Cancer Comes to Our Family
"Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous....They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the LORD to care for them." —Psalm 112:4,7
Friday our youngest daughter Angela was diagnosed with cancer. We were out of town and received her call, putting it on speaker phone outside a store. It was a surreal experience hearing devastating private news with people walking past us, oblivious to our pain (just as we were oblivious to the boatloads of pain so many of them were no doubt carrying).
Yesterday I talked on the phone with our oldest daughter Karina. We rejoiced in God’s work of grace in her sister Angela. When I talked with Ang later, she told me that NO MATTER WHAT comes next, she and her husband Dan are trusting Christ.
Angela shared her story with friends on Facebook, tongue-in-cheek saying, “It isn’t real until it’s on Facebook.” Here are five paragraphs Angie wrote:
Some of you know that I've been having some severe left shoulder pain. A neck MRI and a shoulder MRI were ordered to help diagnose the problem. I got a call Friday from my doctor that said the results of my neck MRI "are very concerning." It looks like I have a mass at the base of my skull that they're confident is cancer.
My doctor referred me to an ENT cancer specialist up at OHSU, and I'm his first appointment after the holiday on Tuesday morning at 8:15. He will be able to tell me what the treatment plan is and then I'll know more. He had me get a CT scan on Friday afternoon to see if there is bone involvement, and PRAISE GOD there is not!
The interesting thing is that there seems to be no correlation between my shoulder pain and the cancer. According to the x-rays I have calcium build up on some tendons in my rotator cuff, which is still very painful (and will need further treatment from an orthopedist) but I'm thanking God for this apparently unrelated pain which was able to point to the more serious problem.
The hardest part is still not knowing exactly what to expect. On the one hand, this could just be a tumor he can remove with surgery and that will be it and I'll be fine after a quick surgical recovery, or it could be a whole lot more tricky. I just won't know until Tuesday, or possibly even after surgery what my life is going to look like for the next few weeks and months.
One thing I do know is that God is good and He is in control. He has chosen this path for me, and I have to walk down it, whether kicking and screaming, or by taking a leap of faith and trusting in Him regardless of the outcome. Another thing I know is that my husband is amazing and we're trusting that God will do something awesome through this!
Dan and Angie and our grandsons Jake and Ty are part of a wonderful fellowship called Gresham Bible Church. Dan recently became one of the elders, and he enjoys serving the church in this way. On Saturday Dan’s pastor, Vergil Brown, who I know and love, asked Dan to share about Angie in the next day’s service. But Sunday morning Vergil called Dan and asked him not only to share about Angela, but to bring the morning message. With 45 minutes preparation before going to church, here is the message Dan brought, which he called "Fix your eyes on Christ". This was Dan’s first sermon. Listen to it and I think you’ll agree it shouldn’t be his last. :)
Nanci and I, unable to get a flight home until today, were so encouraged by Dan’s message, which was powerful, and an example of the good God is already bringing out of this difficult experience. Dan is a new elder at his church, and I can't think of a better perspective for an elder to bring to the body than what he shares.
(Our other son-in-law, Dan Franklin, is also a devoted Christ follower, who serves as teaching pastor at Life Fellowship Bible Church in Upland California. Dan is an excellent preacher, and I listen often to his messages. To have the husbands of my two precious daughters be godly men who honor and serve and lead them is a blessing and answer to prayer that overwhelms me at times and brings me to tears of gratitude to our Lord.)
Here’s what I texted my son-in-law Dan Stump after Nanci and I listened to his sermon just seven hours after he had preached it:
Wow. I can't imagine a better message. I have often been proud of you, Dan, but never prouder than in hearing this. I told Nanci I am so deeply grateful to have a son-in-law who speaks the truth from his heart, and is committed to serving and loving and honoring our daughter, who is more to us than life. Thank you for your commitment to be a one-woman man. I could not ask for anything more than what I heard you say, and am so deeply grateful to Him and to you. I know the Lord is using this not only in your lives and ours, but as GBC. He does a thousand invisible things for everyone we can see, and we are so grateful to Him for you, Ang and the boys. Thank you for having given your mind and heart to God's Word and great books which elevate God's Word. Thank you for serving your church as an elder. If I would have been there this morning, I would have said, "Wow, this is what it's like to be shepherded by a man of God."
In the message Dan quotes extensively from John Piper and David Powlison’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”. When Angie called him at work with the news from the doctor (Dan teaches at Ron Russell Junior High in Portland), he was of course devastated. One of the first things he did was to go online to call up the article which he remembered reading. He reread it, this time with a very personal connection. Then he gave the article to Angela, who read it and was very encouraged. I quote from this terrific article in If God is Good. If you haven’t read it (the article I mean), I highly recommend that you do.
I have been texting verses to Angela, who is the mother of two of my five grandsons, but will always be my little girl. Here’s the first passage I sent her:
I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:1-2)
I hope the passage encouraged her, but I know it encouraged me. So too did the verses from Psalm 112 which I cited at the beginning of this blog.
Angela has told me something over the years, and Dan alluded to the same thing in his message. She has said, “I know a lot of people suffer, but I haven’t suffered that much.” She had an ovarian tumor when she was in high school, she was in a car accident, and she’s suffered other things, but she feels that compared to many people, it hasn’t been much. But now things have changed. And God is not only doing a great work in her, He is also preparing her to be used by Him in the lives of many others.
As those of you know who have faced such things, Nanci and I have gone from shock to deep concern. We are leaning on each other, but above all we are trusting in God who loves Angela even more than we do (and that's quite a statement coming from me, because I don't think I could love her any more than I do).
Dan and Ang told our grandsons Jake and Ty (7 and 6) about the cancer and let them know how serious it could be. Their responses have been very touching. I have long believed that we should not always “protect” our children from bad news, but let them know enough so that they can pray to God about the situation and also see God’s gracious and sustaining presence even when He doesn’t answer as we like, and learn to trust Him.
This reminded me of a decision Nanci and I made twenty-two years ago when I went to jail and lost my job as a pastor for standing at abortion clinics to intervene for unborn children at the clinics where they were being killed. We explained to Angela and Karina, then ages eight and ten, what was going on. We took them to an abortion clinic and they actually saw their dad being arrested. When we were taken to court in a huge lawsuit, we told them we might lose our house and they might not be able to go to the church school anymore (we didn’t end up losing the house or the school). But we told them all that so they could pray to God and experience the realities of the situation and see what God did.
Dan and Ang have told Jake and Ty that it is possible she could die. Why? Because it IS possible. All of us are going to die, and some people die of cancer. Some people without cancer die driving to work. Believing in Christ does not mean denying this or pretending it isn’t true, but recognizing He is bigger than all things, including death.
When Dan told me they had chosen to share with their boys how serious the situation is, I commended them. Yes, we withhold some information from our children, but I believe we often go overboard and “shelter” them from learning that the Christian faith means facing hard realities with the knowledge that our Lord and Savior is God over all things, including cancer and all forms of suffering, and death itself.
I told Angie what she already realized, that God knew of and ordained all of this that is happening before He created the world. We may be shocked, but none of this caught Him by surprise. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Yes, in this verse “everything” means EVERYTHING, even cancer.
We return from vacation today, and thankfully live only two blocks from Angie, Dan, Jake and Ty. Can’t wait to give them all a hug.
Angie and I finished our wonderful Christ-centered phone conversation last night by praying together. I was outside, and knelt by a tree. I didn’t care who saw me or what they thought. What people think doesn’t matter when your daughter has cancer and you are lifting her up before the Creator and Savior.
Angie told me she doesn’t know what will happen next, but whether it’s the best or the worst news, she knows God is on the throne. She and her family will trust Jesus. She said she wants her boys to know that the God we serve is there not just in the good times, but in the worst times. As we discussed, He went to the cross for us. What more could we ask Him to do to prove His love for us? (Children whose parents let them in on adversity now so they can learn and pray and grow in their faith in the hard times will be much less likely to “lose their faith” when they face suffering.)
I not only love my daughters, Angela Stump and Karina Franklin, I also deeply respect them. God is on the throne and is at work in both of their lives, and their husbands’ lives. Romans 8:28-29 is absolutely true for them and for us and for all of God’s children.
Your prayers for our little girl/godly-sister-in-Christ Angela (who turns 31 next month) are deeply appreciated.
Randy and Nanci Alcorn
Here's the latest update as of May 29 from my daughter, Angela. Thanks so much to everyone who has commented and sent notes, and prayed for our family.
Our appointment today was a bit bipolar :) The specialist is not totally convinced that my tumor is even cancerous! There are other several possibilities of what it could be, including a nuchal fibroma and fibromatosis, both of which you can look up if you're super curious...gotta love wikipedia. Or it could still be malignant.
I got a needle biopsy done in the office today and the initial results were inconclusive, so he told me he would call me by Thursday to let me know if they were able to find out for sure what it is after testing further. If they weren't able to get enough cells from the needle biopsy they will need to do an incisional biopsy which has to be done in the OR. He said he will not remove the tumor until he knows exactly what he's dealing with.
The bad news is that it will in almost all cases need to be surgically removed, and he said that it is in a very tricky spot. The tumor is the size of a kiwi and it is located basically right below my brainstem. It does not wrap around the spine, which is good news, but that is still quite a scary place to do surgery. He said he would want to have a neurologist standing by.
So I'm still having a hard time processing what's going on. Hopeful in the doctor's opinion that it might not be malignant, but still of course concerned that it is. And regardless, the surgery will be more complicated than we had hoped. I guess we're "cautiously optimistic" at this point!
Thank you SOOO much for your continued prayers! The potential for extreme relief is on the horizon! Another update will come on Thursday when we find out more.