation. It’s only a cough. You’re probably just tired. Don’t make things worse by worrying about it. You’re just unfit. The blood tests seemed good. The x-ray didn’t show anything. You’ll be over it in no time.

Lung cancer is too often diagnosed too late. Many of the symptoms resemble a common cold or flu. And, if you don’t smoke, then why would you even contemplate the idea of lung cancerLate diagnosis takes options off the table. If it has already spread, then surgery is normally not an option. A stage IV diagnosis is considered terminal. Metastatic (spread to other organs) lung cancer requires a chemical strategy, but it’s not considered curative. Until very recently this was only chemotherapy but, in many cases, this is now moving to targeted drugs that work on the cancer at the genetic level. Another frontier is immunotherapy that strengthens the body’s own defence system to attack the cancer. Combinations of strategies are being tested. Cure, however, still seems a long way away.

In many ways five years is merely arbitrary, simply a number—like a cricketer who reaches a century, 100 runs. Statistics are only descriptors of what has been, not predictors of what will be. Nevertheless, five years is five years. It’s five years of life. It must not be taken for granted.

Cancer.org lists the five year life expectancy for non-small cell lung cancer. This is my particular cancer type. This is what people like me are told they can expect. It’s not pretty.

  • The 5-year survival rate for people with stage IA NSCLC is about 49%. For people with stage IB NSCLC, the 5-year survival rate is about 45%.
  • For stage IIA cancer, the 5-year survival rate is about 30%. For stage IIB cancer, the survival rate is about 31%.
  • The 5-year survival rate for stage IIIA NSCLC is about 14%. For stage IIIB cancers the survival rate is about 5%.
  • NSCLC that has spread to other parts of the body is often hard to treat. Metastatic, or stage IV NSCLC, has a 5-year survival rate of about 1%. Still, there are often many treatment options available for people with this stage of cancer.

So, you see, five years was a lifetime away. Five years was out of reach. Five years was a dream and a prayer.

Today marks FIVE YEARS since I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with stage IV NSCLC. FIVE YEARS. FIVE YEARS. FIVE YEARS.

I remain NED (no evidence of disease).

It’s a year since I last had chemo.

IMG_2721Time to say “Thank you”.

I thank God for giving me life, forgiveness, a relationship with him, and the real hope of eternity. I thank God for giving me purpose in life.

I thank God for my beautiful wife—who researched options, sought the best care, stuck by my side, urged me on, watched over our family, worked hard to pay for my medical costs, prayed for me, and kept on going even while everything hurt her so much.

I thank God for my awesome children and daughters-in-law. I thank God that he upheld them in the brutal reality of their dad having ‘incurable’ cancer.

I thank God for my two beautiful little grandsons. Boys I never expected to meet, who bring me such joy.

I thank God for my father and mother, for their prayers, visits, phone calls, and compassionate support, while facing many difficulties themselves.

I thank God for my family and friends, who have suffered alongside my suffering and rejoiced in my progress and healing.

I thank God for my church, and my other church, and praying people everywhere who have taken the time to ask God to heal me and help me. It blows my mind.

I thank God for my oncologists, my nurses, my surgeon, my exercise physiologist, my acupuncturist, and my many helpers.

I thank God for my cancer buddies. Some I’ve shared with face to face, some who have not lived to see five years, some I only know through Facebook. I thank God for their friendship, their generosity, their tenacity, their compassion, their faith, and their hope.

I thank God for giving me Hope Beyond Cure and then giving me time to share this with others.

I thank God for my five years!

And, dear God, please can I have some more.

Hope when your child has cancer

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 10.45.28 AMThis interview by Dominic Steele with his friend, Andrew Barry, is deeply moving and profoundly encouraging. Andrew’s son has very serious cancer. His situation has moved me to pray for him regularly. In this heartfelt chat Andrew talks about suffering, marriage, family life, work, treatment, salvation and what it means to have an eternal perspective. Take the time to watch it all and grab the tissues! Click on this link to watch the conversation.

Two massive questions faced by those with cancer

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 2.31.57 PMSince receiving my cancer diagnosis, many have assumed that my big questions are “Why?” and “What?” Why am I going through this? Why did God let it happen? What did I do to deserve it? What could I have done to prevent it? What specifically caused it?

The truth is that I haven’t been too obsessed with either of these questions. I’ve been more impacted by the questions “Where?” and “Who?” More particularly… “Where am I?” and “Who am I?”

Where am I?

When cancer hits, life shifts course. The journey changes for the worst. Our plans are detoured, deferred, or destroyed. We feel confused and disoriented, out of control and sometimes totally lost. We’re not where we want to be. We’ve got things to do, places to see, people to meet, tasks to complete, dreams to be realised. But we discover our course has shifted and we might never find our way back.

There is a blessing to be found when we discover we’re lost. It’s time to take a look at the GPS. Time to get our bearings. The truth is, we’ve never been in control and our destinations have never been certain.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.  (Proverbs 16:9)

I need to let go of the belief that I can make my life happen the way I want. I need to humble myself before God and recognise that it’s his overall plan that will prevail. I don’t even know what will happen tomorrow, but I can know the One who does. I can rest secure in the knowledge that my detours and diversions can never separate me from the love of God.

…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:39)

Who am I?

So much of our identity is tied to what we do and what we hope to do. Our jobs, hobbies, relationships, achievements, physical prowess, intellectual acumen, brushes with fame—they all make us into somebody. Yesterday I heard Usain Bolt say that winning the Olympic 100 metres three times in a row will make him immortal. If only!

Cancer can strip us of all that makes us who we are. Our dreams are destroyed and our hopes are dashed. Sickness keeps us from the very things on which we pin our identities. Who am I if I’m no longer an athlete, a lover, a worker, a success? Am I stuck being a patient, an object of sympathy, a statistic? Is my identity now shaped by my disease? Am I a victim, a survivor, a success, or a failure? It’s no wonder confusion reigns.

Again, there is blessing to be found in the moment of crisis. I need to be reminded that I’m not the sum total of what I think, own, achieve, say, or hope for. My identity isn’t something that I need to build for myself. God has made me in his image to reflect his glory. He has redeemed me through the death of his Son to be adopted as his child. I am richly blessed in Christ. God has given his Holy Spirit as a guarantee of a deep personal relationship with him and a glorious eternal future.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (Romans 8:16-17)

Cancer cannot take this away from me. My identity is to be found in God, not in my circumstances. So long as I look to my circumstances, I will remain confused and lost. Far better that I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Don’t fear the questions. Only look to God for the answers.

So many reasons to be thankful

Someone contacted the church office recently, wanting to know if I was still alive! A fair question really—they’d read my book and suspected the worse. Well, despite my lack of blogging recently, I’m alive and enjoying the life God has given me.

This week I’ve celebrated my fifth birthday since diagnosis. And today my CT scan showed that I am still no evidence of disease. It’s over three years that I’ve been N.E.D. I’d prepared myself for bad news—somehow expecting that I’d have to change my name to E.D. But my results show no change. Thank you God!

Most of you will not know that it’s now nine months since my last cycle of chemo. It’s a real joy not to be poisoning myself every three weeks. Some of my regular side effects have disappeared. Others like fatigue, chemo brain, and anxiety continue. It’s been wonderfully liberating not having to plan my life around three weekly cycles of sickness.

Four years is a very long time to have non-stop chemotherapy. It’s tough physically and emotionally. It’s hard to keep getting poisoned when you are not sure if it is working or necessary. I was prepared to stay the course whatever, but a number of doctors raised questions about whether, after showing good results for so long, it might be worth taking an extended break. So in November last year my break began. I’ve had three scans in this period, and each one has show N.E.D. My break continues.

IMG_2721I described my circumstances to people the other day as like being in a battle zone. Through the years of chemo it was like I was wearing body armour to protect me from the enemy. At the beginning the enemy lines were clearly visible. After I became N.E.D. it changed to a fight against a hidden opposition—like terror cells that can pop up anywhere. I didn’t know where or when or how the enemy might appear, what shape it might take, or what it might do to me. My oncologists believed the enemy remained real and would seek any and every opportunity to attack. So the body armour was essential—I was urged to stay with the chemo indefinitely. The strategy was vigilance, protection, prevention.

Now that I’m not taking regular chemo, it’s like going out without the body armour. The enemy may or may not be present—there is no way to be sure. There are risks. The cancer may raise its head again. We cannot know. I’ve received mixed advice from the medical experts. They cannot tell me anything decisive. Scans are clear, but their scope is limited. Nothing microscopic will ever show on scans. Some say the cancer is still there—simply because they don’t believe treatment can cure my cancer. I’ve been described as a ‘super-responder’. My results are off the charts and there is no data out there to definitively advise me what to do.

So I will stay in touch with medical updates, clinical trials, and the latest in treatment strategies. I will keep talking to my ‘cancer buddies’ about what they are experiencing and discovering. I will continue three monthly CT scans and introduce six monthly MRIs of the brain. I will gradually increase my exercise and try to eat well. But mostly, I will remember to number my days, using the time that God has giving me to trust him and live for him. I will thank him for his saving love, for his gift of life, for the blessing of family and friends, and for the honour of praising him.

IMG_2716I want to honour my family for supporting me on this long and often painful journey. It’s been hard for them and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Like my tee shirt?

Relay number 5

IMG_0412
2015 Relay for Life

Tomorrow I walk around the AIS track with the Cancer Council’s Relay for Life for the 5th year in a row. Every time I have walked as a survivor. The first year I went very reluctantly, feeling that I wasn’t much of a survivor. If you’d told me then I’d be walking the track again 4 years later, I would not have believed you. But here I am—thankful to God for another year and another opportunity.

This year I’m hoping to give away as many copies of Hope Beyond Cure as I can. My desire is for people impacted by cancer to know that there is real hope to be found. I’m keen for conversations with survivors and carers. I’m keen to walk alongside others going through similar trials and difficulties.

I’m also working hard to raise support for the Cancer Council. There are over 200 relays around the country each year and they are the major fundraiser to help people affected by cancer.

If you would like to support me doing the relay tomorrow, you can donate online by clicking here.

My story

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 5.17.44 PMThis month the Lung Foundation Australia are aiming to change how people view lung cancer. They’ve asked me, and a bunch of others, to share our stories. You can view the video of an interview with me here. Lung cancer can impact anyone. While smoking remains the leading cause of lung cancer, more and more people are getting this disease who have never smoked. It continues to be the biggest cancer killer in Australia. Sadly, most people are probably like me in thinking it could never happen to them. If you can breathe then it can. If you’re struggling to breathe, or experiencing pain or discomfort that you don’t recognise, then speak to your doctor. Early diagnosis rapidly improves people’s chances of survival. Thank you Lung Foundation for all your hard work and support to so many.

Good news scans

IMG_1783Yesterday I had a routine CT scan to check on any progression of my cancer. Thank God, there was no change. I remain NED! While this has been the pattern for some time, these results were especially encouraging because I haven’t had chemo since last November. I am taking a longer break from chemo to give my body and mind some reprieve. The constant barrage of toxins over the past 4 years has taken its toll.

Today I revisited my treatment strategy with my oncologist. Once again I was encouraged to not assume that I am healed and to return to the IV chemicals every three weeks. The advice was expected, and I can understand it from the doctor’s viewpoint. Why mess with success? The question is at what cost? Mind you, the alternative approach is also at what cost? If I give up on the chemo, and the cancer remains in my body, am I surrendering the advantage to the enemy.

And where does trust in God come in? I believe that God is powerful and loving. I trust that he can and does heal people. But has he removed my cancer completely? Does it display greater faith to go off treatment or to go back on treatment? Some people assume that God is the explanation for what cannot be explained. If we can explain it, then that can’t be God. But I don’t think this way. I believe that God has ordered this world in such a way that we can use our minds, talents, training, research, and skill to accomplish God’s good purposes. I will thank God for miracles and I will thank God for medicine.

I believe that I can and should trust God—whatever happens to me. God has demonstrated that he can be trusted in Jesus Christ. Jesus died and rose to bring me forgiveness and life, hope and eternity. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know God, and I know that he knows.

For now, I plan to remember that life is short, so I’d better not waste it. I’m NED (no evidence of disease) but I’m still terminal—we all are—so God help me to make the most of this life that you’ve given me.