I grew up broken. Acknowledging I needed help wasn’t new. But the extraordinary thing cancer taught me is that in brokenness I can minister. And God shows up.
Forty-five years ago, on a mountain in Spain, I told Jesus I’ll give you six months. I didn’t know then that once you experience him and find it’s all true, you can’t go back. Since meeting Christ, I’ve been passionate about sharing his good news. My cancer in 2014 renewed the sense that, as I go about life and ministry, God goes before, stands behind, and is with me right now.
A blessing in disguise
The headache began in Paris. My wife and I were celebrating our 40th anniversary, and I wasn’t about to let it spoil our trip. I shrugged it off as jetlag.
By the time we returned home, the only partial relief came when I lay down. My congregation was amazing as they came alongside. We even put a zero gravity chair in my office, so I could catch breaks from the pain.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to have a headache that lasts almost a year. It was nearly incapacitating, until a neurologist suggested a medication rarely used because of side effects.
Within days, I was back to normal! Well, almost: the medication caused outrageous dreams, upset stomach, and made me prone to ulcers. I took a second drug to protect my gastrointestinal tract, and needed regular tests to monitor its health.
Six months after starting the medication, the first test found blood. Two colonoscopies later, I was scheduled for surgery for colon cancer.
Before surgery, I needed to clear the medications out of my system. The headache returned. But I knew the surgery was essential. Though colorectal cancers can grow slowly, there was some urgency; doctors suspected mine had been developing for a year and a half.
Praise God, the surgery was successful. Looking back, I’m left in wonderful confusion. Exactly how is it these pieces all came together?
Had I not had the headache, they would not have put me on the medication. Had I not been on the medication, they would not have given me the tests. Had I not had the tests, they would not have found the cancer in time.
My theology tells me the Father knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8). But that God was creating a solution, even before I knew the problem – that is beyond my understanding.
And I’m still wondering where my headache is. It began the time the cancer began to grow, and left immediately after surgery.
My neurologist puts it down to “a most amazing and happy of coincidences.” I’ve told him there’s more, and shared the part God plays in the story. This unique story has given me numerous opportunities to witness.
Cancer has reminded me of both beauty and brokenness, around and within me. For we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and needy beyond imagination.
In my church’s neighbourhood, as we distribute bread, pray for needs, help individuals with addictions, worship, the beauty and the brokenness I see in others motivates me to share the gospel.
Anybody who goes through cancer prepares for the fact it might not go well. I had almost made myself ready for life in eternity, when God reminded me my life, for now, is here.
My hope is in the God who goes before me and stands behind (Psalm 139:4–5), right here, right now.
Chris Arney is lead pastor at New Hope Christian Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-generational MB congregation, bordering North Delta and Surrey, B.C.