They said her cancer was terminal, but a drop of oil and a pastor's prayer healed her.
- Posted on Jan 8, 2014
“I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first?” There was a note of alarm in Dr. Hammond’s kind voice. A note I’d never heard in all the years I’d gone to his urgent-care clinic. Sitting on the exam table, I gripped my husband Pete’s hand.
“Whichever you think best,” I said. I could hear the apprehension in my voice too.
Dr. Hammond nodded. “The bad news is you have ovarian cancer. Very advanced. The good news is I’ve already found you a good surgeon. You need to see him right away.”
I heard Dr. Hammond’s words. I saw his mouth move. But for a moment all I could feel was Pete’s hand tighten around mine. The air seemed to have been sucked from the room. Then Dr. Hammond was motioning Pete out into the hall, to give details about contacting the surgeon, I figured.
I sat in the room alone, stunned. I could not possibly have advanced ovarian cancer. Yes, I’d been having troubling abdominal symptoms. That’s what brought me to this clinic. But I wasn’t the type to get sick. I’d raised seven kids, all of them grown now and married.
Lynda’s Café, the neighborhood kids called my house, where there were always tamales to spare and little noses pressed against the screen sniffing the smell of freshly made tortillas. Ours was the bustling house on the block and I was the bustling mom.
I worked in a grocery store bakery, then kept right on cooking and baking after I retired. I never got tired. I loved life. I knew God didn’t make mistakes and everything happened for a reason. But this felt like a mistake.
Pete and the doctor returned. That’s when I knew it was no mistake. Pete’s face was drawn. Whatever Dr. Hammond had told him, it was more than the surgeon’s contact info. The news must be very bad.
“Lynda,” said Dr. Hammond, “I told Pete you need to make your appointment with the surgeon right away. Your chances...” He paused. “Well, just call the surgeon.” Pete drove us home. I looked out at the familiar roads, feeling disoriented.
I’m a deeply faithful person. I totally trust God. But I couldn’t help being afraid. It was like a huge truck had suddenly appeared ahead, gunning straight toward us.
“All we can do is pray,” I murmured to Pete. It was our prayers versus the truck.
Everyone gathered around–family, church, friends. Life became trips to Phoenix for doctor’s appointments. After a procedure to remove fluid from my abdomen, Dr. Hammond even told me I should think about signing up for hospice care.
“But hospice is for dying people!” I protested. Still, I did as Dr. Hammond suggested. When the hospice coordinator learned I wanted to try chemotherapy after surgery, though, she said they wouldn’t be able to offer their services.
“Hospice is for end-of-life care only,” she told me.
I didn’t want this to be the end. I was only 59! I thought back over my life–my first marriage, then marrying Pete, raising our two sets of kids, Lynda’s Café.
Suddenly I remembered something from my church growing up. How our pastor would anoint the sick with oil and pray for them. Our church had believed strongly in the healing power of God’s Spirit. Was that what I needed? A kind of spiritual chemo?
It was as if my sister Mary Margaret read my mind. She was my big sister. She’d always looked out for me. Out of the blue she called and announced, “Lynda, I found a pastor who will anoint you with oil. Remember how they did that when we were kids? He’s coming the day before your surgery.”
Pastor Kenneth Kelly arrived the evening before I went to the hospital. The instant I saw him I felt at ease. He was the pastor of a small church in downtown Phoenix. His eyes were kind and filled with God’s mercy, almost as if a light shone in them.
The anointing was very simple. Pastor Kenneth took a small vial from his pocket, poured a drop on my forehead, then laid his hands on my head. His wife and brother, who’d accompanied him, laid their hands on too.
“Dear Lord, protect Lynda and heal her body,” Pastor Kenneth prayed. “Send your angels to carry her through this surgery and guide the hands of the doctors. We ask this in the name of your blessed son, Jesus.”
That was all. I felt no different when the prayer ended. But I was glad he’d come. I asked if he would come again during chemo. “Of course,” he said.
I made it through surgery. Dr. Bhoola, my surgeon, was straightforward about the remaining challenges. The surgical team had removed as much of the cancer as they could. But the disease was just short of the most advanced stage.
Dr. Bhoola prescribed six rounds of chemo, starting in December. After that, they’d run tests to gauge how my body responded.
Pastor Kenneth came the night before my first round of chemo. Once again, I felt no physical change after the anointing. But my fears were eased. And I needed that, since the effects of chemo were awful. I was flat on my back afterward, so weak I was hardly able to move.
I endured a second round of chemo, then a third. Dr. Bhoola did his best to keep my spirits up, always giving me hope. But the treatment was destroying my white blood cells. If that kept up, I wouldn’t be able to continue.
The night before the third round, Pastor Kenneth had gently asked whether I was prepared for the possibility that God would not heal my body. “Sometimes there’s physical healing,” he said. “Sometimes the healing takes a different form. Are you open to that?”
All I could think to reply was, “Well, if the Lord chooses not to heal me, then I’ll see my mom and dad and everyone else in heaven.” I meant that. But I didn’t want it to happen yet.
The night before the fourth round of chemo, Pastor Kenneth came to our house once again. I sat in a chair in the living room, trying to feel that same sense of comfort I’d felt the first time he came.
He got out the oil and poured a drop on my forehead. Then he laid his hands on me and prayed. He finished and stepped back to talk to Pete.
Suddenly I sat bolt upright. A wave of intense heat passed through my body. “Whoa!” I cried. Everyone turned. “Someone, put on a fan,” I said. “I’m hot! Don’t you all feel it?”
It was the dead of winter, but Pete dug out a fan and turned it on. Everyone crowded around. I’d had hot flashes before. This was like a hot flash on steroids.
“I...I think I was just healed,” I said. Eyes widened.
“Praise the Lord,” said Pastor Kenneth.
“But we’re still doing the chemo tomorrow,” said Pete.
“Okay,” I said. “But I think I was just healed.”
I went through with the treatment. It was the worst yet. I was lying in bed recovering when Mary Margaret called.
“You’re done,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
“With treatment,” she said. “That was your last round. You won’t have to do it again.”
“You talked to Dr. Bhoola?”
“No. I was praying and I got a very strong sense you were right when you said you were healed.”
“Mary Margaret,” I said, “it doesn’t work that way. They won’t stop just because I say so. They’ll think I’m nuts!”
A few days later, I went to see Dr. Bhoola. “Lynda,” he said, “your blood counts are simply too low to continue treatment. We’ll have to stop chemo and I’ll order tests to see how well it has worked so far.”
I underwent tests just before Memorial Day. All through the long weekend Pete and I prayed and agonized, waiting for the results. At last, on Tuesday, the phone rang. It was Dr. Bhoola’s assistant.
“You are one strong woman, Lynda,” she marveled. “The tests show you are one hundred percent cancer-free. We call that NED–no evidence of disease.”
Pete could tell from my expression what the news was. His hand tightened around mine–just like on the day Dr. Hammond had pronounced his diagnosis. Except this time Pete was clutching me with relief. The great danger that had barreled toward us that day was vanquished.
How slight our weapons against it seemed in comparison–a few words and drops of oil. But by then I knew it’s not just oil that heals, or prayers. It’s faith. Pastor Kenneth was right when he said healing takes many forms.
In the end, faith itself is the healing. Even when our bodies feel the weakest, by faith we are filled with God’s strength. With that strength we can make it through anything.
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