Each week a small group of people from all walks of life gathers at Christian Life Center in Fort Lauderdale. There are smiles on their faces and friendly chatter as hugs are exchanged around the room. These people are united by one common thread: they have all been touched by cancer. Together they share stories, cry some, laugh a lot and learn to build each other up.
Allisha Khan is a survivor. Now in remission, she has found emotional healing by sharing her experience with others. Everett Stringer lost his wife to breast cancer, his son to pancreatic cancer and has been treated for prostate cancer, but he said “My faith is the thing that gets me through.” Calling this his church family, Stringer said, “I think I can be compassionate enough to know emotionally what they’re going through…to stay with them and bring hope.
The word cancer has such a stigma; when people hear it, they shudder because they don’t know what’s coming. You need positive input and Jesus is the best. Just knowing that the Holy Spirit is in me, I know that I am not alone….I praise God because He will lift me up.”
Cancer care ministry
These are just a few of the people who are united in Our Journey of Hope (OJOH), a cancer care ministry started just over a year ago at Christian Life Center.
Oncology Nurse Maxine Pink, brings her experience from a clinical setting along with prayer for those in the group. “I had one patient who prayed over her medications and doctors before she went in for every treatment, and she would ask for me to pray with her,” she said.
When Bobby and Gloria Harrington’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer, it was Maxine who informed them of questions they should ask her doctors. “She armed me to care for my daughter, and the Holy Spirit enabled me to be positive and encouraging to her, even when I had no idea what I was doing,” said Gloria, whose husband Bobby is an outreach leader at the church.
At the onset of another aggressive cancer diagnosis, Gloria said her daughter, “insisted on having the death talks, and these are conversations no parent wants to have with their child,” she shared, giving praise to God for the remissions. With a desire to help others, Gloria discovered and attended a Bible-based ministry training program that has been developed to equip God’s people with the tools needed to bring hope to the millions who are living with cancer. Our Journey of Hope was started by Percy McCray, national director of spiritual/faith-based programs for Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Formerly a bedside chaplain, McCray was part of a unique care model that includes ministry professionals as part of the hospital’s patient care team from beginning to end. He saw that cancer care ministry requires unique insights, both into the disease and into God’s Word. Yet as well-intentioned as many churches were, he recognized they often didn’t have the directed insight required and felt “inspired by God to develop a training program to provide these resources to church leaders for free, as a tithe back to the community honoring to God.”
Attendees are responsible for their own transportation to their facility just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, while the meals, curriculum and hotel accommodation for one night are complimentary.
During the training, church leaders meet the OJOH pastoral staff and cancer treatment staff members. They hear cancer patient and caregiver testimonials and discover how God has called us to minister to those impacted by cancer. Christian medical professionals explain the basics of cancer and give a guided tour of the treatment facility for a glimpse at the daily life of a cancer patient. Then they learn how to start a cancer care ministry of their own, introducing curriculum materials and educating leaders on how to train others with practical hands-on tools.
According to the American Cancer Society, over 12 million people in the United States are living with or have been personally diagnosed with cancer. Every year, 1.5 million more people receive a cancer diagnosis. That means that in a church of 200 people, approximately eight people are living with cancer and two more will be diagnosed with it every year. Each of these individuals has family members and caregivers that are affected as well.
Pastor Sol Levy, outreach pastor at Christian Life Center, is a two-time cancer survivor. Diagnosed with colon cancer 27 years ago, following 20 years of ulcerative colitis, Levy said, “As a new Christian, it shook me and my family’s life. At the time I had no support and didn’t know what to do, so I went to the Word and found complete peace. Though doctors said he would not be able to have children, through a divine healing, the cancer was gone and his wife was able to conceive a son. Eighteen years later a malignant tumor appeared again that required surgery. Levy is now in remission; however, “My son had a really hard time with my diagnosis,” he said. “Then he opened the Bible, and the Lord showed him in Psalm 118:17, ‘I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.’ He was 17-years old at the time and found peace in the Word of God. We must remember that when children are involved, it plays on their emotions.”
Harrington said, “When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family has cancer.” Levy agreed, “Often the family can’t pray, questioning why God would allow this. They’ve lost faith and need a group like this to get back on track, to be of help in their faith walk and know that God is here for you and not against you.” That’s why Our Journey of Hope welcomes cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and family members.
“We’ve seen numerous requests for prayer by congregants for cancer during Sunday prayer time; this is one of our largest requests,” said Levy, noting the numbers experiencing cancer may be even higher because, “I believe people are afraid to speak about it. Through what we’re doing here, we’re able to give family members a sense of peace and maybe reach out into the community to let them know that number one, we serve a God that heals, and number two, they can find peace through Christ.”
While most cancer treatment facilities offer support groups, Allishah Khan said her experience with them was very negative. Having been healed physically from an aggressive form of breast cancer, she was still struggling emotionally. The hospital-based support group she attended was not biblically based, and she said, “People were blaming God for their illness.” But at Our Journey of Hope, Khan said, “I was able to open up about the painful experiences I had.” Now she shares her story of healing to give others hope that if you can do this, I can do this. “I tell them Jesus heals,” she said. “Seek Him and He will guide your path.”
Recognizing that not everyone diagnosed with cancer is physically healed, Stringer was quick to acknowledge that “the ultimate healing is to go home with the Lord.”
Harrington shared that her daughter was ready if that was His will. “It wasn’t about her; it was about her family. She needed to know I was going to take care of them. Her fifteen-year-old (at the time) granddaughter said, ‘Mom, if you die, you’re the lucky one, you get to be home with Jesus.’ She had faith that God would do what was best.”
Having lost both of her parents to cancer, Jennifer Lawrence said she joined Our Journey of Hope because she wanted to know how to minister to those with cancer. “I wanted to learn what to say and not say because even the Scriptures can be positive or have an adverse effect. Since both of my parents died, I thought how can I encourage someone else when I wasn’t sure myself,” she said. For her it comes down to the concept that “God is sovereign. Some He heals and some He takes home. For me it’s about being able to share the Word and walk through this journey with them, pointing people to the Lord to build their faith and trust.”
Many experiencing cancer wonder why God let this happen, explained Harrington. She quoted one of the pastors that trained with her, as saying, “on the one-hour drive to and from my wife’s treatments, he said it became a precious time of bonding between the two of them, and his wife said to him, “This is the best worst things that has ever happened to us!”
While cancer attacks the body, it is no less intensive on the mind and spirit, but there remains something that cancer cannot conquer: hope.
You can find hope in the following resources.
- Our Journey of Hope meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Christian Life Center, located at 2699 W Commercial Blvd, Fort Lauderdale. For information, email [email protected] or call 954-731-5433
- At First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, Norma Miller oversees a cancer care program that hosts informal, casual fellowships on Wednesday from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. in the church parlour, located at 301 E Broward Blvd, Fort Lauderdale. For information, email [email protected] or call 954-831-1105.
- The next Cancer Care Leadership Training for pastors and church leaders is being offered by Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, GA at Southeastern Regional Medical Center on Thursday, May 12 – 13. For information, visit ourjourneyofhope.com.
- In addition to these church-based programs, Holy Cross Hospital offers a variety of support groups specific to certain types of cancer and is planning an “I Can Cope” seminar on Saturday, April 16 from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the faith-based hospital facility, located at 301 E Broward Blvd, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-771-8000 for more information.
Learn to Combat Cancer
Trends are the best measure of progress against cancer. While cancer death rates rose for most of the 20th century because of the tobacco epidemic, peaking in 1991 at 215 cancer deaths per 100,000 persons, the rate dropped 23 percent from 1991 to 2012 because of reductions in smoking, as well as improvements in early detection and treatment,” according to American Cancer Society Facts & Figures 2016. “The decline translates into the avoidance of more than 1.7 million cancer deaths, and reductions include the most common cancer types: lung, colorectal, breast and prostate.” Still, cancer remains the second most common cause of death in America.” Exceeded only by heart disease, cancer accounts for nearly one in four deaths.
Some known causes of cancer include genetic factors, lifestyle factors, certain types of infections, and environmental exposures to different types of chemicals and radiation. Many cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy choices and getting recommended screening tests. Here are some things you can do to prevent the development of cancer and promote early detection and treatment.
Tips to improve your health
-stay away from tobacco
-get to and stay at a healthy weight
-participate in physical activity
-limit your alcohol consumption
-protect your skin
-know your risks and family history
-get regular checkups and screening tests
Here is a summary of testing advised by the American Cancer Society. A complete listing is found at cancer.org.
All women should know the benefits, limitations and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening. Know how your breasts normally look and feel, and report any changes to your health care provider.
Women ages 40-44- should have the choice to start annual mammograms if they wish.
Women ages 45-54- should get mammograms every year.
Women 55 or older- may switch to receiving mammograms every two years, or continue annually.
Women with a family history of breast cancer should be screened with MRIs and mammograms.
Colon and rectal cancer and polyps
Starting at age 50, both men and women should follow a testing plan, such as…
-flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years or
-colonoscopy every 10 years.
Other tests that may find cancer include a yearly guaiac-based fecal occult blood test, a yearly fecal immunochemical test or a stool DNA test every 3 years.
Women ages 21-29- should have a Pap test done every 3 years
Women ages 30-65-should have a Pap test plus an HPV test every 5 years.
Endometrial (uterine) cancer
When women reach menopause, they should consult their health care provider about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer based on your history. Always report any unexpected vaginal bleeding to your doctor.
Those who are at high risk of lung cancer due to cigarette smoking should consider screening with an annual low-dose CT scan of the chest. Consider screening if you are all of the following:
-55-74 years old
-in good health
-have at least a 30 pack-year history AND are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the past 15 years. (A pack-year is the number of cigarette packs smoked each day multiplied by the number of years a person has smoked.)
At 50 you should speak to your health care provider about the pros and cons of testing. However African Americans or men who have a family member who had prostate cancer before 65 you should consult their health care provider at 45. If you decided to get tested, get a PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam.
For people age 20 or older, periodic health exams should include a cancer-related check-up and health counseling for cancers of the thyroid, oral cavity, skin, lymph nodes, testes or ovaries.
For more details, visit cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345.
Seated from left to right: Delores Brown*, Fannie Ayoung*, Harold Bennett, Laura Rahming*, Maxine Pink*, Allishah Khan
Standing from left to right: Jennifer Lawrence*, Bobby Harrington*, Murdosch Cange*, Everett Stringer*, Carlo Lubin*, Desiree Halley, Gloria Harrington*
* = Trained to facilitate support groups (nurses, caregivers, cancer survivors)
Others are survivors