The other night my husband and I were watching a TV program in which a fictional medical examiner said, “I’m a doctor, I don’t believe (in miracles, in prayer, in God).” Irritated, I turned to Tim and remarked that one did not preclude the others. He rolled his eyes and said, “It’s a TV show.” Skip ahead to an exchange of emails I had with my neurologist last week. Dr. Jackson believes there is a possibility I may have a rare condition (Paraneoplastic Syndrome) in which my immune system, trying to fight my cancer, mistakenly attacked my central nervous system.
This, believe it or not, is good news. If it’s true, it means I don’t have the other rare disease she previously diagnosed, Primary Lateral Sclerosis. PLS is like ALS, only it causes the voluntary muscles to deteriorate over a much longer period of time. The point being that in the last four months during which I completed chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, my PLS symptoms did not worsen. Dr. Jackson says only time will tell which it is, but this stabilization is a positive sign. “Keep praying and we will hope for the best,” her email concluded.
Dr. Jackson is a professor of neurology and otolaryngology, assistant dean of ambulatory services, and chief medical officer at the UT School of Medicine. She is also the director of the ALS Clinic where the great majority of her patients will die within two to five years of being diagnosed. When I was diagnosed with cancer, she told me she would pray for me. Knowing my neurologist is a believer who does everything medically possible for me and then prays on top of that gives me a tremendous sense of comfort. That she can spend her days treating a fatal disease and not lose her faith challenges mine. If someone like her believes in the science of medicine, but also ascribes to the power of prayer, it’s important to sit up and take notice. Medicine is powerful; combine it with prayer and nothing could be more potent.
I rely on terrific medical teams for both of my diagnoses, but I rely on God for the ultimate cure. Researchers are working frantically to find cures for all forms of cancer, but the survival rate for women with ovarian cancer has not changed in thirty years. ALS researchers are working equally hard to find a cure for that horrendous, deadly disease, but ALS patients receive the exact same prognosis now as Lou Gehrig did when he was diagnosed more than seventy-five years ago.
I’ve been told my cancer cannot be cured and I will be in treatment for the rest of my life. I’ve been told I suffer from a chronic degenerative neurological disease that can’t be cured. Yet, there’s still hope on both fronts. What this forces me to do is walk by faith, not by sight. I find it to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Yet daily it brings me closer to my Creator. I don’t know what the future will bring, but God does. I cannot rely on myself, but I can rely on Him.
And He always lets me know He’s here. There are no coincidences. The day I wrote down these thoughts, August 31, my devotional from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling said this: “Your fragility is not a punishment, nor does it indicate lack of faith. On the contrary, weak ones like you must live by faith, depending on Me to get you through the day. I am developing your ability to trust Me, to lean on Me, rather than on your own understanding.”
If you’re struggling with a chronic degenerative disease or another difficult diagnosis like cancer, be sure to leave a comment so that I can pray for you. It’s the most important thing friends can do for each other.