The Fear of Losing It All
A stage IV cancer diagnosis threatened everything I held dear.
In the fall of 2015, I began having some mysterious back pain. It started as a noticeable tightness and within weeks evolved to a throbbing and stabbing pain. My body was definitely talking, but I didn’t want to listen.
I was 37 years old, a husband and new father, and I worked for an outdoor program in Colorado.
I was the guy who everybody considered healthy: I ate well, rarely got sick and was in good shape. In fact, whenever I entered races, triathlons or other endurance competitions, I often won my age group and occasionally even a race. But the unexplained back pain sidelined me, and soon I couldn’t even perform normal life tasks like working at a desk or holding my infant daughter.
So much for early detection
When I sought medical professionals about my pain, they told me it was just a muscle sprain—give it time and it would heal. But over the next few months, the pain kept getting worse and my back started spasming.
Eventually my pain grew so bad that I needed narcotic-level painkillers just to make it through each day.
When I finally insisted on an MRI, they discovered the cause of my pain: Stage IV bile duct cancer. Among cancer, this is a silent killer. By the time you discover you have it, especially once it is Stage IV cancer, there is little anyone can do for you.
The threat of losing everything
Because they had discovered my cancer so late, my doctor gave me about year or so to live. He told me chemo might prolong my life a little while, but even the effort spent fighting would be miserable and futile.
I was devastated and so was my wife. The circumstances upended everything in my life, including my faith.
“You are really asking a lot of me right now,” I remember praying to God. Behind that statement was a lot of confusion and even anger.
At this point, I wasn’t hearing anything hopeful from the medical world, or God.
It seemed I was about to lose everything that was important to me—my family, my belief that God is good and even my own life.
What gave me hope strength and peace
Even as I wrestled with my new reality, I clung to hope through my relationship with God.
I remember reading a Psalm about a man who was stuck in a miry pit, or a bog. I couldn’t think of a better description of what I was going through with cancer.
As I began to read more in the Bible about hope, every reference shouted at me. I especially loved, “As for me, I will always have hope” (Psalm 71:14).
I gained a deeper understanding of the hope God provides, how he gives light and good to people even in the most trying situations, like being in the pit of cancer. And if he didn’t free me from mine, at least he would make good of it somehow. I resolved to follow God no matter what happened.
For me, hope enabled me to start making plans for the future again, instead of being stuck in despair and hopelessness. And when I went to future scans and appointments, I still dealt with fear, but felt buoyed by a new sense of hope and peace.
Unexpected medical hope
Through a series of events, I met with a renowned cancer research doctor who ran a genomic sequencing test on me.
He came into the room with a thick British accent and white wispy hair and said, “I know how to treat this.”
I remember thinking, Wait. What?
He explained how his treatment plan would target the cause of my stage IV cancer. I was skeptical, but my family and I started to feel some medical hope.
It became clear he wasn’t just blowing smoke. Within weeks, the pain in my back nearly disappeared and a few months later, my scans started showing clear.
Of course, I still faced many coming difficulties.
I walked through several more months of treatment and then the surprising challenges of post cancer survivorship. Yet, walking in hope shepherded my every turn, somehow providing a silver lining with each new setback.
Like when I dealt with neuropathy, I chose to believe it would improve, which it did, rather than trust the majority of voices who said I’d be stuck with where I was at.
As my health improved, I returned to outdoor adventures I love like skiing, mountain biking and climbing. But even better than that, I got to continue being a husband and father to my wife and kids. This has been such a gift.
I still face risks, but I am thankful for the life I have.
While I would never have chosen this journey, and many days I wish I could return to my life before stage IV cancer, I wouldn’t trade how my relationship with God has grown.
This experience profoundly changed my outlook about the power of God’s hope—not just for people facing cancer, but for people in every situation. In whatever difficulties we face, with God there is always hope, there is always a way.
I once thought I would lose all that is dear to me but instead God gave me new life. Even better than that, he gave me hope.
Chris is the founder of Hope Has Arrived. Check out his Pathway to Hope, a seven-day email series about finding hope in the midst of cancer.
For help with fear, check out Fighting the Fear of Cancer.