Cherishing Christ Through Cancer
There are journeys in life that mark you; experiences that forever alter your perspective on life and inform the way you view the world. For me, one of these occurred just over two years ago.
It was a cold, wintry January evening and I was driving to Norton Children’s Hospital for my night shift in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Ever since becoming a pediatric nurse I’ve tried to take time on my way into work to pray before my shift. In truth, I never know what kind of tragedy I’ll be dealing with or what kind of patient I’ll be taking care of. I try to always go into work acknowledging my weakness before the Lord in prayer, expressing my need for God’s strength and wisdom as I handle situations that are stressful, challenging and heartbreaking. In the PICU, we see everything including, children suffering with respiratory viruses, trauma situations, car accidents, cancer, and those recovering from all kinds of surgeries. I didn’t know what to expect that particular night but I asked God for strength and His grace to minister through me to the patients and their families that I would be caring for.
Shortly after clocking-in, the day nurse informed me that my primary assignment for the night was to provide care for a young boy who had just been transferred to us from surgery. I admit I was slightly apprehensive when I learned that the patient had stage 4 brain cancer. I would be responsible for monitoring him throughout the night and making sure that there were no complications as a result of the surgery. This was a weighty assignment, but I trusted the Lord to give me wisdom and strength to provide the necessary care.
I didn’t know it during that first night, but as I watched this brave 13-year-old fight for his life, I was embarking on a journey of faith with this young boy and his family that would change my life forever. As one of his nurses, I walked with him over the course of the next year through further surgeries, increasing medication, and radiation. What I witnessed during this journey—courage in spite of adversity, faith despite a terminal diagnosis, and love through the ravages of cancer—is something I will never forget.
In January 2015, 13-year-old Philip Parks was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. The diagnosis shocked his family. Little Phil was a healthy young boy. However, he started having continuous headaches which lasted for two weeks. After visiting his doctor, he was quickly diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. His mother Lydia, and the family were devastated. However, she trusted God as she went about doing everything she could to fight for her son’s life. The next 14 months were filled with hospital visits, research, surgeries and even an extended stay in Israel to see a specialist in immunotherapy. I took care of Phil in the PICU after almost every brain surgery he had. Without even trying to arrange my schedule to accommodate his surgeries, God always saw fit to have me scheduled on the days he would have surgery. I realized that these were all divine appointments to be invested in this dear family’s life. I remember our first few conversations and how Phil and I stayed up all night talking. On one occasion, after asking lots of questions, and sharing testimonies, I looked into Phil’s eyes, and saw them slowly water up. He blinked hard to keep the tears from falling. Slowly his bright smile turned into a frown, and he looked down. He began crying and said, “I don’t understand why God has given me cancer.” My heart broke. As his tears began flowing, all I could do was cry and pray with him. If only I could explain all that I felt that night.
Throughout all the surgeries and through all the pain, Phil always acknowledged his real feelings of sadness, doubt, and anger, but would always go back to the truths of God’s Word. He was only 13 years old but he still trusted God above all! He knew that God was good and that God loved him. He knew that God loved him so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for his sins. Phil knew this and treasured these truths.
What’s amazing, is that despite the torture of cancer, Phil would always ask how I was doing, or how the patient next to him was feeling. He was always others-focused, wanting to serve and bless others despite however sick he was feeling. I remember once that as the surgeons were rolling little Phil into the PICU one night after his second or third brain surgery, the first thing he said to me when he saw me waiting in front of his room was, “Oksana! How are you doing?” I know he was in pain! Can you imagine? Brain surgery again!? What was his response? He smiled. He asked me how I was doing. What an example.
I miss Phil. I miss him a lot. During his yearlong battle with cancer, I saw this young boy ask God the hard questions, while nevertheless maintaining a trusting attitude through it all. Some of his last words to me were, “I’m not afraid to die anymore. I’ll be with Jesus.” I will never forget the last time I saw him, a few days before he passed a year ago last April. He was in a coma lying in the hospital bed, and as I sat next to him holding his hand, all I could was cry and sing to him the hymn, “Be still my soul.”
Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on.
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone.
Sorrow forgot, Love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past.
All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.
He never woke up…He went home to be with the Lord a few days later…And then I will NEVER forget singing with Doxology at his funeral, this same hymn…I couldn’t hold back any tears, tears of sadness and tears of joy…
Cancer changes your perspective on life. Each day is a gift from God; you never know when it will be your last. Life is truly just a breath; it’s a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. Little Phil’s greatest comfort was his belief that God loved him. Even in his waning moments he held on to this hope tightly, believing that Christ had saved him and would take care of his parents in his absence. Phil’s hope was in Christ alone, in His forgiveness and His resurrection. This is the hope of every Christian who has put their faith and trust in Christ. Our hope is that; we will be united with Him forever. One day God will wipe away all our tears, and there will be no more sorrow, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4) Little Phil is in that place, and I can’t wait to one day join him in our heavenly home with the Lord!
John Piper once said, “Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ.” Little Phil cherished Christ. Because of this, he will never be forgotten. If you are going through a really hard trial may I encourage you with the truth that everything God ordains in our life is for our good, and His glory. We may not understand what God is doing, but our pain is never wasted. Christ will complete His work in you. He is making you more like His Son, Jesus Christ. Trust Him, and fight for joy. The Bible says that we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” as we run through this journey of life (Heb. 12:1). Through Him who strengths us, let’s run this race with endurance, looking to Jesus, the author and founder of our faith. Through your trial right now, will you cherish Christ? Little Phil did and he’s now cheering you on as you likewise cherish his Savior.