Walking Through Fire
One adventurous man’s fight to find hope amidst melanoma.
I estimate I have faced death hundreds of times, but facing advanced melanoma has given me a very different kind of near-death experience.
In some ways, facing cancer has almost felt like slowly walking through fire.
Here’s my story.
No stranger to danger
I’m originally from Thunder Bay in Ontario. I later married a woman from Germany, and we currently live there.
Even before I had cancer, I came very close to death many times.
I survived a commercial airplane crash with 300 people on board, fell out of trees and have also been washed over waterfalls a few times, in a canoe and while snorkeling too close to an edge.
While working in humanitarian aid, I was shot at in war zones, including Afghanistan. I also drove truck for the oil and gas industry in Canada—which might have given me my closest calls while on the job.
I transported gas waste products, which are extremely flammable. It was like driving with liquid explosives and there was no margin for getting in accidents or driving off the road, including when I drove in the mountains and on Canada’s ice roads.
Driving through fire
My closest call came while driving in the warmer months. I was making a delivery in an area where a wildfire was burning when suddenly it approached my truck and surrounded me. It was pretty concerning as even just a tiny spark could ignite the liquid I was transporting.
I hopped back in the truck, turned it around, and literally drove through the fire, somehow escaping without an explosion.
Melanoma: a different near-death experience
When I found I had cancer, I faced a much slower type of near-death experience. It’s been more like slowly walking through fire, rather than quickly driving through it.
It started around 2016, when they found a small spot of melanoma on my back, which a dermatologist removed.
A few years later, after my family and I moved to Germany, a doctor found a thumb-size amount on my arm, which they also removed through minor surgery.
Many of my family members have had cancer, but I wasn’t worried about mine since I had an encapsulated type that the doctors were able to completely remove.
However, in the summer of 2022, I discovered a strange spot on my left eyebrow, about the size of a pea, which felt similar to the other spots.
The doctor removed it but the pathology report revealed some concerning news: the melanoma had turned into a very rare and dangerous type that had spread into the nerve and potentially other areas of my body.
My doctor referred me to the university hospital, where they performed three surgeries on the left side of my face. I essentially got a facelift and I joked that my medical team should also do the right side (they declined).
Doctors were still concerned that the cancer had spread, so they put me on a month straight of intense radiation, which was like putting my head in a microwave and blasting everything.
I experienced some unpleasant side effects, including losing my sense of taste, the hair on the left side of my hairline and beard (and left eyebrow), and later severe muscle shutdown.
The waiting game
Now, it’s a waiting game. My doctors say either the treatment worked and I’ll be cured, or a year from now the cancer will spread all over and I’ll die.
It’s kind of like living with a piano hanging over my head by a tiny string. It could fall—or not.
It’s been surreal, and unlike some of my other close calls, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this one and be overwhelmed by it.
How I find hope, strength and peace
My near-death experiences, including cancer, have made me realize that life is short and that all of us are just passing through this life.
Yet for me, my eternity has already started, and this gives me great hope. It began when I placed my life in the hands of Jesus Christ when I was nine years old.
This life is not everything to me. It’s just a drop in a bucket compared to the eternity that I’m going to have with Jesus Christ.
The Bible is true and Christ is my Savior and when my time on earth life ends, I’m going to be with God.
And I’m excited about that.
Facing my fears
Am I afraid of dying? No, but I’m afraid of the pain of dying.
And I’m also afraid of the separation from my family and loved ones.
I know my wife would say she wants to have me around longer! And I certainly want to be here for her and our three sons.
How I’ve changed
I often try to distance myself from my own emotions.
However, this situation has forced me to confront emotions I might have previously repressed, which in some ways might be a positive.
While I sometimes try to deny what I’m feeling, I have often seen the concern and pain in the eyes of the people who love me. And this nudges me to confront these emotions.
You can see how when I shared about my experience recently at a church in Germany, how I was very present in my emotions (make sure to turn on the English subtitles).
This experience of walking through fire has continued to remind me how short and uncertain this life is.
Advice for others
For others who are facing cancer, be honest with yourself, about your future.
Whether you are dying of cancer or not, everybody faces the same reality: a one hundred percent death rate. The timeline might be different, but we are all in the same boat.
The question is, what are you doing about it? The best thing you can do is to get your eternity figured out. You can do that, by beginning a relationship with God and finding an eternal hope.
Whether you face death now, or years later, your eternity will start when you begin that relationship.
Even if you walk through fire, you can find a peace and hope that will give you great assurance, no matter what future you face.
For more about how to begin a relationship with God see Knowing God Personally.
To unlock the power of prayer see Asking God for Help.
Is cancer a punishment from God? Discover the encouraging answer in this article.