September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It is also the month my baby boy was diagnosed with leukemia. Many years have passed since that day when the words son and cancer were connected. Yet the distance of time hasn’t stopped the experience from invading my thoughts. For a brief moment between warm September days and cool October nights, I actually smell the memory. Just recently, I exited our powder room, and the distinct scent of hospital and diapers came out of nowhere.
Two weeks after my baby was diagnosed, my four-year-old boy received the same diagnosis. Our grief turned to overwhelming fear. How could this happen? What’s the treatment? Will they survive? I had so many questions. I felt forgotten by the God I always had known to be faithful and good.
But faithful and good he was to us as we walked through those dark, troubling days. He placed a verse in our hearts from the moment of diagnosis:
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)
The Lord was our help in the midst of sorrow and pain. As our church wrapped their loving arms around us and served us for countless months, God showed he was with us. He was with us for every spinal tap, every surgery, every CAT scan. He was with my two healthy children during the many days and nights I could not. When my youngest child needed a bone marrow transplant, God was with us. God provided a perfect match—our daughter.
He was with us and he was our help. No doubt.
When I share this story with people, I can see the anxiety on their faces. Inevitably, they stop me and ask: Did your sons survive?
The word survive is a powerful one. It means to continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship. To survive is to sustain what’s most valuable to us—life.
That’s why death is so hard. We all know a day is coming when we will exhale our last bit of oxygen. We try to eat well, exercise well, and age well. But a day is coming when death will end our striving to survive. We try not to think about it because it makes life feel meaningless. We have so many questions.
Oh dear ones, God has the answers. But first we must ask ourselves a few questions: We need to know what is wrong with us, how it’s treated, and if we can survive:
1. What is wrong with us?
We all have a disease called sin. Like cancer, sin causes death. Unlike cancer, sin is brought on by our own rebellion. The Bible gives us our diagnosis: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jeremiah shows us that we naturally rebel against God’s will and way for our lives. Our sin not only alienates us from God, but also leads us to death. Paul tells us, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
All of humanity is born in sin due to Adam’s fall, but we are not victims. We choose sin over God and bring the curse of death upon ourselves.
We must address sin with greater severity than we treat cancer! The first time I met our pediatric oncologist, he walked into the ICU, introduced himself, and stated the facts quickly and clearly: Our baby had an aggressive cancer. Very few survived. Chemo would begin immediately.
We sat in silence; I could not even look at him, I was so taken back at his cold tone. I thought, You are an awful doctor. You just gave me horrible news. I don’t like you or the news. But no matter how he delivered the news, it was still true. The cancer needed to be treated.
In the Bible, when God states the facts of our sin many of us react the way I did. Offended. We don’t want to hear sin leads to death and hell. We don’t want to hear we are under God’s judgment. But no matter how we receive the news, all of it is still true. Our sin needs to be treated.
2. What is the treatment?
Our oncologist turned out to be a kind, sympathetic, and wise doctor. Once the horrible news sunk in, we realized we needed him. We sat down with him and eagerly listened to his plan to treat and cure our boys. We held on to his every word, because this was a matter of life and death.
God calls us to do the same—listen to his plan for he is a wise and loving God. Give ear to the way he will save us. The Bible teaches this is a matter of eternal life and death.
Listen to this good news found in the Bible: Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life. He was righteous in God’s eye—free from the sin that the rest of humanity chooses. Jesus’s mission was to save sinners, and reconcile them in the eyes of God. He showed them the way, and said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John: 14:6).
People hated him for claiming he was God’s Son, offended that he called out their sin, and enraged that he spoke authoritatively on life and death. So on one dark day they beat him, placed a crown of thorns on his head, and nailed him to a cross to die.
And yet, this was God’s plan all along. Hundreds of years before Jesus’s birth, Isaiah prophesied Jesus’ death. All those years ago he explained what it all meant:
He was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Believers, hold on to those beautiful words: Peace. Healed. Healed from the eternally-threatening disease of sin.
The news gets better. Jesus did not stay dead. He rose from the grave, breaking the power of sin and death. Jesus is alive, and he is the Savior of the world. He offers this saving substitution—his righteousness for our sin—for all those who believe in him and call him Lord.
3. Can we survive?
My boys survived leukemia. We are so very thankful. And more than this, they live happy lives without fear of cancer returning. And this is similar to Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross. We can completely trust that God’s salvation will completely work, with spiritual riches beyond words. Through repentance of our sins and faith in Jesus Christ, we become God’s own children, his holy people.
Even though my boys survived leukemia, I know they will still face death someday. My prayer is that they—my children and my grandchildren—will be death-survivors by trusting Jesus who has conquered sin and death. I want us to enjoy eternity together with God, not just a few short years on this earth. Oh how I pray my children know Jesus as their Savior and Lord.
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is a good thing. It helps us find a cure to an ugly disease that can kill even our youngest. More importantly, dear reader, please be more acutely aware of the greatest disease in all of us, sin. Face it. Then turn your eyes, mind, and heart to Jesus. He can be your Sustainer of life, your Savior, and your eternal healer and help.