Cancer Can’t Kill Love
About the Guest
A marriage has to face big adjustments when a health issue threatens a spouse. Pastor Jim Garlow talks with Dennis Rainey about the ups and downs he and his wife, Carol, have had to make since she was first diagnosed with cancer five years ago. Married for almost 41 years, Garlow explains how the threat of cancer has transformed their marriage for the better and has made them feel like newlyweds again.
A marriage has to face big adjustments when a health issue threatens a spouse.
Cancer Can’t Kill Love
Bob: There are a lot of moments in the battle with cancer when you find yourself in despair, and there are moments when God shows up. Here’s Jim Garlow.
Jim: There was one span where they could not stop the vomiting. It just wouldn’t quit—seven weeks of it. She had just vomited again on the bathroom floor. It was a Saturday night. I was cleaning it up, and I started groaning. I got into a pity party.
I thought of two pastor friends; and I started complaining mightily to the Lord, saying, “This guy’s getting to do this, and that guy is getting to do that. They’re doing all these things that I, too, am called to do; and I’m cleaning up vomit from the bathroom floor, late Saturday night. It isn’t fair, God.” I so clearly heard an impression of the Holy Spirit saying, “You are doing, right now, the greatest ministry you have ever done in your life.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We get a chance today to look at what life is really like when a husband and wife are going through the cancer battle together. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re talking this week about health challenges that can affect families. When those health challenges enter in, the dynamic of marriage changes for the season that that health challenge is present. I mean, things that were normal are no longer normal. You have to make some adjustments, and that can be one of those unanticipated moments that you’re not really prepared for.
Dennis: Yes, some of our listeners know the year we started FamilyLife—1976 was a year filled with—well, the death of my dad, and emergency surgery on our one-year-old son. I thought I was having a heart attack in the bed where my dad had died. Then, at the end of that 12-month period, we rushed Barbara to the hospital with a heart rate of over 300 beats a minute, which she sustained for almost eight hours. I thought I was going to be a single parent of two children, under the age of two.
You talk about redefining a marriage relationship. In fact, I’ve got a great question I want to ask our guest on today’s broadcast. Jim Garlow joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Jim, welcome back.
Jim: Good to be with you, my friend.
Dennis: Jim is a pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego. He and his wife Carol have been married for 41 years—have four children, five grandchildren. Here’s the question because you and your wife have battled cancer—and it’s her cancer that she’s battled; but because you’re one, you’ve both battled cancer. You’ve been battling it now for five years.
You make the statement, Jim, and I want you to just comment on this. You say, “Cancer cannot kill love. Our marriage still stands strong.”
Jim: I’m really glad you asked that because cancer can’t kill a lot of things, and I can honestly say the best five years of our marriage have been the last five years.
Dennis: Now, wait a second.
Jim: By far the best. In fact, my wife is not seen as being nearly as strong-willed as I am. I’m a strong-willed guy, but what people don’t know is she’s a very strong-willed person. When you have two strong-willed people, you can have conflict. Every marriage has conflict. Ours is not immune from it. We’ve had conflicts over the years. We’ve been able to resolve them, always work through them. Most of the time, it was a very Christ-honoring way; and if it wasn’t, then, I always had to apologize. [Laughter]
I understand what it is to say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry;” but the fact is when you get into this zone, where you realize that you could potentially lose someone that you care deeply about, you suddenly contextualize those challenges of conflict.
Jim: All of a sudden, the things that were really annoyances—they are just there and they’re not going to change, but they don’t matter anymore. I have been astounded at my view of her—her strengths. I’ve realized how incredibly wonderful she is. To the point, I’ve found myself saying repeatedly to her—and I never said this in the first 36 years that I can recall; now, maybe I did, but I just don’t recall.
For the last five years, she’s heard it from me. “I’m so glad I married you. I am so glad I married you. Oh, I’m glad I married you.” The last five years, she’s—at night, ready to go to sleep, “Carol, I’m so glad I married you.” Her strengths have become greater.
I told a guy—I had a conversation—spontaneous conversation, last Monday. We were standing out front—out in the parking lot of our church. I said, “With each passing day, she gets better and better.” Now, by that, I meant in my eyes. I don’t think that’s because I’m delusional now; I think that’s because I was a little bit blinded then. I’m seeing what I’ve had all these years. I’m going, “Wow! Praise God for this woman in my life.”
Dennis: I want to read a passage of Scripture, and I want the listener to think about Jim and Carol and what they’ve been through: six remissions—depending upon how you define remissions—trips to Houston, trips to Tijuana, Mexico, to try to find solutions—all kinds of protocols to address cancer.
If you read a definition of love like the Apostle Paul gives, and you put yourself in the valley of the shadow of death, these words have, I think, a more powerful meaning and a simpler meaning: “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It’s not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things”—then, this last phrase, I want you to comment on this—“endures all things.”
Jim: I’ll put some skin on that. A Saturday night—it was our first eight months. My church was so gracious. They really allowed me just to focus on her totally that first eight months until we could get her back somewhat able to function normally.
There was one span where they could not stop the vomiting. It just wouldn’t quit—seven weeks of it. There were also other, many other, challenges going on; and she had just vomited again on the bathroom floor. It was a Saturday night. I was cleaning it up, and I started groaning. I got into a pity party.
I thought of two pastor friends, right in San Diego—they are very good friends of mine, who I love deeply. I started complaining mightily to the Lord, saying, “This guy’s getting to do this, and that guy is getting to do that. They’re doing all these things that I, too, am called to do; and I’m cleaning up vomit on the bathroom floor, late Saturday night. It isn’t fair, God.” I so clearly heard an impression of the Holy Spirit saying, “You are doing right now the greatest ministry you have ever done in your life.”
That was one of those change points. I realized, “Wow! There’s nothing I’ve ever done, or perhaps ever will do, that is more significant in Kingdom eyes than cleaning up vomit on the bathroom floor, approaching midnight on a Saturday night for my wife.” That was a major change for me.
Dennis: What I hear you saying is Ephesians 5 incarnate: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.”
Jim: I’ve not always been the best servant. My wife’s been a great servant of me and other people, and I learned a lesson in servanthood that I needed to learn and that there is—even sometimes, I don’t—I’m not Mother Teresa yet. There are times when she needs something, I go, “Oh man, I’m too tired. I’m too tired. Now, wait a minute. She’s here. She’s with me. She’s alive. What a great privilege to get up and go get that item for her.”
Dennis: Jim, I’m going to ask you to do the impossible. You’ve shared a couple of very poignant moments with Carol as you’ve cared for her during her five-year battle with cancer. If you could only clip out one experience, one setting, one scene, one experience with Carol, do you know what it would be and why? If you could only keep one memory of these past five years, of what you’ve been through?
Jim: It’s just—I can tell you the context always is holding her—just holding her. Most women love to be held and love to be touched—maybe all do. It’s just holding her and then, a little bit of a back rub, a little bit of a neck rub, a little bit of a scalp rub. We joke and laugh. You’ve got to have a sense of humor in this. She’s had no hair through most of this journey. It’s come back several times; but, then, she loses it again. So, scalp rubs are pretty easy. So, holding her and touching her.
There are sometimes she’ll roll over and say, “Touch me.” So, I make sure, and those are the precious—it’s not any one specific date. It’s just multiple times doing that and holding her tight. When I do that, I am just so thankful I can do that. I get so grateful. When she’s in the hospital and I’m home alone in bed—
Jim: —I think, “Oh my. Oh my, I don’t like this.” So, to be able just to hold her is really, really rich experience for me.
Bob: You said that three weeks ago doctors were telling you to get ready for end of life, and your wife rallied. You’re still putting sermons together, preaching on Sunday, travelling as you can on occasion. I would think, in the midst of what you’re in, life would have to shut down; and it did for a while in the early days. How have you worked out still doing life while this is going on, knowing that the roller coaster ride—you don’t know when you’re going to be down, when you’re going to be up.
Bob: How’ve you done that?
Jim: Well, I do need to say, since that three weeks, she kind of dodged two bullets within a two-week span. We were in the hospital. We’ve been in the hospital three times in the last five weeks, but she is—the disease is considered, at this point, stable, based upon the best MRI we could do recently.
It hasn’t grown in the liver. One-third of her liver was removed a few months ago, but it did come back in the remaining two-thirds. Of course, the liver does grow; and it expanded and filled up the area. There are still some lesions there that we are watching very, very carefully.
What has been the greater challenge is the—now, five years of the toxicity of the chemo have taken quite a significant toll, which she is probably—we have, for the benefit of those listening, we really have looked at so many alternatives, so many alternatives. We’ve tried a number of alternatives. We are not closed to any of that.
We know there’s a lot of conflicting views back and forth, and we understand the dynamics of that. We don’t fault anybody for their views either pro-, or anti-chemo, or wherever they’re at; but we’ve just been very proactive, aggressive on a number of different venues of treatment. It appears that the chemo journey may be at an end, and this kind of cancer is pretty hard to bat down without chemo.
Exactly what that spells for me in the immediate future, we really don’t know. “We’ve tried to function as close to normal as we possibly can so we wouldn’t be defined by cancer,” we said. At the same time, I probably hold a record of the number of credits I have with airlines for cancelled flights and changed schedules and having to ask to be released from speaking engagements multiple times because we have to do the ebb and flow of wherever we are at that given moment.
I am—I want to make sure I treasure every day. Being away from her is getting a little harder. She’s stronger than me. Awhile ago, I was supposed to speak at a thing in Washington D.C. She heard that I had cancelled because of how she was feeling then. She found that out. She says, “No, I’ve been praying for years for you to have a voice there. You get on that plane. You call them back. You tell them you are going.” So, I did; and she really wanted me to go.
I do recognize the reality dictates that if we were to slip to a lower posture than where we are health-wise, that there would come a time—and we’ve had conversations with key church leaders on, “What does that mean? What might that look like?” I’m not giving up at all, but I’m also—we’re not in denial of how difficult this journey is. We’re trying to anticipate what might be some of things in the future we’d have to adjust to, to get us through some pretty rugged days, potentially.
I am walking in the way that I have called people to walk through all the sermons I’ve preached. That is, live life in increments of about 15 minutes. That runs counter to what I want to be. I want to plan for ten years out; and in this environment I’m in, we cannot. We do not. I have to do planning in very short increments. “Okay, this day—how are we doing this day?” I can’t actually, literally focus on tomorrow—“What’s tomorrow going to bring?”
It’s a very existential way of functioning, but it’s the exact way I’ve asked people to walk in sermons. I’m forced to walk—and that’s, “Okay, God, I trust You in this moment. I cannot see beyond. I’m still going to trust You then, but I can’t see beyond. I have just You.”
Bob: I have to ask, “While you’re hoping, and praying, and asking God to do the miraculous with Carol, you have to have imagined what life might be if He doesn’t. Have you talked together about her death, if it comes, and about the future for you beyond that?”
Jim: We have. We have some, and it’s been actually provoked, even in the last three weeks, coming out of the situation three weeks ago when the doctor didn’t—he read all the signals right; but where he missed it, it wasn’t the cancer ravaging the body. It is actually the chemo. Specifically, one or two chemos of her protocol—three that were creating all these same symptoms. They were pretty serious symptoms.
That forced us into the next level of conversation. That has actually been good. That’s healthy. That’s wholesome. My wife does not fear death. She’s a stronger human being than I am. I mean, I find myself groaning about what it’s going to be like for me if this were to happen—what’s it going to be like for my children, what’s it going to be like for these five grandsons we have? I have to go, “Wait a minute! Carol’s the one going through—what must it be like looking through the windshield from that position in the car?” That’s really much—I realize how selfish I am at times to be worried about me and the rest of the family, but we have had more—
It’s interesting. As a pastor, I’ve encouraged people to have this kind of conversation. I’ve walked guys out of their houses, sometimes when Hospice is inside with their wife, saying, “Have you talked about this?” “No.” “Well, you know what? You’re going to have to. You’ve got to do this now.” I’ve counseled other people, but here I was putting off—putting off.
Again, we’re still, as you’ve indicated by the way you framed the question—we’re still walking in a great amount of hope. We are not discouraged, but we have moved to that conversation level a great deal, not only with Carol, but also with my oldest son, who is also on staff at my church, and with my Executive Pastor for the first—I mean we’re talking, literally, within the last three days, I’ve had conversations of that kind.
It’s not that—just so that people understand—this is not out of a sense of desperation. It’s not even out of a sense of doubt. It’s out of a sense of, “I want to be, as I walk before the Lord, as prepared for anything that could come at me in a way that would ultimately bring glory and honor to this God, with whom I’m madly in love, too.”
[Song: Does Jesus Care?]
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens push and the cares distress and the way grows weary and long?
Oh, yes, He cares. I know He cares. His heart is touched with my grief. When the days are weary and long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.
Does Jesus care when I’ve said goodbye to the dearest on earth to me, and my sad heart aches until it nearly breaks? Is it odd to Him? Does he care?
Oh, yes, He cares. I know He cares. His heart is touched with my grief. When the days are weary and long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares. When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.
Bob: Well, that is Guy Penrod, together with George Beverly Shea, in a duet of a classic Gospel song, Does Jesus Care? It’s a fitting conclusion to the conversation we’ve had today with Jim Garlow as we’ve talked about how he and his wife Carol have battled together with her cancer.
I’ve already mentioned this week, there’s a book that we have recommended to folks in the midst of all kinds of adversity—a book that has been used by God in Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s lives as they have been in the valley. It’s a book that they’ve recommended to many, many folks. It’s by Jerry Sittser. It’s called A Grace Disguised. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to request a copy of that book, if you’d like. Maybe you know somebody who needs that kind of encouragement from you. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Find out more about the book, A Grace Disguised. You can order it from us online; or you can order it by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Now, I hope all of you know how grateful we are for the fact that you tune in, and listen to our program, and that God is using it in your life. That’s an encouragement, not just to us, but to our whole staff. We are also grateful for those of you who help support the program with donations to help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this program—not only on this station but around the world on the internet.
This month, we’ve been saying, “Thank you,” to those of you who make a donation by offering a CD—a message from our friend, Gary Thomas, the author of the book, Sacred Marriage. He spoke, not long ago, at a FamilyLife event and spoke on the subject of intimacy in marriage. The message was very well-received. We thought it would be a good message to pass on to you. Again, it’s our way of saying, “Thank you,” when you make a donation to support FamilyLife Today this month.
You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”. When you make an online donation, we’ll automatically send you a copy of the CD; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone. When you do, be sure to ask for a copy of Gary Thomas’ message on intimacy in marriage. We’re happy to send it to you. Again, we are grateful that you listen, and thankful for those of you who can help support the ministry. We appreciate you.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday. Kevin Palau is going to join us. He’s from the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, and we’re going to talk about how we share the message of the Bible in both proclamation and in demonstration. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
©Song: Does Jesus Care?
Artists: Guy Penrod & George Beverly Shea
Album: Hymns ℗ 2012 Servant Records
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Copyright © 2012 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.