By Dr Joe
December 13th 2023
I saw Tim today. There was something special about seeing him. We haven’t connected for several weeks, and I was anxious to know what happened. The last I remember, he was fighting Esophageal cancer. He was working on getting his body ready for an intense surgical procedure and the follow up treatments. The odds were not in his favor: according to the National Cancer Institute, the overall five-year survival rate for Esophageal cancer is about 20% (National Cancer Institute, 2023).
When I saw Tim today, he looked great. Perhaps because I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it, I was so glad to see him. By God’s grace, he had lived to tell the story. He had lost quite a bit of weight, but was moving comfortably walking towards me. He said they took out his esophagus and pulled his stomach up. He showed me some of the scars, and we both smiled broadly when we spoke about his surgery, like two giddy school girls comparing notes from a previous date night.
Tim said that he had been taken off of his feeding tube, and was back to eating normal food. I told him that I had been praying for him, and he thanked me with the appreciation of someone who had been through an incredible experience and came out alive, like being rescued from a fire. He had survived the surgery and the recovery, and had been given an extension on a life that seemed to be coming to an end.
Tim was in unique company; and his survival from this ordeal would be even more unique. According to the National Cancer Institute, Esophageal cancer is a rare type of cancer, making up about 1% of cancer cases in the US (National Cancer Institute, 2023). The rate of new cases of Esophageal cancer each year is about 4 for every 100,000 people (National Cancer Institute, 2023). Our time reflecting on Tim’s incredible story of surgery and recovery from this rare cancer brought tears to my eyes; and a great appreciation for this amazing gift of life that I often overlook.
The Gift of Life
There is something divine about overcoming cancer, or overcoming any terminal illness or tragic physical infirmity. Our survival from an incredible ordeal like this puts God’s gift of life truly in focus. We assume that we are immortal when we are young, even though the Bible cautions us that there is a shelf life for this human form (see Psalm 90:10, ESV). The great advances in medical research and treatment have demonstrated amazing success: the risk of dying from any form of cancer has plummeted by almost 1/3 over the past 20 years (ACS Staff, 2022). We live in a remarkable time!
While our youthful exuberance leads us to “live life to its fulness” by taking plenty of physical risks, we also learn very quickly that bumps and bruises in a young man’s body do not just hide themselves by an adrenaline rush. There are times later in life when the effects of those bumps and bruises may lead to the need for surgery, for a replacement joint or something more serious. These episodes don’t often remind us about God‘s goodness in providing us with healing in our bodies, or of the great blessings we have through the incredible advances in medical procedures that allow damages limbs and joints to be replaced and operate like brand new.
When we hear of a procedure that releases someone from a terminal illness, even if just for a time, this becomes a type of deliverance. “If he can be delivered from (such an event), then I can too!” This seemingly miraculous procedure does not often cause me to consider my finite life, nor do I often appreciate the grace of God that allowed for this miraculous procedure.
We view death as tragic, and all too soon of course, unless you’re of a certain age – whatever that might be. But all of us have an expiration date. We fill our times with busyness and refuse to acknowledge that our lives are but a vapor (James 4:14), which appears for a short while, and then it is gone! When I think of Tim, I realize once again that each day is a gift from God, and I yearn to embrace each one utterly. But can I change my attitude in my approach to life? I think of Tim again, and the divine gift of one more day that he has been given, and I ask myself if I can live this way as well?
Embracing Each Moment
So why don’t we choose to enjoy each moment of life? A cancer patient chooses to embrace each and every moment, because their life has now is in overtime, and soon the clock will run out. But truly all of our lives have time limits. The Bible says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27 ESV).
I believe this attitude of embracing each moment of life can change my approach to my work. Work does not remove us from a fuller life, it actually represents the most alert and vibrant times in our day. Why would I want to trudge through that time and try to live fully only after work or on weekends and vacation? After God created Adam and Eve, they worked together in the garden. Work completes our life by offering us the chance to use our talents and gifts to pursue the calling that we have on our hearts. As we pursue our purpose in life, our days become much richer and authentic. Our lives are not measured by the things we accomplish, but by the richness of the experiences we choose to embrace.
That moment with Tim reminded me that each day is a gift, and I must choose to unwrap that gift and cherish each moment that I have. The Psalmist wrote of his love for God and how it completed his life in Psalm 42, when he sang, “By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life (Psalm 42:8 ESV).
Embrace this gift of God, the gift of breath flowing into your lungs, and the people whom you meet, and your family and this precious gift of life. Choose each day to see the awesome potential in learning new things, cherishing the journey and enjoying chance encounters. Not sure you can do it? Just ask Tim.
Joseph J. Bucci has served as a Pastor, Author, HR Director, Director of Training, Professor and Consultant. His latest book, Redemption Inc. was published in 2022. Contact Dr. Bucci at email@example.com
ACS Staff (2022, January 12). Risk of dying from cancer continues to drop at an accelerated pace. American Cancer Society: Research News [Web Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/research/acs-research-news/facts-and-figures-2022.html.
Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
National Cancer Institute (2023). Rare tumors: Esophageal Cancer. National Cancer Institute: Rare Tumors [Web Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/pediatric-adult-rare-tumor/rare-tumors/rare-digestive-system-tumors/esophageal.
“O Lord, please forgive us for taking for granted the opportunity to live in such a place and time, where the prognosis for cancer was formerly a death sentence; but now what seemed to be a medical miracle is standard hospital procedure.”