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by Ronnie Fisher

Life Changing Gift

    My life had been normal as could be for all of my years. I was hardly ever sick and had never spent the night in a hospital. My church life was also normal as well. In 1994 my life changed. I was diagnosed with melanoma cancer. It was a stage four spot on my face. I realized that the things I had always believed were going to be tested. At this stage of my journey, I can tell you that I now know that those things are true!

    After my initial diagnosis, I went into denial. At the same time, my church family, and my physical family, started playing a role in my life that would become a powerful source of energy to me. The class I attended at church gathered one night and everyone prayed for me. This was a new experience for me as I had always prayed for others. It was a very moving experience for my wife, Arlene, and me as we prayed.

    We went to M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston for treatment. The doctor was was kind and compassionate, and this took away some fear. I went through all of the tests. They couldn’t believe that I didn’t have cancer all over me since I hadn’t done anything about the earlier diagnosis. They decided to do surgery, followed by radiation. My family was all there during my surgery. This started a trend that would later create a strong bond for my family.

    The incision to remove the cancer was from my temple area down to my chin. The first Sunday I was back at church, a young man came up to me and asked if I had been in a fight. (The surgeon did not cover my incision except with some clear sealer, so my incision showed.) I told him there might be several reasons for my scar, but fighting was not one of them. One the blessings God gave me was the gift of humor to talk about my ordeal with others. This also helped me not let the signs of treatment (scars, bandages, incisions, loss of hair) hold me hostage.

    I then prepared for the radiation treatments. They did some calculations and then marked me with bright blue and red lines. These marks would not come off no matter how hard I tried. I went through radiation treatments for six weeks with treatments twice a week. They were very strong doses. About halfway through the treatments, I became very tired and could hardly eat. I thought, “This is sure a hard way to lose weight!” I survived the treatments and began to gain strength back in my body.

    During all of my surgeries and treatments I received many cards, letters, and phone calls. This encouraged me. They thought they removed all of the cancer and felt that radiation would take care of anything left. Many people prayed for me during this time. I was beginning to reevaluate my feelings about prayer. I had always prayed for people, but never really followed up on the people I prayed for. I know now that I will be more earnest in my prayers for others.

    My life became more normal again as I was clear of cancer. I was instructed to have a chest x-ray and blood test every year to confirm that I was remaining clear. I read that melanoma travels in the blood looking for a place to land. I was told it would probably be in the lung or brain if it came back again.

    I was under the impression that if I made it five years, I would be completely finished with cancer. It was the fifth year, and I told Arlene that I was going to get my last x-ray and blood test. I was about to get news that would completely change my world. I was driving along one day and my cell phone rang. It was my doctor who took the x-ray. He told me that I had a spot on my lung, and I needed to go back to M. D. Anderson to check it out.

    The news shook me. I was close to our church building and decided to go there. Westover Hills was in the process of adding on to the existing building. I pulled up under the trees and decided to pray to God. I asked, “God, just give me time enough to meet in the new building the first day we have service there.” I didn’t know how bad cancer would be, but I asked for that time. (I am proud to say that about a year later I was worshiping in the new worship center with many people. This was a very meaningful service for me.)

    We went to Houston a week after I was told about the spot on my lung. I was about to experience God’s love through Christian people to me. Before we went to Houston we attended a four o’clock service at church. The church had a very special prayer time for us. Everyone gathered around us and put his or her hands on us and prayed. This helped us feel the power of God’s Spirit around us. This was the beginning of many spiritual blessings in our lives.

This was the beginning of many spiritual blessings in our lives.
    Over the next several months I would face good news and bad news. Times of encouragement and disappointment. My family, both physical and spiritual, supported me in many ways. I endured several rounds of chemotherapy. Had three brain surgeries to remove lessions. Along the way, I lost many precious friends I made in my trips to the cancer hospital. I also had to seriously examine how I felt about my faith and the possibility of death. I realized that I felt excitement about the prospect of going to be with my Father in heaven. I know that will be a very exciting time.

    But do I really feel like cancer was gift? Yes. Let me explain.

Bonding as Family

    During my cancer ordeal, my family bonded together. It showed me the importance of having family around you. My grandkids learned what it means to take care of family. Hearing them talk about my cancer has been encouraging, and at times, hilarious. There is no way to describe how precious and important my wife, my children, my grandchildren, and my sons-in-law are to me. Their support has been marvelous. Watching them bond and grow strong has been such an encouragement. My family visits gave me great joy.

Growing in faith

    My faith grew, and so many faithful Christian people affected me. My walk with God in the ordeal of cancer taught me to wait on God and to trust that everything will be all right because of Him.

    I was prepared to meet God, if that had been His will. Psalm 46 speaks of Israel’s learning to trust God in the middle of oppression from their enemies.

God is our refuge and strength,
 always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear even if the eqrthquakes come
 and the mountains crumble into the sea.

    God is described as a “refuge” in time of trouble. He is pictured as having power over all that nature can throw at His people. And He is described as the One who controls the power of the enemy forces so that he “breaks the bow and the spear” of those who war against Israel. This psalm inspired Martin Luther to write the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” one of my favorite hymns. The prophet Habakkuk also spoke of trusting in God (Habakkuk 3:17-19) despite overwhelming odds. He raised the question of why God was doing what He was doing, but in the end, he shares perhaps one of the greatest statements of faith to be found in scripture and one that I believe is mine:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
  and there are no grapes upon the vines;
Even though the olive crop fails,
  and the fields lie empty and barren;
Even though the flocks die in the fields,
  and the cattle barns are empty,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength!
  He will make me as sure-footed as a deer
  and bring me safely over the mountains.

    How can this be true? How can we trust even when all seems to be disaster around us? Another of my favorite passages gives the answer: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) While this promise is given to teach us to be content with our possessions, it also speaks to a much broader principle of trusting God no matter what the circumstances.

Bearing Burdens

    I learned to pray more earnestly for others. I learned to accept prayers and love from others. I feel a bond with people who have cancer. It is my desire to encourage as many of these people as I can. I find I have learned to bear the burdens of others because I have had to carry one myself. (Galatians 6:2). I have learned the truth of Hebrews 2:14-18: that by becoming like us, we can be confident that Jesus will give help and encouragement to us in our time of need. Jesus understands our situation. He’s been there.

    Because of my experience, I can now share my experiences with others who are just getting to where I have been. I now lead a cancer support group at church, and I plan to speak on behalf of the American Cancer Society. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul talks about sharing from our abundance to help those who are in need and about using our situation to help others. Then at some time in the future, the situation might change so that those who were in need are now blessed and can help us, because we now are the ones in need of help. Matthew 24:37-40 also talks about those who served others with what they had. Luke 8:38,39 tells about the formerly demon-possessed man who wanted to go with Jesus; however, Jesus told him to stay behind in his hometown and share what God had done for him. My prayer is that through sharing the story of my experience, I will be helping and encouraging others in their battle with cancer.

Final Thoughts

    I never asked the question, “Why me, Lord?” I accepted my cancer as a way to draw closer to God. I have been told I am a good example. If I am, I am thankful my faith has grown to that point. In Mark 9:17-24, the father of a demon-possessed boy uttered a cry of faith when he said, “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”

    We come to Jesus for help in faith, yet recognize that there are still so many more issues of faith to deal with. I pray that my faith will continue to grow and that God will help me overcome my unbelief. Another powerful passage on faith is found in Isaiah 46. It describes God as “carrying us since birth even to our old age.” This beautiful scripture is very encouraging to me.

I created you and have cared for you since before you were born.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime — until your hair is white with age.
I made you and I will care for your.
I will carry you along and I will save you.
I learned that no matter how rough the road, there is a smooth spot at the end.

God Uses Us

    I learned that God could do more in our lives than we could ever imagine if we allow him to. I learned to find humor and happiness in difficult times. I remember many humorous stories that I will always cherish. The most important lesson has been God’s care for all of us. I learned that relationships could grow through hard times. I learned that God shows His powerful love through many people showing their love to others. This is a great blessing in God’s family.

    Cancer is a hard and horrible ordeal. But with my family at my side, with my brothers and sisters in Christ to offer support and encouragement, with the faith displayed by those battling this dreaded disease, with a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s love and never failing presence, and a realization that God can use our more dreaded experiences to bless others, I consider my cancer as a gift.

Ending Note

    Ronnie Fisher is a wonderful friend, a godly man, a loving husband and father and grandfather, and a great Elder. He also has been battling cancer of and on for nearly a decade. This message is part of his story. While the prognosis of his cancer is not good at the present time time, the prognosis of his life is sure:

For I know that as you pray for me and as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus helps me, this will all turn out for my deliverance. For I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that cause me shame, but that I will always be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past, and that my life will always honor Christ, whether I live or die. Philippians 1:19-20
      © Copyright 2001, Ronnie Fisher.

      Title: ""
      Author: Ronnie Fisher
      Publication Date: August 12, 2001

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