Two of my oldest and closest friends are observing Thanksgiving this year in the middle of chemo treatments that, upon completion, will have prepared them for major surgery. I have known Tom since 1978. Tim was my roomate in law school. Tom is 58, the father of three wonderful children, and husband to a wonderful wife. Tim is 49, also married an extraordinary woman, and they have five fantastic kids.
This time next year Tom will have a new liver and Tim will have a new bladder, and both will join the long list of cancer survivors in my life, including two sisters-in-law and about a dozen middle-age men who have been down the prostate cancer road and back already. (My wonderful assistant's husband Mike just had that surgery this week, to add another to the list of cancer comeback stories.) The ranks of cancer survivors are vast and growing, and each recovery becomes another story to inspire and motivate others.
But there is no denying that recovery is a very hard road. It drains but does not demoralize; pains but does not overcome.
If you can make time and space for Tom, Tim, and Mike on your prayer list this Thanksgiving, I am sure they would be grateful. Tom and Tim are great Catholic men, leaders in their church, old -school division. Tim's the coach of every team and member of the parish council. Tom's the ever-active fundraiser for a hundred different charities. Mike's a terrific dad and supportive of his family, and while I don't know his faith life, prayers for him will be well-received.
All of the people I know who have developed cancer in the past few years are really and truly wonderful people. The two I know best, Tom and Tim, are in the top rank of good men I have known in my 51 years. It is hardly fair that they have to fight this battle. Tim, for example, is probably the healthiest guy I know, an old marathoner who qualified for Boston on his first try in law school, and who has always had a body fat of next to zero thanks to his health-consciousness that borders on fanatic. Tom has done extraordinary things for the sick, even wheeling a cart at Lourdes to deliver a pilgrim to the shrine.
But cancer is not fair, nor life for that matter. Both of these men have refused pessimism or bitterness, embraced the strenuous recovery regimes prescribed for them, and never fail to encourage their friends and families about the future. They and we are thankful this day for the incredible medical advances of the past thirty years in the treatment of this disease, and in the incredible health care system that is open and serving the sick in the U.S.A.
But they are also thankful for their faith and an understanding of God that allows them to glimpse purpose in suffering, especially undeserved suffering. They have a great model for that in former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, also fighting his own battle against yet another form of cancer. A friend forwarded me one of Tony's statements on his illness, which I reproduce here for your convenience. It is an encouragement to all who are struggling with health or other problems as the holidays arrive. Tony Snow is a great communicator, and in this essay for Christianity Today he is addressing the most important topic of all. Keep him as well in your prayers this Thanksgiving Day. Some key paragraphs from Tony's testimony:
Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don't matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?
When our faith flags, he throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it.
It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us up—to speak of us!
This is love of a very special order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.
What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God's hand.