“It’s cancer,” he said, “and it’s a bad one.”
On May 29, 2014, I was standing by the canned green beans in the HEB grocery store in Waco, Texas, when my phone rang.
Dr. Robert Faber of Urology Associates in Nashville, Tennessee, was calling with the results of the biopsy on my prostate.
This is an essay about sickness, suffering and death. But please don’t stop reading yet. It is also an essay about God, faith and hope.
I am writing it because I need to deal with what is happening to me as a Christian as a cancer patient. I am also writing to encourage other men who have prostate cancer along with their families and friends.
At the time of my diagnosis, I was serving as interim pastor of a church near Waco.
I was 76 years old, retired from 50 years as a pastor of Baptist churches. I was temporarily away from my home in Nashville helping a Texas church work its way toward finding a new direction and a new pastor.
Over the next three months, I had further tests and moved back to Nashville to begin treatment.
What Dr. Faber had called “a bad one” was cancer in all areas of the prostate with a Gleason score of 10, the most aggressive level. It had also moved out of the prostate a little, and so surgery was not an option.
I underwent 44 external beam radiation treatments and began hormone deprivation therapy, a series of injections to stop the production of testosterone, the male hormone that feeds prostate cancer. This has continued for six years and will go on indefinitely.
Prostate cancer is never curable unless it is confined to the prostate and completely removed by surgery or destroyed by radiation. It can be held off for a long time if treatment is started early, longer if the aggression level measured by the Gleason score is lower.
I have taken several other medicines along the way. I received immunotherapy to slow the cancer. I have had injections of an isotope of Radium to treat cancer that has spread to the bones.
All of these treatments have side effects, especially loss of energy and fatigue. Surgery, as well as the anti-hormone treatments, can affect the ability to be sexually active.
I have been fortunate in having only moderate side effects. The cancer itself has not yet caused me physical difficulties or pain.
Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in America. One out of every nine men will be diagnosed with the disease. One in forty-one will die of it. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men after lung cancer.
The incidence of prostate cancer is not widely recognized. Men tend not to talk about it – or any of their health problems.
It is very personal. It involves the reproductive anatomy. It threatens the masculine image.
When I informed the church in Texas of my diagnosis in order to explain my premature departure, some were shocked that I spoke of it in the church service.
One woman said, “My husband has prostate cancer, but he does not want anyone to know.”
I knew a lot about prostate cancer before I got it.
As a longtime pastor, I sat with men who suffered from it. At least three died of this type of cancer, and I conducted their funerals. Death from prostate cancer can be difficult and painful, and it does not proceed quickly.
As a pastor, and now, as a patient, I have had to think about this in the light of my relationship with God. I have questions, and other sufferers have questions.
What kind of world is it we live in that includes sickness and suffering? How and why does cancer happen?
Where is God? What is God doing? Will God help me?
How should I pray, for myself, and for others? Can I find the strength needed for myself and for my family?
How do I deal with the losses that come with sickness? Can I face the possibility of dying with faith, courage, and hope?
Let’s start with the God questions.
First of all, I know that many people do not believe in God, at least not in the kind of God that is described by traditional religion. I respect that, and I don’t want to push my view of God on anyone.
Especially, I don’t want to use the fact of someone’s illness to try to convert them. That’s not the way authentic religion works.
I simply want to share my knowledge and experience with others and leave them free to take what is helpful to them.
Even if you don’t believe in God, or you are not sure about God, I hope you have an appreciation for the meaning and mystery of life and find life to be good and meaningful.
A time of sickness can be a good time to dig deeper into what life is all about.
Christians know God by looking at Jesus, and we experience God as Spirit working in our lives today. What we know about God through Jesus is that God loves us, God is with us, God suffers with us, and God has the power to overcome death.
Because of the love and power we see in Jesus, we understand that God is the source of the power that created the world in love.
The ancient Hebrews had already realized that the God who was working in their history was the Creator, and they began their Bible by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
They also said that God looked at God’s creation and said that it is good.
We need to keep that in mind when we ask, what kind of world is this where cancer happens?
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here. It was written in July 2020 by David George (1938-2021) and was submitted to Good Faith Media by his family. This series is a shortened version of George’s longer essay approved by his family, which is being published now during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
George (1938-2021) served as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church of Nashville, for 30 years, until his retirement in 2006, when he was named Pastor Emeritus. He received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard Payne University and the Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.