Feature-AlienEncounterby Lon Fendall

My awareness of an alien taking up residence inside my body didn’t happen all at once, which was probably a good thing. No, I’m not talking about the plot of a science fiction story. This alien is the real thing. And coming to the point of accepting and dealing with the uninvited and completely unwelcome presence in my body was a gradual process and not at all as dramatic as a science fiction movie or novel.

The first hint of the alien’s presence was the troubled look on the face of the Physician Assistant who had treated me several times for a UTI (urinary tract infection). He wanted to know if the most recent antibiotic he had prescribed had helped get rid of the symptoms. “Not particularly, they’re still there,” I said, not realizing what this might mean. The PA went on to explain why he was troubled. “That antibiotic you have been taking is one of the strongest there is and if this were only an infection, the symptoms would be gone by now. We have to get you scheduled for some tests and you need to be seen by a urologist. This is beyond my capacity to treat.”

The implications of what the PA was saying didn’t really sink in until I saw an even more troubled expression on the face of the technician who kept moving the electronic wand around on my abdomen, going back and forth over the same places. It seemed that she was overdoing it a bit, but her training was showing her some things on the screen that weren’t good and she didn’t want to take any chances. She knew better than to say what she was thinking (which I imagine to be along the lines of “Oh my, this is not good”) and I was completely clueless about what she had found.

I’ve not been a great fan of hearing people’s detailed health reports during open worship time on Sunday morning and I’m going to spare the readers of SEEDS from an endless narrative of the testing and the first round of the urologist’s examination. The urologist kept tiptoeing around the word “cancer.” But by this time, I was beginning to wise up and I asked him to go ahead and use the “C” word if it was the case that I most likely had cancer instead of yet another UTI. “So, you’ve concluded that I most likely have cancer and that it is primarily in the bladder, right?” “Yes, that is indeed the preliminary indication, but of course we will want to collect a sample from your bladder to send to the biopsy lab to confirm what I think is happening inside you.”

Again, I’ll spare the reader a front-row seat at the next six months of the battle between the aliens inside me and the tool boxes of a series of specialists—a urologist, a urological surgeon, and an oncologist. Each had their particular strengths and gave every indication of being extremely competent in the diagnosis phase. Then followed the removal of as much as they could of the alien presence inside me and doing follow-up treatments to “search and destroy” any remaining cancer cells that might have gotten through the walls of my bladder before it ended up on the pathologists’ examination table.

I don’t think God arranges for us to go through dramatic challenges to our physical well-being just so we can become spiritual giants. It seems to me that the situation is a lot more complicated than that. Certainly we are invited into a journey of trusting God for strength and patience while wading through deep and unfamiliar waters. And we are exposed to one of the great mysteries of humanness, the unanswerable question of why some are miraculously healed from terrible diseases and others are given grace to walk through the pain and on into the presence of the Great Physician, whose ultimate healing is in heaven. It’s too early in my journey with cancer to know which of those destinations will be mine.

I also don’t think the primary reason for us experiencing health difficulties is so that we can comfort those around us who are suffering. Job’s “friends” actually thought they were providing comforting words to him in the midst of his numerous tragedies. It turns out that their well-meaning efforts were so far off the mark that they added to Job’s suffering rather than alleviating it. And I don’t think my cancer is equipping me to help those around me who are also struggling with this horrible disease.

When my urologist was laying out the rationale for at least four months of chemotherapy, his statistical case for proceeding was underwhelming, to put it mildly. If I recall the numbers accurately, he said the treatments would increase my chances of surviving cancer from 40% to 50%. Going from 30% to 80% would have been much more appealing. But he was careful not to play with the numbers to convince me to agree to go ahead with the chemo. “There are actually three reasons I think you ought to agree to go ahead. You’ve told me about your three grandchildren, age 14 to 22, who have been a part of your household since their mother, your daughter, died. I can’t guarantee you will survive the cancer until they are all out of the ‘nest’ you have provided for them. But I can assure you that this is your best chance for allowing them to have the benefit of a family environment for the rest of their growing up years.”

Although not as dramatic or as optimistic a diagnosis as we might have wished, we heard the wisdom of what he said. This was our best chance to defeat the alien.

“OK,” Raelene and I said, “When do we start?”

Lon FendallLon Fendall, a GOOD NEWS Associate, is the retired Director of both the Center for Global Studies and the Center for Peace and Justice at George Fox University. He is the author or co-author of several books including Unlocking Horns, Practicing Discernment Together, and To Live Free, a biography of William Wilberforce. He can be reached at: lonf@goodnewsassoc.org