You wouldn’t normally book a B&B on the NHS, but it has its benefits! In January 2016, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer arising from plasma cells made in the bone marrow). Myeloma is an incurable condition, but successful treatment can hold it in remission. I began treatment at Nevill Hall, Abergavenny just over two weeks later, via a combination of Velcade injections and Thalidomide. Some treatment also occurred at the Royal Gwent in Newport, and I received a stem cell transplant at the end of September in Cardiff. Just before Christmas, we received the news of a ‘good partial recovery’. The average remission period is three years but longer periods are known. What have I hopefully learnt?
The value of time to prepare for death
Sudden death may have some appeal for the deceased, but it leaves havoc for those left behind to grieve. The phrase ‘when you come to die, make sure you have nothing to do but die’ is apt. I have had time to check my will, ensure my loved ones are provided for, sort out my funeral arrangements, value each new day, evaluate my priorities, deal with matters that are outstanding and prepare myself and my loved ones for glory.
The blessings of common grace
The NHS comes in for a lot of criticism from some quarters, but my experience has been of tremendous care, great expertise and patience. From the consultant to the tea lady, there has been a great display of kindness. As I often say, ‘we are all from the same mould, it is just that some are mouldier than others!’ I am grateful that in a fallen world, God’s image in man is still evident in many, by their compassion toward those in need.
The reality of pain and weakness
Apart from the physical discomfort and pain, the two things that brought me low were the isolation from others (due to my low immunity the risk of picking up infections is high) and the onset of deafness (with one period lasting nine weeks). Added to this there was a period without any sense of God’s presence. There seemed no relief from blankness and despair, despite the sacrificial love of those nearest and dearest. In those moments, I could understand why Job wished he’d never been born, why Elijah wanted to die and why Jeremiah felt God had been too hard on him.
This pain isn’t restricted to the patient but also experienced by his/her family and loved ones. On the day of my diagnosis, my son, Tim and his wife had confirmation of her first pregnancy. Joy and sorrow in one day. There was a genuine fear on their part that I might not be around the following September to see and hold their firstborn. Thankfully I was around to hold my grandson, and we delight in comparing who is growing (or re-growing) the most hair!
How do we help those who suffer? At the end of his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis concludes with this wise statement:
when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.
The opportunity to restore broken relationships
With the best will in the world, even Christians fall out. Sometimes it is due to holding on to firm principles, but more often selfishness and ego are the cause. For those of us who remember our football history, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor are a classic example. Together they won the European Cup in 1979 and 1980 with Nottingham Forest (the equivalent of the Champions League). Then they fell out. Years passed without reconciliation until Taylor fatally collapsed while abroad. Clough went to his grave lamenting ‘all it would have taken was for me to pick up the phone’. Terminal illness gives the opportunity to pick up the phone and, as far as we are able, restore Christian fellowship — though let’s not wait until serious illness strikes!
The blessing of the Lord’s felt presence
We rightly say, ‘as our days so shall our strength be’ (Deuteronomy 33:25). This has proved particularly true over this past year. On two occasions when I was at the end of my tether, I’ve knelt by my bed and confessed, ‘Lord I can’t take any more, please give me some relief, if only for ten minutes’. What has followed has been His felt presence – removing the pain, lifting the mental anguish, radiating hope, assuring me of the future and comforting my soul. Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), exiled from his Scottish congregation wrote, ‘Last night Jesus Christ came to my cell and every stone flashed like a ruby’. My testimony is that God took pity on the weakest of His children and gave me a glimpse of His glory.
The blessings of future glory
My hope of eternal life has been such a blessing when talking to fellow myeloma suffers. By God’s grace, I have been moved to tears again and again at the glorious prospect that is before me and every sinner saved by grace. C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us… into such dazzling, radiant immortal creatures, pulsating through with energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine’. A Puritan expressed it this way, ‘One breath of heaven will remove all the foul smells of earth’. So every bitter memory, every sad failure, every hurtful word experienced, every physical pain, every act of injustice against God’s people – all erased and replaced by joy. As our late friend Vernon Higham wrote,
Our God is the end of the journey,
His pleasant and glorious domain;
For there are the children of mercy,
Who praise Him for Calvary’s pain.
The blessing of being upheld and loved by my church fellowship and by Christians further afield
Bethel Baptist in Tredegar have been so generous in their support of Linda and myself over this period. Within Wales and further afield many have communicated their prayerful support. As my daughter Rebecca noted, ‘this way you read all the nice things in your obituary before you go!’. Words of encouragement are as water in a thirsty land. ‘Blest indeed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love, the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.’ To God be all the glory!