I’ve been wearing a hospital bracelet on my arm for about two months. It’s a rather odd piece of jewelry. One of my friends put it on my arm at church before I could protest. “We are going to wear these until Chandler’s healed,” she said. I looked at the hospital bracelet and noticed the words stenciled in blue ink: “Remember to Pray for our Chandler Booth.”
Chandler is the 15-month-old son of Jim Mac and Kim Booth. He was diagnosed in July with neuroblastoma, a deadly cancer of the sympathetic nervous system. Doctors believe it begins while still in the womb. In all likelihood Chandler was born with this disease. It affects only about 600-700 babies each year.
Unfortunately, Chandler isn’t the only child in our church with cancer. McKenzie Fleming is the daughter of Carol and Steve Fleming and the twin sister of Kylie. The Flemings moved to our town from Texas when Farmland Beef opened. Steve is the plant manager.
The Flemings celebrate the twins’ first birthday Sept. 24. Four months after their birth, McKenzie was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, stage II. It is a malignant tumor arising in the muscle cells. She began chemotherapy in January, a 48-week process to be followed by weeks of radiation.
Cancer among children is rare. The American Cancer Society estimates there were 9,100 new cases of childhood cancer in 2002. Despite its rarity in children, it is still the chief cause of death by disease in children ages 1-14. One note of good news: the ACS reports that the mortality rates among children with cancer have declined 50 percent since 1973. This decline has come because of dedicated efforts to find a cure for cancer.
In May, the Fleming family led the first lap of the cancer walk for Relay for Life, an event designed to raise money for cancer research. Teams raise a minimum of $1,000 each. Many people set up tents and remain for the night, symbolizing that cancer comes into people’s lives with intent to stay.
I have thought about these children and their parents often since the days they were diagnosed. The bracelet I wear serves as a constant reminder that their lives have been forever changed because of cancer. I can take my bracelet off any time, but they cannot lay down the cancer just because they have grown weary of chemotherapy, IV’s, the trips to Atlanta, and a total reordering of their lives.
Thankfully, there are people working every day to find a cure for the cancers that invade our bodies. In addition to praying for those stricken with cancer, we need to pray for those searching for a cure. A cure brings added hope to all who will get the news they have cancer. This year the number of Americans that get cancer is likely be over a million, as it was last year.
In addition to looking to research–and to doctors and nurses who apply the knowledge to the patients they serve–Christians turn to God in prayer. We acknowledge that all healing comes from God. Doctors, nurses, medicines and other forms of treatment are tools in the hands of God.
We don’t understand why some are healed and some are not. We don’t understand why children must suffer at all. When an enemy strikes, there’s not much time to ponder why such an unfortunate thing has come into one’s life. All physical, emotional, and spiritual energies must be thrown into fighting the disease.
Kim Booth writes: “We are believers in God’s power over this wretched disease. He has made it possible for the doctors to find Chandler’s tumor and treat it with chemotherapy, surgery, bone-marrow transplant, radiation and other medications after that. All this should take about a year and a half to complete if he stays on schedule. Yes, the trips to Atlanta will be numerous. Yes, I have had to stop teaching to care for Chandler. Yes, we have to change the way we do a lot of things, but God is in control. He has given strength to Chandler; to Betsy, our 7-year-old; to Jim Mac and to me. There is no other explanation for how we have coped as well as we have so far.”
There is nothing good about cancer or any disease. But in the midst of such a devastating disease, much good can result. For Christians, the presence of any darkness in the world is an opportunity to allow the light of Christ to shine. If Christians do our job as Christ commanded, we become like a Motel 6 for those who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death–we keep the light on for them.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column appeared in The Moultrie Observer.
Editor’s note: September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month