"Greg, I don't know how to tell you this, but you have 30 days to live." With those words, Greg Anderson's oncologist offered no hope.
Greg's lung cancer had spread. His weight dipped to 112 pounds. And Greg and his wife, Linda, married only five years, began to pray.
Today, more than 20 years later, Greg is CEO and co-founder, along with Linda, of the Cancer Recovery Foundation (www.cancerrecovery.org or 800-238-6479), which provides resources, support groups, and encouragement for families dealing with cancer. He is also author of Cancer and The Lord's Prayer (Jordan House/Meredith).
Marriage Partnership wanted to know more about his healing and how the diagnosis affected their marriage.
How did you respond to the diagnosis?
Greg: I spent a lot of time "awfulizing"—taking things to the worst possible conclusion. Linda listened to me complain, and allowed me to express my fears and regrets.
Linda: I refused to think about it for days. Then a numbness settled in. Finally, we looked at each other and said, "Okay, we're partners in this and God's at the head of the table. What's next?"
So you found hope in the midst of hopelessness?
Greg: Yes. We recognized that God is in control. We thanked him for what we did have as opposed to what we didn't. Pain—emotional, spiritual, and physical—is inevitable. But suffering is optional. We knew we needed to focus more on the promises of God than on the problems of cancer. I clung to Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." Some days I would claim that 100 times.
Prayer was an important part of your healing.
Greg: People often ask, "What's the most important reason you're alive today?" I tell them prayer! I had a lymph node at the base of my neck about the size of half a grapefruit. I was on morphine for the pain. And Linda would lie beside me and place her hands on my neck and chest and pray for hours at a time.
Linda: Praying out loud wasn't in my nature. But it felt right to ask God for his strength and healing.
Your book talks about the Lord's Prayer. What role did that play?
Greg: One clause that's often overlooked is, "Thy will be done." A lot of people pray, "Lord, help me. Heal me. Take the cancer away." But there comes a spiritual maturity that says, "Lord, above all, make known to me your will. And I will do whatever possible to make that my life." I didn't say take away the cancer. I said, "Use the cancer." I didn't say, "Perform a miracle," I said, "Lord, help me reveal your will."
Linda: When we started to concentrate on that during Greg's cancer, God started to move emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
It can be difficult to watch a spouse go through cancer. How did you manage?
Linda: I was supposed to help, but how? And I was supposed to be strong, but at times felt like I was falling apart. A friend and counselor, Robert Merkel, told me, "If you don't start taking care of yourself, you cannot take care of Greg." So I started to exercise. We changed our diet. I learned it was okay to take time away from Greg, just to be away.
Also at that time a friend said, "Don't forget to pray for yourself." That seemed strange, because it felt selfish. Greg was the one going through the cancer. Yet a person doesn't go through cancer; a family goes through cancer. It was okay to ask God to give me strength.
In what way has this experience changed you?
Greg: We don't spend much time living in the past. Although we do our share of planning, we don't live so much in the future. We live now. More than anything, the whole 30 days to live experience was one of teaching us to take this moment and use it.
What advice would you give couples dealing with cancer?
Linda: Listen. When Greg was feeling down, I wanted to be the cheerleader and bring him out of the slump. But it's crucial to let your spouse know his feelings are acknowledged.
Greg: The trials we may be going through in the moment, are just that. At the end of the day, God's going to have the last word, and the last word is going to be good. That's cause for great joy.
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