“You don’t know?” my niece asked. “Know what?” I responded. “Uncle Charles was just diagnosed with brain cancer.” “What!” I exclaimed. “They think it’s the same kind of cancer that Senator Ted Kennedy has—a glioma.” Kimberly continued, “He’s having surgery tomorrow.”
Like me, perhaps your life has been shaken by news that someone you love has cancer. Of course, this kind of diagnosis is alarming, especially if that “someone” is you—or, in my case, me. Having personally experienced cancer and also having had several people dear to my heart that have been down this precarious road, I know this for certain: A cancer diagnosis never loses its appalling punch.
My first-hand experience also helped me know what to do when my brother-in-law was diagnosed. Exhausted from an intense weekend of teaching and faced with a packed calendar the next week, I nevertheless cleared my calendar and, within 15 minutes, was packed and on my way to the airport. Five hours later, when I walked into Charles’ hospital room, my sister and brother-in-law were absolutely stunned . . . and immensely grateful that I had come.
His prognosis hurt—it was jarring, heartrending. Ultimately, Charles had 12 to 14 months to live. My continual prayer was for God’s will to be done . . . and, because my brother-in-law had been a self-proclaimed atheist, I stepped up long-standing prayers for his spiritual “health.”
During the months that followed, I also began reaching out to Charles in new ways. Fun cards, personalized poems, warm socks, a furry blanket (that he insisted sleeping under every night), and other unique mementos mailed regularly. And, since Charles had only three male siblings, I decided to adopt him! So I designed a certificate proclaiming Charles as my “official brother.” From then on, he called me “Sister June” and, with a lilt in my voice, I called him “Brother Charles.”
As the founder and conductor of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, Charles continued his demanding schedule of performances. That year, I flew to Boston numerous times to attend his concerts. (For a conductor, the most meaningful “gift” you can give is just showing up.) Eventually, however, my sister Swanee signaled the time had come for the final flourish of his brilliant baton.
The outdoor concert on Wednesday evening was inspiring . . . and then my return flight to Dallas was scheduled for late Friday afternoon.
Knowing his earthly time was short, I simply prayed for the privilege of presenting to Charles how to come into a life-changing relationship with God through Christ and how to have eternal life. As Friday morning came and went, I began to think that having a special one-on-one time wasn’t meant to be. Then, at 1:00 p.m., my sister said, “Now would be a perfect time for you and Charles to visit.”
I entered his bedroom and softly positioned my chair next to his. I first told Charles I’d chosen to dedicate my soon-to-be re-released book to him. I opened Caring for a Loved One with Cancer, and as we surveyed each of the sections, he seemed genuinely delighted. I then felt impressed to do something I’d never done before with anyone . . . I read out loud the entire chapter entitled “For Those Who Need Spiritual Healing” word for word.
The chapter began by explaining that every person has a tangible body and, based on the Bible, an intangible spirit. Our present body is temporal—destined to die—but the spirit will exist either forever with God . . . or forever away from God. (The first is called “spiritual life.” The second, “spiritual death.”) “The reason I’m sharing this with you,” I told him, “is because I love you. And the bottom line is: Eternity is too long to be wrong.”
Then I asked Charles, “What would happen if a healthy man could and would exchange his healthy body for your cancerous body?” Physically, he would die and you would live! I explained that, likewise, your spirit is “terminally ill” due to being imperfect (what the Bible calls “sin”). The Bible says “Anyone . . . who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins,” and also, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” Well, the truth is we’ve all sinned.
And as a result, we’ve got a problem! Scripture also says, “Your iniquities [sins] have separated you from your God.” In reality, we’ve all made wrong choices—we’ve all been separated from God. However, if we don’t want to be separated yet can’t change the fact that we’ve sinned, we’re stuck with a most difficult dilemma.
Similarly, what would happen if a perfect man could and would exchange his perfection for your imperfection? Spiritually, he would die and you would live. God the Father sent His perfect Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for your sins. He died in your place and then rose again so that you could receive His full forgiveness and live forever with God. The Bible explains, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He willingly offers you this great exchange—His death for your life.
When I finished reading God’s plan of salvation, I shared a scenario from my book. “Assume you desperately need a cancer medication that your money can’t buy. But then you’re offered a gift—the only medicine that can categorically cure your cancer. For the medicine to work, though, you need to believe it and receive it—taking it into you.”
“Salvation is like that, Charles. You need to believe what God says is true and receive His gift to you by faith, applying it to your life. Your salvation is based on entrusting your life to Christ alone. Me not telling you how to receive spiritual life—how to be saved—would be as unthinkable as discovering the cure for cancer . . . and not sharing it!”
Charles, totally engaged for almost an hour, suddenly fell silent for a moment, his keen eyes penetrating mine. I’ll never forget his next words: “June, I have never heard this before!” Imagine that! My brilliant, Ivy League “adopted brother”—despite his education, world travels, and associations—had never before heard the most wonderful news ever told! How grateful I was at that moment for having the life-changing message of Christ—written in the context of cancer—in my book . . . for God opening the door to share that message with Charles . . . and for God giving him ears to hear it.
At that point, I took Charles’ hand and prayed, asking God to guard his mind from error and confirm only truth to his heart. When I finished praying, he didn’t release his grip, but instead with bowed head prayed, “And whoever is up there, thank you for sending June to me.” How unexpected!
Before leaving for the airport, I bookmarked the chapter I’d just read, saying, “Charles, if you’d like to review any of what we talked about, it’s right here.” He thanked me profusely, and I said goodbye.
Nine days later, my adopted brother died.
Shortly after the funeral, I learned that Charles had told numerous people about our conversation. Then, Swanee twice shared with me her own conclusion: “I’m convinced that Charles found God.” I continue to have perfect peace each time I think of this remarkably gifted, generous, and intelligent man.
Caring for a Loved One with Cancer was born from my desire to pass along the hundreds of real-life, effective “helps” that made such a difference in my own life. Each short chapter is filled with specific, practical things to do and say—or not do or say—to be of maximum help.
I can’t take credit for understanding how to comfort a loved one with any life-threatening illness. It is a gift that first came to me disguised as a trial—my own 2001 diagnosis. But it has turned out to be “my fascinating journey,” used by God to help cancer sufferers and caregivers worldwide.
The kindnesses extended to me in the days, weeks, and months following my surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were absolutely extraordinary. I stand in awe of all the many ways friends and loved ones rallied around me, reaching out with so many thoughtful acts of support that I, myself, could have never imagined. Keeping such a treasured gift to myself would be . . . unthinkable. Especially in view of 2 Corinthians 1:4, which reminds us that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
Topics include dietary tips, providing support in the hospital and at home, easing discomforts associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, helping children whose parents have cancer, treatment for the physical trials (from nausea to mouth sores to split fingernails—maladies commonly associated with cancer treatment).
This newly-released version—dedicated to Charles and including this story—provides hundreds of practical, time-tested tips.
And we’re offering an extraordinary proposal to help you be of maximum help to others and to our ministry: From now through the end of October—Breast Cancer Awareness Month—for your gift of $25, Hope For The Heart will send you a copy of Caring for a Loved One with Cancer and donate 3 additional copies to recently diagnosed women and their families. Truthfully, I hope you’ll order several copies today to have on hand immediately as they’re needed.
With utmost sincerity, I thank you for being such an important part of our ministry team. Your prayers and partnership enable us to offer our life-changing resources and services worldwide. With the support of friends like you, we are making a difference in the lives of hurting people, helping them discover biblical hope and practical help during these unforgettable trials.
Thank you for helping us help others.
Yours in the Lord’s hope,