Everyday Talk about Cancer & Other Bad News

Posted on August 14, 2012 · Posted in Worldview

God placed our first parents, Adam and Eve, into a world that was good, very good. There was no disease, no human rebellion, the ground was receptive to crop growth. There was no air pollution.  There were animals who submitted to the rule of God and man as they came before Adam to be named. There was no marital discord between the first couple.  This was creation. This is what Adam and Eve rejected when they thought they had a better way to live than to follow God’s command. Sadly, this was also the choice that you and I and every other human would have made had we been in their place. In short, Adam and Eve paved the way for the Six O’Clock live, local, breaking news. By choosing self-determination over following God, bad news became a daily reality for man.

In spite of this reality, we continue to be surprised by bad news. Because of sin, our world is broken.  The Bible tells us this again and again. The impact of sin is so great that even the creation itself groans with us at the bad news of sin. (Romans 8:18-25) So, it is important that our everyday talk about bad news is consistent with biblical reality. Bad news of every sort is part and parcel of a fallen world. Bad news should not be unexpected.

Talking about bad news is part of what Deuteronomy 6:4-7 is commanding us to do each day. We must explain to our children where bad news ultimately comes from. We must also tell our children that no matter how many advances are made in science and technology, there will always be bad news until Christ returns. There is good news to be sure. Jesus Christ has given us this hope. But the ultimate good news, the only good news that really matters, is based upon a hope that cannot be seen. This is because as Romans also teaches us, hope that can be seen is no hope at all. These realities must be part of our everyday talk.

Some bearers of bad news get our attention more quickly than others. When a doctor says I have bad news, we tend to pay special attention.  On April 1, 2010, a neurologist told my wife Ruth, as we sat in his office, that he had very bad news for her. He pointed to a picture from an MRI that showed a large gray mass on left side of Ruth’s brain.  He believed it was a tumor, but that we would need testing to determine how bad it was.  As he said, it was bad news.

My wife is someone whose everyday talk and everyday thoughts have been centered on the loving sovereignty of God since she was a young child.  She believed that not only was God in control of things, but that he was a good, loving, and gracious God. She believed that God’s goodness was something that was proven by the truth of Scripture, not by the content of one’s experience. So, from the first moment that we found out about this brain tumor her everyday talk reflected that reality. Because of this belief, we were not devastated by this bad news. We were blessed to be able to get in contact with Duke University and the doctors at their brain tumor center. From Duke we learned that Ruth’s tumor was a Glioblastoma Multiform (GBM), the most lethal of all brain tumors. We found out that GBM patients had a life expectancy of 14-16 months – very bad news.

Ruth had surgery to resect (remove) the tumor on April 26th, 2010. However, a number major blood vessels and nerves ran through the center of this tumor and the surgeon was able to remove only a small portion of the tumor.  Again, bad news. The options for treatment now were a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, followed by more chemotherapy. And, oh yes, there was one more vital ingredient in treating this tumor – a hope which cannot be seen. As Ruth and I were driving to Duke to view the MRI taken right after the round of radiation and chemotherapy, we were comforted and encouraged by three young men who faced certain death at the hands of a powerful king. All they had to do to live was to worship an image. They refused and faced a death by fire. Their last words to the king before being thrown into the fire were these:

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

These three young men demonstrated everyday talk that was not cowed by the bad news of this world. Our hope for Ruth was rooted in God’s faithfulness to her, not the results of an MRI scan. Ruth’s everyday talk continued to focus on the goodness of her God. She knew that God was able to save her from the cancer. She also knew that her well-being was not to found in MRI’s, but in God’s faithfulness proclaimed in his word. It was this hope in what is unseen that caused her to demonstrate the courage of the three young men in Daniel. She was never devastated, she never doubted the goodness of God.  Driving to Duke that July day two years ago was filled with hope that regardless of what the MRI showed, she served a God who was good and worthy of praise.

There have been 12 MRI’s since then. The last six have shown that whatever cancer that was there is now dead. The doctors expect that her chemotherapy treatment will end this fall – which is good news. This form of cancer carries with it the reality that it may come back. Thus the future, from a medical perspective, remains uncertain.  But the hope that has sustained Ruth is certain, because it is based upon a hope that cannot be seen.  For that which is seen is no hope at all.

Ruth’s everyday talk, as it has been since I have known her, is filled with hope in God’s faithfulness. This is true whether it is talk about cancer or about the additional curriculum that she wants to write or about what our five adult children are doing. Your everyday talk matters. It matters because whatever the bad news is, there is the good news of an unseen hope rooted in the reality of Jesus Christ and his salvation!

Below is a link to an interview me that was done by my good friend Paul Dean about these last two and half years. Ruth and I believe it is time to tell you about God’s faithfulness to us. Our prayer is that God would cause your everyday talk to bring honor to him in all that you do. Please let me know your thoughts about this post and the interview. We are eager to hear from you.

Everyday Talk about Bad News.

Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.