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Cancer. If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know we faced our own cancer battle a year ago. I am honored to share my friend Martie’s story with you today. I’ve watched Martie and her family go through their son’s cancer with incredible faith and dependency on God, while being honest about their struggles and fears. She shares today about her son’s cancer journey and the power of prayer in their lives.
Our son Colin was an active fifth grader in May 2012. He played in a lacrosse game on Tuesday and a band concert on Wednesday. On Wednesday afternoon I took him to our family doctor for migraine headaches and nausea. She ordered a Complete Blood Count (CBC), and overnight the laboratory technicians detected abnormal cells. At 7:30 on Thursday morning our doctor called with chilling words, “I’m so sorry, Colin has leukemia.”
Within a few hours Colin was admitted to the Pediatric Oncology floor of the local children’s hospital. We sat stunned while a procession of doctors, nurses, social workers, and administrators introduced themselves, handed us pamphlets, and asked us to sign consent forms. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia requires an immediate response because the cancerous white blood cells multiply exponentially every day. On Friday the doctors placed a port in Colin’s chest, biopsied his bone marrow and spinal fluid, and administered five chemotherapy drugs by three different methods.
After nine days of intensive inpatient chemotherapy, Colin came home. Our hearty, active boy was now fragile and vulnerable. He needed a protective environment, so people helped us clean and sanitize the house. He couldn’t eat meals, so we stocked up on Ensure. He couldn’t attend school, so we found a tutor. He developed severe mouth sores, so his braces were removed. His hair began to fall out, so we shaved his head. With each change, came another loss – loss of control, loss of freedom, loss of innocence.
Cancer impacted our whole family.
Colin’s low immunity and lack of stamina ruled out restaurants, grocery stores, and nature walks. We couldn’t bring our younger sons to the weekly Oncology Clinic appointments, so we needed babysitters. We were too shell-shocked to pray, so people and churches added Colin to their prayer lists. They brought us meals and gave us gift cards for gas. We had a strange, lonely, quarantined life.
Two months into treatment Colin got acute pancreatitis from a chemotherapy drug. He was hospitalized, put on a feeding tube, and given morphine for the horrific pain. For the next 36 days Colin alternated three times between Intensive Care and Oncology. He’d rebound a bit, then another complication would emerge – peritonitis, internal hemorrhaging, liver damage. After an exploratory surgery, severe hypertension led to multiple seizures. Hospital chaplains sat with us while Colin was rushed to ICU, sedated with paralytic drugs, and put on a respirator and 8 intravenous lines. It was awful and frightening and we nearly lost him. I put out a desperate plea for prayer.
That night the spiritual side of our cancer journey became abundantly clear. I could feel it physically, a battle between dark and light, a tug of war between death and life.
Our midnight cries for help echoed around the world to friends in California, Switzerland, South Africa. During the harrowing days that followed, people across America told us they were “compelled to pray for Colin” – strangers, friends of friends, hospital staff, churches.
Our ICU nurse was an angel who cared for Colin with palpable empathy, even in his unconscious state. A huge, specialized medical team took turns dealing with each compounded diagnosis. Colin’s dramatic recovery was a miraculous testimony to prayer, but healing still takes time. He came home with a continuous feeding pump, a dozen prescriptions, and three painful injections each day.
Our journey was far from over and there were many complications and changes along the way. Leukemia treatment is incredibly time consuming – Colin was at the hospital for chemo or transfusions every week for 18 months. The total treatment will take 3 ½ years. When the times of panic resolve, we return to the drudgery of watching and waiting. Both the acute and chronic situations take their toll on body, mind, and spirit.
Prayer is very important to a family on a cancer journey, but not just prayers for healing the patient. Pray for the oncology staff members who need limitless compassion, courage, and patience. Pray for the caregiver at the hospital who feels overwhelmed and the caregiver at work or home who feels powerless. Pray for emotional and social needs of the children, siblings, parents, and pets whose lives are disrupted and isolated by cancer. Pray for people to help or give to meet the family’s physical and financial needs, then do what you can. Pray that people will know Emmanuel, God with us, who is our comfort in struggle.
Cancer comes from out of nowhere, like a lightning bolt or tornado. There’s often little we can do to predict it and nothing that can control it. After the damage is done, rebuilding takes a much longer time than anyone suspects. Once the physical part seems under control, the emotional grief, guilt, and fear come back in waves. If you are walking alongside someone on a cancer journey, it’s never too late to help or pray or give.
***Colin is now in his 29th month of leukemia treatment and has 15 months remaining. He goes to the oncology clinic every month for IV chemotherapy and takes oral chemotherapy every day. His strength and stamina have continued to improve and he’s grown 7 inches taller in the last two years. In 2014 Colin returned to the lacrosse team, completed scuba diving certification, and swam with sharks at Epcot Living Seas in Orlando. He plans to become a marine biologist.***
Martie Bradley does freelance writing, editing, and photography with Pilgrim Hill Communications. She was a promotions manager at Zondervan Publishing and is on the planning committee for Breathe Christian Writers Conference. Martie graduated from Hope College and Princeton Seminary and lives in West Michigan with her husband and three sons.
Pull out your C card (download here if you haven’t already.)
- Write down names of people you know battling cancer.
- Pray for the families and caregivers of the patients who feel overwhelmed and powerless.
- Pray for siblings’, spouses, or childrens’ emotional and social needs and who feel isolated.
- Pray they will know Emmanuel, God with us, our comfort in struggle.
- Pray for people to meet the family’s physical and financial needs, and do what you can to meet those needs.
- Pray for your local hospitals and staff within the oncology departments limitless compassion, courage, and patience.
Tweetables:Pray A to Z for your community. C is for cancer.#PrayAtoZ
#Pray for families facing #cancer today. #PrayAtoZ
A Mom shares her son’s journey through #cancer and how we all can #Pray #PrayAtoZ.
Cancer impacted our whole family. Read one mom’s story and #PrayAtoZ with us.