My oldest brother, Tom, was diagnosed with lymphoma about three years ago. After he was treated with chemotherapy and radiation, his hair and his stamina disappeared, but his cancer didn’t. Over the next several months he became more fragile. He was allowed calls or e-mails, but no visitors.
One day on the phone, Tom and I were discussing life. I asked, “Where does God fit into things for you?”
He said, “I don’t believe in God.”
“So what do you believe will happen when you die?”
He said, “Like a carrot or mouse, I’ll just die and decay away. There’s no after-life.” But then Tom added, “But just in case, will you pray for me?”
I chuckled. “Of course. I already am.”
The next morning as I sat in prayer, I thought about Tom’s request. Why did he ask me to pray if he doesn’t believe in God? What should I pray for: physical healing, release from suffering? Peace? Faith? All of the above? I drew the conclusion that I’d pray for faith, because Tom didn’t seem to have any. But then, something inside me said, You’re wrong. Tom used to have a lot of faith. It’s faded away, but there must be some left somewhere. Otherwise he wouldn’t have asked you to pray.”
I opened my Bible to Matthew, Chapter 17. Jesus was talking about faith the size of a mustard seed and how even a tiny amount of faith can produce great things. Perhaps that’s where Tom was, with faith only as big as a seed, a tiny speck of faith. But for him to realize God’s hand in his life, Tom needed his faith to grow. I ended up praying that if it was God’s will, could He please increase Tom’s faith and improve his health.
The next time I talked with Tom, he said that the only treatment option remaining would be a stem cell transplant. He was quiet for a moment, then continued, “But my doctor doesn’t recommend it. He said that would require destroying all my bone marrow with radiation. The doc thought that would be too much for my weakened system and I would probably kick the bucket before I ever get to the transplant.”
“You don’t seem too concerned about death. What are you going to do now?”
“I’m not concerned. If I die, I die. That’s the way it is. But I’m pursuing my options too. I’m heading to Baylor Medical Center in Dallas next week for a second opinion.”
When Tom went to the specialist, Jesus performed miracles. I think the first one happened during the appointment itself. Baylor doctors decided that they could transplant stem cells from a sibling (if one of us had matching DNA) without the total destruction of Tom’s bone marrow first. This meant my brother would have a much better chance of surviving the procedure.
The second miracle happened when my second brother, Mike, was tested for compatibility with Tom. At first, the doctors rejected Mike. He’s over 60 – too old according to them. But when no other sibling matched Tom’s genetics, and when they saw how healthy Mike was, the doctors decided to take the chance. Mike was the only compatible sibling out of seven. Coincidence? I think not.
So Tom and Mike went to Dallas together. The hospital nurtured and then harvested Mike’s stem cells, which were injected into Tom. Then our whole family waited for healing. We weren’t disappointed.
Two weeks later, Tom walked out of Baylor Medical Center with bones full of marrow generated from Mike’s stem cells. The new marrow produced Tom’s now-healthy blood cells (with Mike’s DNA.) Tom looked well, even robust. His hair was back. The cancer was gone.
As far as I’m concerned, several miracles occurred here: 1) New technology allowed transplant without marrow destruction. 2) Doctors changed their minds about testing Mike – who turned out to be the only compatible sibling. 3) The stem cells implanted and now produce bone marrow and blood cells for Tom. 4) My brother is cancer-free.
Tom still doesn’t seem convinced that his healing was God’s work. Maybe he never will appreciate all that God has done for him. But I’m extremely thankful to God for Tom’s life and health.
I believe that God cares as much if not more for our spirit than for our body. Perhaps God gave Tom a few more years so he’d have time to develop his spirit. So I continue to pray for Tom. As a matter of fact, I’m praying for another transplant for him. No, not a physical one. I’m praying that he’s instilled with kernels of faith from every believer he meets. I’m praying that God grows and develops those seeds into a mature faith in God, the same way God helped Mike’s stem cells develop into Tom’s marrow. This way, even if Tom’s cancer returns, he’ll be well.