Yesterday’s post about my lymphoma diagnosis has brought a lot of messages by email and social media, assuring me that I am in people’s prayers.
The response reminds me of the first time I had cancer, in 1999, when I was religion editor at the Des Moines Register. That job, of course, entailed working with a lot of religious people. Add the fact that I’m a son of two clergy, brother of two more and other kind of kin to still more and related to many lay people of faith. Then and now, I’ve been surrounded and uplifted by people’s prayers.
I didn’t have a blog then, but I wrote a weekly column. This is my column from the Saturday after my surgery to remove colon cancer in 1999:
Before I knew I had cancer, people were praying for my recovery.
I was on the road the day we would get my biopsy results. We didn’t expect bad news, so I didn’t change plans. My wife, Mimi, got the news over the phone while she was at work: The polyp in my colon was malignant. I would need surgery to remove it and part of my colon.
Stunned, she told friends in her office at Creighton University, and the prayer campaign on my behalf began. A while later, I called her and got the shocking news.
As we told family, friends and colleagues, the word spread and more and more pleas went heavenward on my behalf, many from people I barely know, if at all.
Prayer chains at churches in at least five states took up my case. So did Jesuits at Creighton, monks at the abbey where my youngest son goes to school and teachers, staff and students at Holy Trinity School in Des Moines, where my sister-in-law is the media specialist. As I canceled interviews and changed plans, pastors, bishops and other sources said they would pray as well. Jaded journalists who, I figured, invoked the Lord’s name only in vain assured me sincerely that I was in their prayers.
I’ll be honest. When it comes to the physical healing power of prayer, I fall somewhere between enthusiast and skeptic. I’ve prayed for relatives and friends who recovered and prayed just as hard for others who died.
Keep the prayers coming, I figured, but just in case, I’d get a good doctor and get this thing sliced out.
After all, cancer killed my father and Mimi’s mother, and no one prayed more fervently than those two people. They had more people storming the heavens on their behalf than I could ever hope to muster.
I know of people who claim miraculous healing and credit it all to prayer. I also know people who tell of miraculous recoveries and don’t mention prayer at all. (When you have cancer, you hear a lot of cancer stories.)
If a cancer does or doesn’t spread, does or doesn’t return, we don’t truly know how much credit, if any, prayer should share with surgical skill, powerful chemicals, radiation, diet, quackery and other measures we invoke against this frightening disease. Heck, I gladly accepted a four-leaf clover Mimi found at a picnic.
In the past few weeks, though, I’ve learned something about the power of prayer. Regardless of what happens inside your body, prayer is a wonderful gift. A gift with healing power.
It’s too soon to say whether prayer or anything else will heal my colon, though we’re hopeful. As you read this, I’m home, recovering from surgery on Monday. The surgery was successful, and tests showed the cancer was contained to the colon.
But the cancer invaded more than my colon. It attacked my enthusiasm, my vigor, my sense of humor, my sense of hope. Fear, anger and doubt tried to shout down every encouraging word I wanted to utter, every wisecrack, each expression of hope.
For fear, anger and doubt, I can attest, prayer has miraculous healing power. Each assurance that someone was praying for me lifted my spirits, restoring a bit of hope or humor. Did the healing come from some divine power? Or was it just the soothing effect of sympathy? I don’t know. And I don’t much care.
Each prayer is a personal gift. In intimate conversations with their Lord, people are offering my burden as their own.
And with each prayer, the burden grows a little lighter.
The details are different now. But I’m as grateful now as I was then.
After posting yesterday about cancer, I was uplifted by reverent assurances of prayer, irreverent cheering that I’d kick cancer’s ass and a vulgar but touching anti-cancer hashtag (thanks, @jeffjarvis!). In phone calls and in person, in public and personal messages on Facebook and Twitter (see the sampling of tweets below), comments on my blog, comments on Caring Bridge, text messages, emails and even a couple LinkedIn messages, friends, family and strangers have provided balm that I am sure is as powerful in its own way as the chemotherapy will be.
Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) December 13, 2014
Vandana Sinha (@VandanaWashBiz) December 12, 2014
Mandy Jenkins (@mjenkins) December 12, 2014
Best wishes to @stevebuttry, a stand-up guy and someone who helped jump start my career. Go kick cancer's rear end.—
Justin Karp (@jskarp) December 12, 2014
Jennifer Gaie Hellum (@jghellum) December 12, 2014
nancy waugh (@nancywaughcbc) December 12, 2014
@stevebuttry Praying for a speedy recovery!—
Lexy Cruz (@lexybcruz) December 12, 2014
@stevebuttry Just helped my mom beat cancer 2.0. I'm rooting (and praying) for you!—
Cory Bergman (@corybe) December 12, 2014
Kristen Hare (@kristenhare) December 12, 2014
@stevebuttry really sorry to hear this steve. A big hug from me and chris—
arianna ciccone (@_arianna) December 12, 2014
Daniel Victor (@bydanielvictor) December 12, 2014
Final note: Yeah, I know I said I’d do my cancer updates on my Caring Bridge page, and I will. But I’ve posted and updated old stories here quite a bit, so I decided to do this one here, too.