Imagine, you are a young adult, you are healthy, and you have zero cares in the world with an entire life ahead of you. I ask you, between the weekends out with your friends, and the weekdays in binge-watching Netflix, what role does faith play in your life?
On a seemingly normal Friday in March, Aaron was living his life, business as usual, with his father by his side as they were driving back from a job site in Central Iowa. Unfortunately, business, as usual, ended that day for Aaron in the form of a very unexpected phone call. This phone call was powerful enough to change the trajectory of his entire life at the young age of 24, but it was not powerful enough to consume his life. By the end of that life-changing phone call, Aaron had the two things he needed to begin his new journey, a hope for many tomorrows and an unshakable faith.
Aaron can’t tell you the specifics of that phone call, he said the ringing in his ears became too overwhelming that he mentally blacked out. When he was able to grasp that the conversation was continuing the only reply he had for his doctor was, “What is the name of this again, my mom will want to Google it.” That was Aaron’s reply to being told that lump on his arm, that he was convinced was “only scar tissue,” was actually a cancerous tumor. The next two questions out of Aaron’s mouth were, “Is this something that can be beaten? Is this going to kill me?” To which the doctor replied, “There is no cure for your cancer, and the only thing we can do is take it step by step. Our first goal is to make it to one year, our second goal is to make it to two and a half years, our next goal is going to be five years, and then ten years. It is something you can maintain, but there is no cure.” That was all Aaron needed to hear and he simply told the doctor, “Okay, I got to go” and hung up. Aaron held onto the word maintain, he then pulled his hood over his head and started to cry, and at that moment he did the only thing he knew to do, he started to pray.
After about 30 minutes, Aaron said his tears stopped flowing and he said to himself, “This is out of my control and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.” As if he was reassuring himself, he repeated, “This is in God’s hands, I can not control the outcome of this.” Simultaneously Aaron sat up, he took the hood off of his head, and he looked into the sky to see bald eagles majestically flying around. Aaron said he then remembered saying to God, “If I see another bald eagle I know that everything will be all right.” Within a few minutes, God gave Aaron what he asked for in the form of 2 bald eagles sitting together in a tree, and at that moment he said his overwhelming fear was then overcome with an overwhelming sense that everything was going to be all right.
I proposed the question to Aaron, “what is it like to be told that your only goal was to be alive in one year?” Without hesitation, Aaron simply replied, “I didn’t give it much thought because there wasn’t anything I could do about it.” Aaron then said something that stuck out to me, “I just wanted to continue to live my life like it was the day before that phone call. I just wanted to resume life like a normal 24-year-old.” As the days continued to move along, Aaron realized that it was not going to be remotely possible. Not only was Aaron finding out that he was going to be facing radiation and eventually an amputation, but Aaron also hesitantly shared that one of the biggest things he struggled with, and to a certain extent, continues to struggle with, is the simple question of “Hey, how are you doing?” Aaron shared that he knows that this simple phrase is a conversation started, but he is never quite sure of how to answer the question. Did the person genuinely want to know how he was doing at that moment, or did they want to know how he was doing in regards to his cancer? Aaron shared that he just wanted, and continues, to want to be Aaron and not his diagnosis. Without hesitation, he shared, “There is more to me than my cancer.”
So how do you get to that point? How does any individual get to the point where they do not let their adversity define them? I asked Aaron this question, and without hesitation, Aaron simply replied, “My faith.” I should also share with you, that one month before Aaron’s cancer diagnosis, he questioned God’s existence until he had a dream on February 16th (2/16,) in which he woke up stating the Bible verse Acts 2:16. In this passage, the prophet Joel echoes the words “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” In February Aaron had no idea what his dream even meant, but he did know that he needed to focus on his faith and put God at the forefront of his life. Fast forward one month to March and his dream came full circle.
“I feel the only reason I am standing here today is because of my faith.” Those were powerful words that Aaron shared with me, but then he gave me his statistics. Aaron’s cancer diagnosis, Epithelioid Sarcoma, is 1% of all sarcoma diagnosis, which is approximately 150 new cases per year. At the initial diagnosis, Aaron was given a 50% chance of survival – think about that, but not too much, because you can either get heads or tails. When Aaron had his first metastasis in 2013 his survival rate drastically decreased to less than 25%. With each additional metastasis his survival rate becomes grimmer, Aaron has had a total of three metastases. To be exact, most literature will tell you “long term outcomes for epithelioid sarcoma is dismal.”
Aaron and I had a long conversation about how one makes the conscious decision to put your life in God’s hands, and solely rely on one’s faith. For some, this act seems effortless but for someone else, it may be a daunting concept that seems far-fetched. How does one even begin to turn their life over to God? Without hesitation, Aaron shared that it is through one act at a time. Aaron gave the beautiful analogy of God creating the Earth. On the first day, God started by creating light, and darkness to separate the periods of light. By the second day, God created the sky, and on the third day God created land and with that land, he created vegetation. Eventually, over the next three days, God created the entire Earth. God started with one act, and that act set off a chain reaction that has benefitted not only you and me, but has also benefitted every being that has ever lived on this planet.
For Aaron, his initial act started the moment that he consciously decided on February 16th, to actively read the Bible verse Acts 2:16. From that moment, Aaron set off his own chain reaction and feels that he is here today to share his story in hopes that you, will also consciously decide to ignite your own chain reaction. Life is not about the grand moments; it is in the mundane moments that God ends up shines through. It is in the mundane moment that you ask God for a bald eagle for comfort, and get two instead of one. It is in the moment that you listen to that voice inside your gut that tells you to get a second opinion at Mayo Clinic. It is in the moment that you hear the word metastasis for the first time, and simultaneously become an Uncle. It is in the moment that the MRI tech randomly decides to scan your body more than what was requested, and found an additional metastasis, and it is in the moments that you ask God to calm your mind because the statistics associated with your life are just too heavy for you to wrap your head around. In those seemingly mundane moments, you need to take a step back and understand that when the prophet Joel echoes the words, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” in Acts 2:16, you must fully understanding that there is more to life than being physically saved.
We are all put on this Earth with adversities, whether it is a cancer diagnosis, death of a loved one, anxiety or depression, or doubt in one’s existence. No one adversity is the same, but it is those adversities that we must truly rely on and remember those mundane moments that hold our faith together. So I ask you again, what role does faith play in your life?