The Lord Gave And The Lord Has Taken Away: Reflections On My Journey With Cancer

by Dr. Mark Farnham

January 28, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can help Dr. Mark Farnham with his medical bills by purchasing a copy of his new book, Every Believer Confident: Apologetics For The Ordinary Christian by clicking here.

On July 8, I went to visit my grandsons, who live three hours away. While I was there, I began to notice that something wasn’t right in my brain. I was experiencing confusion, and my daughter told me that I had repeated myself several times. Long story short, several scans at the hospital in State College revealed a large tumor in the cavity below the brain where a person’s pituitary gland usually hangs free. The tumor was benign but was crushing my pituitary gland, engulfing my carotid arteries, and threatening my optic nerves.

Needless to say, this was quite a shock to my family and me. For the previous nine years of my life, I had been in good health following a kidney transplant in 2010 – a selfless donation by my brother-in-law. I tended to think that the kidney disease that ended in the transplant would be my one big health issue in life, and for almost a decade, God had been sustaining my health.

In the weeks that followed my cognitive incident, we were assured that the surgery to remove the tumor was low risk and that recovery would be complete within a year or so. Doctors were concerned about my transplanted kidney, so they ordered an ultrasound on my abdomen where it had been placed. The ultrasound revealed the kidney was healthy and unaffected by the pituitary tumor, but doctors also found something else that greatly concerned them.

A mass the size of a lemon was discovered in my small bowel, and after a biopsy, it was determined to be lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Further testing confirmed that the cause of the lymphoma was the immunosuppressant medications I was required to take every twelve hours for the rest of my life so my body would not reject the transplanted kidney. So, my life-saving kidney transplant was ultimately the cause of my now life-threatening malignant lymphoma.

In August, I had the pituitary tumor removed from my head and I have been healing nicely. The lymphoma, however, has been another story. Doctors initially tried an infusion that was milder than chemo, confident that it would be all I needed to combat the lymphoma. However, the scans that followed showed no change in the size of the tumor.

Suffering and Sorrow

Because of the complication of my kidney transplant and the necessary suppression of my immune system, the prognosis is uncertain. This has resulted in several months of grief, pain, fear, and general agony as my wife and I have contemplated the future. We have had to be realistic about my condition, hoping in God while preparing for death, if that is God’s design. I had to get our affairs in order and help my wife prepare to handle all the finances, home repairs, and long-term decisions on her own. Because my kidney disease began almost fifteen years ago, I have never been able to obtain adequate life insurance. We have had to talk about whether she would be able to stay in our house or if she would have to move in with a family member. We talked about what I want at my funeral.

Several emotions have dominated the last few months. We have grieved deeply, unlike our grief fifteen years earlier, when I first discovered I would need a transplant to live. All these discoveries of illness followed closely on the heels of our 30th anniversary in early June and the wedding of our youngest child a few weeks later. Two weeks after this second event, I was in the hospital. We have wept many times over the dashed expectations of what our lives would be like as empty-nesters.

Fear has settled over our lives like a suffocating blanket or a dark and stormy night. I have seen over a dozen different doctors and surgeons over the course of dozens of appointments in the last three months. Some of the procedures have been painful, and others have always been my worst fear (chemo). I have discovered that sickness can be incredibly lonely, even when you have a wonderful wife and children, church family, friends and college family to support you. And when you are lonely, fears seem so much greater.

Confusion has also reigned at times, as we have wrestled with God’s design of suffering at this point in our lives. At times I have argued with the Lord that his prescribed suffering is interfering with my service to him. In moments of clarity, I see the folly of such an argument. God does not need me to serve him, let alone in a problem-free life. Scripture is clear that suffering is ordained by God for many reasons—the humbling of the servant of God, the glory of God’s grace to sustain, and the dismantling of our notions that God is best served in power and not brokenness. When Paul shares his experience as a broken preacher of God’s message, it is a reminder that weakness is the true path to power in God’s design (2 Cor. 11:23-2:10).

The German Reformer Martin Luther opposed those who preached God’s Word out of prosperity, human wisdom, and personal dynamism because this “Theology of Glory” obscured the cross behind the person. He proposed instead a “Theology of the Cross” that followed the pattern of Christ’s humiliation on the cross as the source of genuine saving power. The Apostle Paul reminds us that God delights in saving people through a message that seems to convey weakness, rather than glory (1 Cor. 1:17-2:5). None of this is what we naturally desire. We tend to be enamored by youth and beauty, displays of power and glory, and promises of a better life here and now.

The American church has embraced these values so thoroughly that we hardly notice that we are decidedly different than many suffering Christians around the world and believers throughout the history of Christ’s church over the last 2,000 years. We don’t know how to deal with inconvenience, let alone genuine suffering. We have become shallow in our knowledge of God, ignorant of the New Heavens and Earth, where we will live eternally, and enslaved to our comfort and conveniences. It is only when God takes these away do we discover whether we really love God more than his good gifts. I know this is true in my own heart. When God’s love in Christ is not enough for me in suffering, and I just want my health and wealth returned to me, it shows the insidious foothold of the prosperity gospel in my heart.

Embracing Weakness

I have to admit: I don’t like weakness. When I was young and strong, I assumed that I would remain so well into my later years. When I was first diagnosed with end-stage renal disease at thirty-eight years old, that was the end of my illusion. I miss the days of being strong and athletic. Yet, like so many others who have suffered greatly, I realize that suffering has worked in my character, maturity, and spiritual sobriety I don’t know that I would have had otherwise. It has made me a better husband, a better father and grandfather, a better preacher and teacher, and hopefully better prepared for my eternal home.

My wife and I have spent more time reading God’s Word and praying, more time talking about eternity than we ever did before these health problems entered our lives. We have had heart-wrenching, tear-soaked conversations with our children that have been transformative. We have cherished every moment with our grandchildren. In so many ways, these illnesses have brought a harvest of blessing to us. We shouldn’t be surprised. Peter warns us not to treat suffering as an unwelcome guest, but to embrace it, knowing that God promises blessing in the end worth more than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-13).

If I believe in the sovereignty of God over all things, then I must view suffering as one of the things over which God has absolute control. Even though I cannot see the purpose for which God ordains suffering in my life, I can trust him, because he is a loving heavenly Father who works all things for my good (Rom. 8:28). I can trust him because he is the Good Shepherd, who leads me through the valley of the shadow of death (John 10:11; Ps. 23:4). He is the faithful Creator to whom I can entrust my soul (1 Pet. 4:19), the Shepherd and Overseer of My Soul (1 Pet. 2:25).

If you want to support Dr. Mark Farnham during this time, consider purchasing a copy of his new book, Every Believer Confident: Apologetics For The  Ordinary Christain.

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  • Sue Rosado says:

    Such a beautiful testimony, Mark. Prayers are still be said for all in NC.

    • Brenda Messinger says:

      What great truths! You don’t really know me but I know members of your family. I am much older than you but have learned many of those truths through my initial breast cancer journey In 2016 and now metastatic breast cancer. Thanks for sharing, it was a great blessing!

  • Wenda Berglind says:

    Hi Mark! Stephanie Berglind just shared your Blog with me. Your words are powerful! I remember you as a kind, supportive, humble, Godly young man! In my mind you are still a teenager! Reading your blog I learned that you are a remarkable man…Married, father of married children, a grandfather, a preacher, professor and above all, a servant of God! I just shared this blog with Larry. Wow! You are such a Blessing to our hearts! Thank for sharing your heart with us! Praying for you, Mark.

    • Mark Farnham says:

      You and Larry were such blessings to my sisters and me back in the day. I still think of you both as a young couple!

  • Ken Turner says:

    Mark, thank you for your sincere, authentic expression of your faith in the midst of your trial. Know that God is sustaining you every moment of every day and your testimony is impacting all of us.

  • Clarissa says:

    Thank you for your honesty, Dr. Farnham. It was very impactful. Wishing you comfort in this time.

  • Roger Luiken says:

    Great testimony. It was a blessing. I will reread and go over many times in the future. Wanda and I are praying.

  • Gayle Rogers says:

    Dear Mark & Adrienne, I don’t know if you would remember me but I was the Dining Room Hostess at Maranatha back in 1987 and for a few years after that, I do remember the both of you. I knew Mark that you had some medical issues and had a kidney transplant, we know all about that because my husband Ray’s sister had 3 of them, 2 from siblings and one of a cadaver, but at the age of 53 she passed away with bone cancer. We also know a little about brain tumors, our daughter Jennie had one in 1989 but praise the Lord it was non-concerous and she came through it very well and is doing fine. It is so sad to hear of all the issues you have been going through, but I know you do know very well that our precious Lord knows the beginning to the end. I am so thankful to the Lord that you have the Lord in your life’s to take you through all these circumstances even through all those dark moments in your life. The sovereignty of God is so precious, just as Joseph made it through all the trials in his life when he trusted the Lord to carry him through. Thank you for your Godly spirit and the testimony that the Lord has given you to share with others. God Bless

  • Bob Metze says:

    Thank you for your transparency in reminding us of Who God is and who we are. I needed those reminders. We continue to pray for you and your family, Mark.

  • Brent says:

    Wow! Thank you for your testimony, Mark. Grace and blessing to you and Ad.

  • Paul Mooney says:

    As someone who went through cancer and chemotherapy last year, I want you to know how much I can relate to the thoughts and the truths you wrote here. Thank you for expressing what I feel and believe but have not yet been able to fully process. It is encouraging to me to hear how someone who is in an even more serious health situation is handling it. I can concur that God teaches us more when we are weak than we are are strong—or at least we are better able to absorb what he is trying to teach us. Blessings and peace to you and your family during this time.

  • Scott MacNaughton says:

    Thank you for honest wrestling with God and His providence. I look forward to reading your book. I will commit you and your wife and family into the loving arms and healing providence of our Heavenly Father. (A side note: I was born in Lancaster General Hospital and lived in Quaryville at the Presbyterian Home).

  • Mary Pat King says:

    My daughter Carson shared this story with us. I was blessed to hear you speak at Calvary. My prayers are with you and your family.

  • shawn Russell says:

    Hi Mark-
    I understand the fear and mental anguish you are dealing with. At one point I was given a Stage 4 terminal Cancer diagnosis…fear and grief were my number one enemies but they also did push me deeper into 100% dependence on God and his will.

    God lead me to read declarations of life over my body, change my diet to be mostly plant-based, the right clinical treatments and to seek and trust him on all the healing choices for my body. Since Dec 2017, I have been in full remission.
    Do not give up in the valley … Do not let fear guide you…lean into your loving father and speak Life…Our God still does miracles!

  • Jody Schnarrs says:

    What an wonderful testimony Mark ,of the amazing ,sufficient grace of the living God.
    I too, have experienced some suffering, and your testimony is such an encouragement and a reminder of who God is. You have touched the lives and witnessed to so many people. May He be Glorified in our present sufferings.
    Praying for you and your family, as we walk this journey of life as pilgrims awaiting the blessed hope and our new eternal home. God be with you and bless and keep you in His care.

  • Eileen says:

    Mark, you are lifted up to our Lord by so many friends,family and those who know Laine and through her, know your circumstantions. may GOD give you peace that passes all understanding. GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

  • Carla Williams says:

    Thank you Mark for sharing your heart and being so open about it.
    Our hearts are knit to your family and we trust the Lord has plans we can not see that will bring clarity to these struggling journeys in the end.
    Stay the course dear friends. Your lives are sending out a beacon of light for all of us who are in your wake.
    We trust God’s plan to be worked out for all of us till we see His face.❤️
    I have been reading your book and growing. Thanks

  • Jan Shetter says:

    Mark, we purchased two books – one as a gift to our friend. We all attended your class last summer at Grace Church. Our friend is not on Facebook so she asked me to tell you what an encouragement it is to be reading your book!
    My husband, Sheldon and I visited you a few weeks ago at LGH the day before you went home. We continue to pray for you and your family daily🙏

  • Vickie Byler says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart and journey. It is an honest reflection of your human feeling as you wrestle as a family and yet balanced with your knowledge and confidence in your Savior. Your testimony is being used to shed Christ’s love to so many. Continued prayers for you and your family.

  • Confiance says:

    Hi Dr. Mark,
    Thank you for sharing, I am in Rwanda and new student at LBC, I can’t stop thinking and praying for you and your family.

  • Matt Wheeler says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your steadfastness in your faith in the midst of suffering is an incredible testimony to the faithfulness & authority of our God.

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