I remember clearly the summer of 2002. I remember getting a phone call from a friend of mine to tell me that something was going on with Anna, the daughter of our friend, Laura. My friend on the phone didn’t have much to tell me, details were still coming out, but she asked me to pray. Hard. Because something was really wrong.
I remember a few days later, hearing about how Anna had just gotten home from a missions trip and how she had noticed a large mass on one of her sides, near her rib cage. And how her grandfather, a doctor, had examined her and gotten the medical ball rolling as quickly as he could.
I remember hearing her diagnosis for the first time: Neuroblastoma. A quick-spreading cancer that was usually found in young children, not in 17-year-olds. The prognosis for Anna was completely unknown because the disease was so rare in teenagers, but for young children it was devastating.
I remember letting that knowledge sink in: the daughter of one of my friends has cancer.
That was seven and a half years ago. This week I got to hear Anna address the student body of Wheaton College, giving testimony about what God has done in her life over the past seven years. This is a remarkable girl with a remarkable story who gives all the credit to her remarkable God.
Let me first say that Anna is not healed. Not by a long shot. In fact, her cancer has spread throughout her body. As her mom said to me one time, “It would be easier to tell you where Anna doesn’t have cancer than to tell you where she does have it.”
Just let that sink in for a minute. Imagine, one of your children so full of cancer that you can’t even begin to list all the places she has it. I think I would feel sick to my stomach all the time. And yet Laura, her husband, Bob, and Anna continue on, looking for cures, seeing God’s hand all over the situation.
In Wheaton’s chapel service on Monday, Anna’s dad introduced her—he’s a professor at Wheaton—and he did a wonderful job. He said of his daughter that she “is exactly what it looks like to receive the gift of life and to live—to really live.” He also pointed out that Anna has not received any special spiritual training; she’s basically learned what she’s learned about God just by living through this ordeal. He cautioned the students to not get the wrong idea about his daughter. Even though she looks healthy on the outside (and she does), “beneath the surface lies a horrible mess.”
Can you just imagine? Saying that about your child? Having to say that about your child? Anna’s dad is a courageous man, that’s all I have to say.
So then Anna got up to speak. A beautiful, blonde 24-year-old graduate student, she’s spunky, bright, optimistic, and intelligent.
She gave some background about how she was diagnosed, how rare it is for a teenager to get Neuroblastoma (less than five teenagers are diagnosed every year), and how she has beaten every single odd against her just by being alive today. Anna described the years of experimental treatments she has undergone, mostly painful, and how the drug she is currently taking targets a specific genetic mutation. Amazingly, this drug seems to be working because as of the last time she was scanned the cancer had left her pancreas.
How cool is that? To be filled with cancer and then to have some of it leave your body. Nothing short of a miracle.
Anna then turned the focus of her talk to her relationship with God. To say that this girl is strong would be a complete understatement. She is a rock, and the lessons she has learned have solidified her faith in ways I can’t even imagine.
She quoted my favorite Psalm—Psalm 62: “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” And she talked about how it’s during the hardest times that she feels closest to God. She even acknowledged that sometimes she yearns for those times when she’s feeling sick because then she can just “be” with God.
Longing to spend time with her Savior. Finding it a joy and a privilege to be with Him. Longing for that closeness with God. These are the things Anna finds most important in her life now.
And then Anna said something I found to be so amazing. She said, “Of course I want to be healed, but I don’t pray for that anymore.” Instead, what she does pray for are these three things: for God to be glorified no matter what, for peace in every circumstance, and for joy in each day.
She said some more profound things at Monday’s chapel service, but since this post is getting long, I think I’ll save those for tomorrow. For today, just focus on Anna’s prayer and maybe pray it for your own life—that God would be glorified no matter what, that you would have peace in every circumstance, and that you would find joy in each day.
Sounds like a great prayer to me.