12 surgical scars. 4 surgeries (well, 8, if you consider that the first go-round in 2005 involved a tumor resection, a skin graft, & two different lymph node removals all @ the same time...).
Two cycles of high-dose immunotherapy. Approximately 14 P.E.T. scans. Multiple MRIs. Two needle biopsies (*Zero* fun!). MRAs. EKGs. EEGs. Echo stress tests. Seemingly gallons of blood drawn.
The repeated, faithful, prayers of MANY wonderful saints. I'll come back to that...
And then this: "Your P.E.T. scan is normal"..."You're doing *great*"..."Nothing shows on your P.E.T. scan"...
And this, from my surgeon, Dr. Mehran: "So, Mr. Madaris, you no longer have need of my services. Go home & resume your normal life..."
Statistically, I am an extreme outlier. Metastatic melanoma is one of the worst forms of cancer. Stage IV metastatic melanoma is, literally, the worst of the worst. One of my MDA Drs. told me I was "living outside the numbers." One of the NPs told me they refer to me as the "miracle patient."
All of which leads me back to the goodness of God.
God has been *AMAZINGLY* good to me. Lisa & I are delighted that He has chosen to use some excellent physicians, nurses, & techs here in town and out at M.D. Anderson to bring me back to "cancer-free" again. Not sure I'd go with "miraculous," but at the very least, that I'm still here is beating the odds.
That's the easy side of God's goodness. But what about in June, 2008, when one of those Doctors said "you have multiple tumors in both lungs...stage IV metastatic melanoma"? Please read carefully: God was good to me then too! Equally good back then in Dr Kim's office as He was last Tuesday in Dr. Mehran's office. That is hard for us to get our earthly, finite minds around. And it is also absolutely critical for us to get into our minds and our theology! God's goodness is not determined nor judged by circumstances we might deem "favorable."
A long time ago, this guy encountered many situations at once that created massive suction for his earthly life. His wife ridiculed his faith & told him to "curse God & die." His response is for the ages, and has been so very helpful to me these past, well, 5 years since my initial diagnosis and especially these last 2 years of stage IV: "Shall we receive good from God and not evil?" and "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." and "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth..."
Here's what my beloved Lisa said last Tuesday. (She was at work, & thus sent this as a text) "May we remember in the sunshine what God has taught us in the storm..."
Has it ever occurred to you that it may well be because of God's goodness that He causes/allows really yucky stuff to come to our lives?
Let me say that again: Has it ever occurred to you that it may well be because of God's goodness that He causes/allows really yucky stuff to come to our lives?
I would NOT have chosen cancer. Not even once, but especially not twice. And DEFINITELY not stage IV metastatic melanoma.
But Oh. My. Goodness. The lessons we have learned in this storm!! Without presuming upon God's providential ordering of history & of Mike Madaris' life, it's quite likely that I would not have learned some of the sweetest, most treasured theological truths of my Christian life apart from the blessing that came to me in the form of the storm of stage IV metastatic melanoma.
Painful? Absolutely! Even now, as I type, I'm feeling a little pain around my most recent surgery site. And the physical pain is but one aspect. A friend who is a survivor of a very nasty cancer herself recently said this: "I'm excited about going to heaven, but I don't want to leave my spouse & my children yet." Couldn't have said it better than that myself! So, yeah, these past 5 years have brought a LOT of intense pain, physical & otherwise. Especially these last two years...
Worth it? ABSOLUTELY!! Please know that answer doesn't come easily nor flippantly. Many an hour spent in prayer, in anguish of soul, in pain--physical & otherwise, in tears, in terror, in thought, & in the Bible lie behind it. I read a book a couple of years ago written by a guy whose wife died slowly & painfully of cancer; he titled the book Celebrating the Wrath of God. VERY challenging read...and concept. C.S. Lewis said it this way (paraphrased): "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” Exactly. I know SO much more now about my Lord and my own sin and prayer and agape love and the indescribable treasure of my redemption in Christ than I know in October, 05, right before this journey started. Lisa has said the same thing. Again, see her quote above.
About the prayer thing...among the MANY totally-humbling aspects of this glorious, hellacious journey, there's the reality of the grace of God demonstrated through the prayers on my behalf of so many saints. Some of whom--many of whom, actually--I'll likely never meet this side of glory. But they...you...have faithful and passionately interceded before God on my behalf. One day...maybe...I'll not choke up instantly when someone says "I've been praying for you!" Or when someone is introduced to Lisa or me & says the same thing.
If you're looking for a nice, tidy theological tidying up of the challenge of God's sovereign providence & its relationship to the prayers mentioned here...keep looking. All I know is this: God IS sovereign and good and in control, and nothing catches Him by surprise...and He calls us to pray and intercede for others...and I was given what's mighty close to a death sentence 2 years ago...., and many interceded on my behalf...and I am now cancer-free.
To all who have bombarded the throneroom of glory & Him Who sits on that throne on our behalf, well,...there's not a good enough phrase or word in the English language. Three things to you from the depths of my soul: (1) THANK YOU!!!!! (2) Lisa & I love you! (3) Only eternity will clearly show the difference your prayers made. So PLEASE keep praying on behalf of others! Scripture says it avails much, so keep on asking!
To all who have mowed my yard or brought us a meal or taught my Sunday School class or covered my office hours & classes or loved on & encouraged my children & Lisa & written & commented here & via email & facebook...and to those whose cars we have driven out to Houston...and whose gas cards we have used...and whose homes we have invaded...you have done it unto the least of these; therefore, you have done it unto the Lord, Whose hands & feet & love we have basked in through you.
So, yes...God has been good to us. Always. I am delighted to be cancer-free! (Now if this post-op recovery would go ahead & become complete...*smile*) But were I NOT cancer-free, please know that would NOT dimish the goodness of Jehovah Shammah, the Lord Who is Present (one of my favorite names of God in Scripture).
It has been and will continue to be my prayer that God would magnify Himself through me in the midst of this situation. Join me in that prayer, won't you?
With humbly-thankful, rejoicing love,
p.s. - I'll leave you with one of my very favorite passages in all of Scripture; this has become my life passage these last couple of years. Enjoy!
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair...So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:6-8, 16-18