Cancer. It is one of the most dreaded words in the English language. When someone hears the phrase: “You have cancer,” their mind immediately fears the worst. I heard the other day on a medical commercial that one in every two people will get cancer at some point in their life. That got my attention! Those kinds of statistics are scary, because it means that there is a good chance that you will get cancer eventually. And it guarantees that someone you love dearly will get cancer.
My first experience with the word “cancer” came when I was only six years old. Because I was so young, I did not remember many of the details of the challenges that cancer can bring into a family’s life. But I saw enough to know that cancer had the ability to take away someone I loved deeply.
His name was Gilbert. He was my grandpa. He battled lung cancer. He developed this kind of cancer because he was a smoker. He smoked for approximately five decades. For almost fifty years he inhaled harmful smoke into his lungs. He started when he was only thirteen years old.
One of my fondest memories of my grandpa was his willingness to let me help him make his coffee. He put me in charge of determining how much sugar and cream would be poured into his cup of Joe. After I had stirred in the cream and sugar, he allowed me to take the first sip. I would dip a spoon over the top of the coffee and slurp the tablespoon of coffee into my mouth. I can still taste the sweet liquid on my tongue. This was a yummy memory.
Many details are overlooked in the mind of a six year old witnessing his grandpa dying of cancer. My parents protected me from the ravaging effect that cancer has on a human’s internal organs. They did not share with me the details of the doctor visits that ended with bad news. They did sit me down and tell me that grandpa was very sick and that he might be going to heaven soon.
“But I don’t want him to go to heaven!” I wanted him to stay here on earth so that I could grow up on his farm and play with the chickens, pigs, and dogs. I wanted him to lay right beside me in the living room as we would watch The Price is Right on a lazy week day. I did not want him to die. But he died anyway.
Even though I do not remember every detail of the struggle cancer brought into my family, I do remember one profound picture of love that I would like to share with you. I believe that when people go through a tragedy, no matter what the age, they remember acts of love like nothing else. Often, we forget what people tell us to comfort our grieving hearts. We seldom remember the daily details of living with cancer or living with someone who has cancer. But we almost always remember an act of love shown to us in our most challenging moments.
In the latter stages of his battle with cancer, my grandpa was too weak to walk. He could not place his feet on the floor so that he could walk to the bathroom to take a bath. He could not engage in an act that is normally viewed as simple and routine. He just did not have the strength to walk. My grandpa served in World War II. He worked in the factory. He was a farmer. His strength was above average. He was once chased by a frenzied bull on his farm, and with those same legs was able to jump over a fence just in time to avoid the horned beast. But those same legs would no longer work. That is the destructive power of cancer.
I will never forget the first time I saw my dad carry my grandpa. He placed his hands gently under my grandpa’s back and lifted him to his own chest. He then walked my grandpa to the bathroom and laid him into the bathtub. This act of love touched my soul at the tender age of six.
Physically, my dad carried my grandpa. As a young child, I did not make the spiritual connection as I watched this act of love. But as an adult, I now see that my dad did something with both physical and spiritual implications. My grandpa had the burden of a weak body. My dad carried his weak body. And in this He fulfilled the law of Christ, which is love.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
From a spiritual perspective, my dad showed compassion to his father-in-law. The kindness in my dad’s heart overflowed into a simple act of meeting someone’s basic needs. Society often paints the wrong picture of what a real man looks like. We falsely believe that a real man is rugged, independent, athletic, and overly confident. But that night I witnessed a real man, and this man was filled with a tremendous capacity to care for a sick human being.
My dad did not carry another man for notoriety. My dad did this act of love in the privacy of a home where only a few people were present. My dad did not carry another man because he felt pressured to do the right thing. Professional medical staff can meet those same needs. And there is nothing wrong with people asking for help from medical professionals when these needs arise. But my dad carried another man because of love. He genuinely loved my grandpa and wanted to honor the father of his bride.
Do you love other human beings with that kind of love? When the need arises, do you make yourself available to care for them in their weakness? Is there someone in your life right now who needs your loving touch? Don’t make excuses to avoid carrying this person’s burden.
At some point in our life, we all might find ourselves asking this question: “When I am old and dying, will someone be there to carry me to the bathtub?” And we hope that the answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes.”
(This article is dedicated to Leland…a great dad!)
’57 Chevy my dad restored