“Mom, will I get cancer too?“
That’s a tough question for the mom of 6 whose 14-year-old was diagnosed with multiple cancers.
As Christians who believe that God is sovereign, Frank and I already discovered through prayer and research that our 14-year-old David’s life, trials, disease, and most of the chosen treatments are as individual as he is. Statistics show that more than two children in every classroom will have cancer in their lifetime, so although our answer to David’s siblings is that we have no reason to assume they will get cancer, we are faithful to apply what God has taught us through this crisis, to provide a healthy, faith-filled response to their fears and to protect them from known disease-causing agents.
Like 90% of other parents whose children have cancer, we felt overwhelmed by the immediacy of decisions, unsure of what questions to ask, what our options were, and began to investigate traditional and natural responses to cancer. A little book, The Red Sea Rules reminded us that God is in control and helped us in responding spiraling feelings of loss of control of our child’s life.
Three areas to regain control formed as we gathered prayer support, resources, and research on David’s cancer.
Eliminate sugar? What’s left to eat? Withdrawal from the “all-American” diet of non-nutritive white foods (flour, sugar, salt and fat) sounded “too far out” or impossible to friends who had no disease, but to parents of cancer-patients, and medical staff who inhaled the fresh-bread smell in David’s room and saw him happily munching whole foods instead of constantly vomiting, the choice was an easy one. Requests for recipes and information on alkaline VS acid based diet were constant and encouraged us to create a little book in response to others needs.
“Dave has a healthy appetite, like his dad,” laughs Frank. “I knew this would be difficult for him at first, especially with the hospital room service available to him 24 hours a day. But, I felt if I believed this diet was best for David, I should not expect him to do it alone.” Both their bodies responded according to need. The typical teen with cancer loses up to 50% of body-weight during chemo, but David was within a few pounds of his pre-cancer weight when we brought him home. “I on the other hand,” Frank admits, “needed to lose weight, and did – eating the same diet as Dave.”
“It takes some work,” Cheri confirms, but reminds that it got easier with practice and when other family members also created recipes, joining the Penza’s goal to live healthier God-honoring lives. Cheri is modest, acknowledging she has admired much of what our pioneers did with natural food and uses tools they would have loved such as a dehydrator, grain mill, and juicer enabling her to produce fresh and additive-free favorites like jerky, fruit rolls, breads, smoothies and even natural ice cream.
“God made our bodies from the earth to survive on natural things, not chemicals,” Cheri explains. We truly believe that David is doing as well as he is because of prayer and the natural treatments, and diet eliminations/additions we have implemented. The Penza’s agree “It’s a great joy when other families tell us that our research and faith through David’s story have been an encouragement to them.” Who would have thought that cancer could be an opportunity for joy?
I don’t know a parent who isn’t concerned as they reach for a ringing phone in the middle of the night. We sent up a prayer as we answered and our concern grew when our chiropractor explained the radiologist thought the knee x-ray of our third oldest, David, appeared to be cancer. His concern was tempered by the assurance that his family had prayed for us before making the call, and would continue the prayer and support during our upcoming testing. The reminder that God is in control tempered the spiraling feelings of our loss of control in the days to come. The pediatrician reviewed the x-rays the following morning, and made us an appointment for that afternoon at a nearby children’s hospital. There wasn’t much time to think in those morning hours of canceling work, and arranging schedules and after school child care for David’s 5 siblings, but fortunately the grandparents lived next door.
Although David was 14 he did not know much about cancer, and we explained that was what the doctor suspected as we prayed together before entering the hospital for a full day of testing. It was a somber trip home after hearing 99% sure…surgery….chemo…possible amputation…tomorrow. Praying and weeping through the night brought us to a dawning realization that whatever the outcome, our lives were forever changed.
Decisions were made for us, papers pressing for a quick signature, our son whisked away, and questions swirled among the prayers – wasn’t their something we could do? As treatment began, the questions only increased, as the waiting times amid treatments, confirmations, surgeries, became intensified prayer and research times.
Focusing on God’s sovereignty, we dared to wonder if we had caused this calamity in our son’s life. For the previous 6 months we had been praying for God to do whatever necessary to keep our family close and of one mind. It was hard to believe that this disaster could be an answer to that prayer – that such a trial could be an opportunity for joy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not referring to the happiness that comes from right circumstances, but to the joy that is held out there before us – the promise that because God is in control, nothing comes to us that does not work out for good to those that belong to Him (Romans 8:28,29) and that every testing God allows brings good fruit. We all ran to the scripture and received comfort, yet felt a greater focus when a friend handed us a little book – The Red Sea Rules. Through these chapters we were attuned to be, like Job, more concerned for God’s glory than for our relief, asking new questions like how can God be glorified through this situation. The first thing we needed to do was to enable the army to join us in this pursuit.
Frank set up a website about David as it was impossible to keep up with the personal requests for updates, and grandma coordinated emails from our church, our missionaries, and our families many contacts to each of their families, churches, and contacts. This turned into a great encouragement for Dave as responses and stories of God’s provision in similar or darker situations came from around the world.
The prayer brought conferences with special people– a pharmacist and nutritionist who had just completed cancer and nutrition seminars, parents who had won – and those who had lost – the cancer battle with their children, a lawyer who victoriously supported alternative treatments, and many who each began to help relieve our financial burden and to bring some normalcy into the lives of Dave’s siblings as we spent every child’s birthday that first year in or near the hospital.
Allowing others to help and to replace us in some areas was challenging but necessary. As research showed fluoride and sugar as catalysts in David’s type of cancer, others helped to replace offending products in our home, advise how sugar-based IV’s could be replaced, develop a healing (pH based – alkaline) diet, and back us in prayer as we searched for chemo alternatives once we realized that its side-effects and destruction of immunity could be more deadly than the disease.
Documentation of research from recognized sources (including American and British Medical Journals) gave assurance of right decisions and prepared us for an unexpected but quickly resolved visit from the Child Protection Agency as we moved toward including alternative care in David’s treatment plan.
Doing what we can was more powerful than we’d thought. David’s blood work is back to normal, our family has improved our dietary habits; rid our home of known carcinogens. We recognize the look of desperation in the eyes of other parents and feel joy to provide them with the spiritual strength, and knowledge and research we’ve gained. Whoever would have thought that a cancer diagnosis could be an opportunity to encourage others?