Some days live on in infamy.
Nine years ago, today, our journey with childhood cancer began. I still remember the musky smell of the room. Cartoon characters decorated wood paneled walls and bundles of children’s books were on both sides of our chairs. Bracing for the worst, I knew deep down that whatever the doctor was about to share couldn’t be good. The events of the previous week seemed to point to it and the mood of the office personnel only confirmed that this was not a typical test result.
Nestled between my legs with his arms around my waist, my three old son Carson seemed oblivious to what was happening. And why wouldn’t he be? Like any carefree child, this superhero wannabe’s only concern was how long would we have to stay in the doctor’s office.
I tried to reassure myself that I was probably overreacting. The swollen lymph nodes on Carson’s head, behind his ears, and under his arms were concerning, but his blood tests last month didn’t indicate any reason for alarm.
After visiting family in Kentucky the previous week, it did seem strange that Carson lacked his usually energy, but most likely it was a nagging virus that wouldn’t go away. More puzzling, however, was the bright red rash under his chin to the top of his chest that was smooth to the touch. That is what prompted a Sunday afternoon check-up in the first place. Convinced that something more serious was wrong, my wife Heather insisted that waiting until Monday morning wasn’t an option. Turns out, she was right.
When Dr. Roberts (our pediatrician) walked in the room and sat on the round stool in front of us, both her posture and facial expression communicated concern. “I wish I had better news,” she said, “but I believe that Carson has leukemia.” Leukemia? Not Carson. How is that possible? I’m ashamed to say that I knew little about pediatric cancer at this point and my knowledge about cancer in general was frightening.
Fear immediately invaded my heart and tears quickly followed. By now Heather was breaking down beside me. Carson, who refused to stay with the nurse, watched this unfold and began comforting each of us. Obviously, a three-year-old doesn’t understand words like leukemia. His tender little heart, however, was breaking not for himself but for his parents. “Please don’t cry Mommy!” he lamented. “Everything is going to be okay, Daddy! I promise.” These words were comforting reminders of why we love him so much and desperate warnings of how deeply we were afraid of losing him.
By 10:00 p.m. on the same day, Carson was in a bed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. Nurses began checking vitals and running more tests as I signed waiver after waiver. These events seemed like a nightmare, but I wasn’t waking up. Our near perfect, neatly packaged Christian life was unraveling before our eyes. As anxiety welled up in my heart a myriad of questions bombarded me.
Could we handle this? Was our faith strong enough? Would we lose our little boy? Why was this happening at all? Of all the people forced to go through trials like these, why did God choose us?
Now, nine years later, we have a healthy son who is thriving. Do not assume, however, that things are just like they were before cancer interrupted our lives. The lessons God taught us during that dark period will remain with us forever. We learned that God is good, and God is enough. We learned that intimacy with the Lord is often found on the path of pain. We learned that God is willing to use our hardships for greater purposes than we can grasp. We learned that much of what happens in life can only be fully appreciated in eternity.
As I look back, my mind settles on the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:33-36:
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
I understand God’s ways completely, but I trust HIM completely. I would have never chosen the path of childhood cancer, but I have learned to be thankful for it. Some things really are too painful to waste.
Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.
*A portion of this entry is an excerpt from Hope When Life Unravels; Finding God When it Hurts. If these lessons encourage you, order your copy here.
**”Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org”