Photo by Nicole Tarpoff
This story is about my friend, Bob (name changed for privacy). Bob worked hard all of his life, graduating as his high school valedictorian, then working to pay his way through college, pharmacy school, and dental school. And his hard work paid off. By his early 50s, Bob was doing well financially, had a busy dental practice, a loving wife, good kids in college, and had suffered no major health issues throughout his lifetime.
That all changed in 2003, when his wife noticed a place on his back that didn’t look right. It turned out to be malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can be life-threatening. A surgeon removed the melanoma along with some lymph nodes. Afterwards, the doctor told Bob that the lymph nodes were not cancerous and that he had removed all of the cancer. The chance of recurrence of the cancer was only about 25 percent.
But Bob didn’t feel very relieved. He felt like up to that point in life, he had been in control, but after his cancer diagnosis he felt God was telling him, “You are not really in control.” Bob was baptized when he was 14 years old, but he was a worrier, and had always struggled with leaving things in God’s hands. As a man, he wanted to take care of himself and his family. The diagnosis of cancer was a wake-up call. He felt his dependence on God more strongly than ever before.
He also found himself asking, “What is really important?” He had always wanted to teach, so he sold his dental practice and was hired as a full-time faculty member at a nearby dental school. Eight years later, against the odds, the melanoma recurred on Bob’s left lung. The surgery to remove the cancer from his lung was successful but it was very painful, as was his 10-week recovery.
In 2013, the doctor found another melanoma on Bob’s right lung. He went through the same painful surgery to remove the cancer from his right lung, but this time he went into renal failure in the hospital. Bob’s wife is a pharmacist and she noticed that the medications they were giving Bob could be causing the renal failure and demanded that the medications be changed. The medications were changed and his renal failure reversed. This time the recovery was even longer. But because Bob was a full-time university employee, he was able to take a three-month fully paid medical leave. Bob feels that God gave him the foresight to sell his dental practice and begin working at the university, as he would need the good benefits the university provided during his illness.
Two years later, in 2015, the cancer recurred in both lungs and his chest wall. Surgery was no longer an option and his oncologist suggested that he seek care at a cancer center. Bob’s daughter had gone to school with a fellow who was doing melanoma research at Duke. He had been Bob’s dental patient and his parents were good friends of Bob’s in high school. This fellow recommended a cancer doctor at Vanderbilt and Bob was able to get an appointment. The Vanderbilt doctor told Bob that they had discovered a treatment for advanced melanoma—immunotherapy—and that worked in 40 percent of the patients. The treatment cost $150,000 to $200,000 and Bob was the first patient whose insurance agreed to pay for it.
After the first three months of treatment, Bob’s cancer was shrinking; three months later it was shrinking further. Now the PET scan shows that Bob is cancer-free. When I hear Bob tell this story, I think of all of things that had to fall into place for Bob to now be cancer-free. 1) His wife noticed the place on his back and suggested he see a doctor. 2) His surgeries were successful and lymph nodes weren’t involved. 3) He sold his dental practice at a time when dental practices are hard to sell. 4) He got a full-time job at a dental school when that, too, was challenging without a specialty like orthodontics. 5) The job at the university provided Bob good insurance, paying for very expensive treatment, and provided paid sick leave that he wouldn’t have had as the owner of his own dental practice. 6) Bob’s wife, a pharmacist, noticed the medication problem causing the renal failure and demanded that it be changed. 7) Bob’s former dental patient was a melanoma researcher at Duke and knew the best physician in the nation to deal with advanced melanoma. 8) If Bob had presented at Vanderbilt only two years earlier with advanced melanoma they wouldn’t have discovered the treatment yet. 9) There was a 60 percent chance the immunotherapy wouldn’t work, but it did.
My friend Bob has been through a lot in the last 13 years, but he says he feels blessed. Bob is now at peace with whatever happens. He feels content and prepared for whatever God has planned for him.
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.