Author: Bo Bowden
About ten years ago I got a call from Glenn, a longtime friend of mine in South Carolina. I was on my way to a business meeting when he called to confirm what he had suspected. “I have cancer,” he said, crying. I tried to be supportive as I sat in the parking lot listening, but it was hard to know what to say. I knew his father had passed away many years earlier from an aggressive cancer, although a different type.
Soon Glenn began seeking treatment options, which eventually led him to a revered surgeon at Johns Hopkins. The surgery was successful, but not without side effects. If the cancer returns, the surgeon told him, it would probably be in about five years. That began a series of blood tests, about every six months, which always caused Glenn anxiety as the results took a few days to get back.
In the ensuing years, Glenn’s job began to change. The new demands required more travel than ever, and higher production expectations he simply couldn’t meet. Then Glenn had to endure a time of upheaval in his life. His oldest sister Lucy unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack right before Christmas, and his Mother, who had been under hospice care, died five weeks later.
The following summer, Glenn’s blood test indeed revealed the presence of the cancer again. Later in the year he decided to part ways with his employer and began working out of his home, but it was hard to get started. Now he had to increase the blood tests to every 90 days. His local oncologist advised radiation as his best treatment option. But as he did before, Glenn sought other opinions, and eventually got a consultation with a doctor affiliated with Duke Hospital who met with him and reviewed his case. He prescribed a new medication, which had been effective in some of his other patients. Glenn began the medication immediately. Soon his blood tests began to show that the cancer cells were reducing. Thankfully, he remains in remission today. He has been able to make some income on the work he does from home, but his commissions are sporadic and he pays for his own healthcare. In the past several months, he has had some new job opportunities, but none of them have quite been the right fit.
More recently Glenn got a call from his other sister, Sally, who was preparing to have partial hip replacement surgery. A routine x-ray revealed a shadow on her kidney and a large nodule in one of her lungs. She began a series of additional tests, and while she was awaiting the results, she noticed some blood in her urine. She got scared. Glenn did too. Together they met with Sally’s internist, who as gently as possible explained that the CT scans revealed she has Stage 4 renal cancer, which had spread to her lungs. He referred her to an oncologist, but because of the coronavirus, the oncologist could not meet with her for several weeks.
Glenn went into action. He immediately began researching her condition, speaking with other doctors and healthcare professionals he has come to know. Without referrals, he reached out to specialists at Johns Hopkins and Duke Cancer Institute, only able to mention the doctors by name who had treated him. Surprisingly, his emails were returned. He had phone conversations. He told me, “It’s a blessing that I had cancer, so I could help Sally find treatment.”
The next week, he and Sally met with the top renal cancer specialist at Duke who reviewed her case and has agreed to be involved in her treatment, saying her profile indicates that she should likely respond to known treatment protocols. They have a scheduled teleconsultation with another doctor at John Hopkins. Glenn also telephoned the local oncologist in South Carolina and was able to get Sally’s appointment moved up sooner. Though Glenn knows the outcome is uncertain, he’s pleased that Sally’s anxiety is relieved because she feels there is a game plan from a doctor she trusts.
If Sally does begin treatment at Duke, Glenn plans to drive her weekly, 3 ½ hours each way. “You know,” he told me, “if I had a full-time job, I couldn’t do this.”
I stopped him. “Do you know what you just said?”
“You just said it was a blessing to have cancer, and that you‘re glad you are unemployed.”
He laughed. “Well, you know what I mean.”
I remembered the sound of his voice ten years ago when he first learned he had cancer. I know fear raises its head at times, and the anxiety he has over his job situation. But Glenn is a Christian, and he relies on his faith to sustain him throughout his difficulties.
As we together live through this pandemic, no doubt many of us will know someone who becomes affected, perhaps tragically. Yet we know God is at work. We don’t know what the outcomes will be, but because we believe in the Resurrection, we know that God can find purpose even in tragedy.
Here are some hymns and passages Glenn has found inspirational throughout his trials.
Through It All — Hillsong
You are forever in my life
You see me through the seasons
Cover me with your hand
And lead in me in your righteousness
I’ll sing to You, Lord, a hymn of love
For your faithfulness to me
And I’m carried in everlasting arms
You’ll never let me go through it all
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.