Worthy of the Gospel

by | May 29, 2019 | Family Life, Health, Prayer, Spirituality

Let’s file this under “things I never thought I’d have to write about.”

Several months ago I noticed a lump on my left triceps. I brought it up to my doctor and after looking at it and feeling it, he said it was a lipoma, a benign fatty tumor, and nothing to be concerned about. He said he’d seen this in other patients and when he sent them for referrals to the surgery office the surgeons just tried talking the patients our of having an elective procedure. A few months passed and this lump wasn’t going away, in fact it had grown. I saw my doctor again and again he said it was a lipoma, but he would agree to give me a surgical referral if I really wanted one. Due to a busy schedule I let a couple months pass and then finally asked for that referral at the end of March.

After several tests, including a biopsy, I got the diagnosis last week that I had pleomorphic liposarcoma, a rare and usually aggressive form of soft tissue cancer. Talk about a lightning bolt out of the blue. I was given the biopsy results over the phone and immediately looked those words up on Google, I then proceeded to go before the tabernacle to cry a little and pray a lot. About 1 in 2-million people are diagnosed with this each year, that’s roughly only 180 new cases in the U.S. Fortunately, I had a chest CT that showed that it had not spread to my lungs so it appears contained to my arm at this time. As I write this I am currently waiting to see an oncologist for a treatment plan that I’m told will most likely start with chemotherapy then surgery then either more chemo or radiation. I ask for your prayers and am confident in the healing power of God.

Someone told me that the mental/emotional side of a cancer diagnosis is just as difficult, if not more so, than the physical element. The day I got the news and throughout the weekend I found myself going back and forth from confident optimism to dwelling on the worst case scenarios. The hardest part for me is thinking about my wife and kids. Fortunately, from the beginning of this new chapter in my life I have turned to the Lord, and he has not let me down.

Immediately several scripture passages came to mind I began to pray and meditate over them.

Psalm 27 

The Lord is my light & my salvation, whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: 

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

and he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

and set me high upon a rock.

I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Philippians 1: 18-27

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  (emphasis added)

Paul was writing to the Philippians about suffering for the Gospel, but I have decided to follow his example as I suffer this disease in my body. I will conduct myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel. I will hope and not despair. I will trust and not worry. I will praise and not complain. I will keep an eternal perspective no matter what comes my way.

I was praying after receiving Communion at Mass yesterday. I was laying my heart out before the Lord, as I have been since getting this diagnosis. I was telling him how I am placing my trust in him; that my life is in his hands; that I am counting on him to preserve my life and heal me. It was then that the Lord spoke to my heart and asked me if my life wasn’t already in his hands before I got this news, if I didn’t need to trust him or rely on him for my healing and protection. This news may have come as a surprise and a shock to me, but as my wife reminded me, God was not surprised by it.

Ultimately nothing of eternal importance changes before and after the news of cancer. I was his beloved child before and I remain so today. I was utterly dependent upon God for everything in my life before, and I still am today. He was the one who held my life in his hands before, and he will continue to hold me now. He was my healer then, and my healer now. What I have received is a gift to put life in perspective, to reorient my priorities in light of eternity. I firmly believe that I will be healed of this cancer, either through the miraculous hand of God or by God working through doctors and medicine. What I am reminded of is that this life will end one day, but as the readings from the Mass yesterday proclaimed a day is coming, “He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,for the old order has passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4)

Not one of us is promised tomorrow. We are given the present moment and it is ours to use to bring glory to God or squander away. I have squandered too many moments in my life. I am filled with conviction to live each moment for God’s glory by sharing his love with others, by living a life worthy of the Gospel.

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Tom Ponchak

Tom Ponchak is a husband and father of five girls and one boy. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Carmel, IN. Tom has a degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He and his wife, Lisa, left the Catholic Church for ten years and were pastors of a non-denominational, evangelical church before returning to Catholicism in 2007. Tom enjoys reading, cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and spending time with his family.

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