Betsy: It has now been over ten months since you were first told that you had MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome). What was it like for you to hear that diagnosis?
Sam: It was a scary thought to be told I had a terminal illness, to think that I was going to slowly go downhill. I was just buying time. I asked the doctor about a bone marrow transplant and she said that they did not do them on people my age.
I started reading about healing in the Bible.
My brother-in-law who has been battling cancer for many years, wrote me a wonderful email. It gave me courage.
It was not until early this year that we learned that Johns Hopkins did transplants on people even older than me!
Betsy: What has God been saying to you?
Sam: He is always with us and he always has a plan. This summer when I was in Virginia Hospital Center for a month, God gave me a picture of an old-fashioned surfboard—really long—this board was so long it extended to the horizon. I knew I was supposed to stay on the surfboard, stay on the path, and keep looking to Jesus.
Betsy: So, this long board marked a path?
Sam: Yes. I kept walking forward, knowing that I should not worry about the bumps along the way.
Betsy: Can you give me an example of a bump?
Sam: The strong chemo I was recovering from at the time was a huge bump. I felt miserable. I would picture the surfboard. Jesus was holding my hands the way a parent would hold a toddler’s hands, standing behind me, holding both my hands so I could walk forward.
There were also man-made bumps—all the questions: What if I don’t go into remission? What if they don’t accept me at Johns Hopkins? What if Kaiser doesn’t approve the transplant? These questions were like little varmints trying to bite my ankles. Jesus kept saying, “Keep walking the path. Stay on the board. Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
That mental picture of the surfboard has come back to me over and over again and helped me to move forward.
Betsy: Did you ever doubt that God would bring you through?
Sam: I didn’t doubt that he would bring me through, but I didn’t know what he had planned for me. For me, the surfboard was his plan. Instead of being overwhelmed by fear, I would remember the surfboard and keep walking. I knew that his grace was for every situation. His grace was—and is—always there.
Betsy: What for you was the low point?
Sam: The strong chemo I got this past summer really took it out of me. Even there, there was grace. I sometimes felt it was harder on the people around me than it was on me because God was giving me grace.
Betsy: What was life-giving for you in the midst of that hard place?
Sam: Immanuel. Connecting to God helped me put things in perspective—God’s perspective. Another thing that got me through were relationships with people that gave me life; visits from friends and family, my interactions with the people around me.
I went through a few weeks when I asked people to not visit because I did not have the strength to visit. During those weeks, you, Betsy, and the kids would sit with me. My loved ones were my strength during that time.
Betsy: That was a hard season. What did you learn?
Sam: I learned that wherever you are, God uses you. I have had countless conversations with people: nurses, doctors, and technicians. I feel an anointing to reach out to others.
Betsy: Do you have a few good stories to share?
Sam: In one hospital, I had an Eritrean doctor. We talked about his county and the amazing testimony of the former Prime Minister, Tamrat Layne. The doctor had heard that this man had become a preacher but had not heard the actual story. We tried to recount it to him but the next day, when he did rounds, he told us that he had found it on YouTube when he got home the night before and watched it. He seemed very open and curious. Our conversation had opened the door for him to learn more about Jesus.
Everywhere we have gone for treatment, we have listened to the doctors and nurses, and the lab technicians. Many have opened up and told us their life stories. One nurse from Europe called me after I was discharged from the hospital to tell me she had been robbed. I think she wanted to talk to a father-figure who would empathize with her plight. I was honored that she called.
At Johns Hopkins we have befriended a young African American man whose mother is critically ill. We have prayed with him and cried with him. God has given us a special bond.
Yesterday we prayed for a homeless man on the streets of Baltimore who was touched by God. He was rejoicing—and his hand was healed. He seemed amazed! “My hand feels better already,” he said. He had been attacked with a machete some years before. His hand was scarred but after we prayed the pain was gone.
There are so many stories.
Betsy: Are there any parting words of wisdom you would like to share with people?
Sam: It has been a scary, wonderful adventure. Many times you have to wait on God far longer than you like, but trust him. He is at work. He has something for you in the waiting.And, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get until you bite into them!