My mom died of ovarian cancer. Does cancer run in your family?
The title of this blog post “Does cancer run in your family”—was the HEADLINER of a brochure my OBGYN handed me this week at my well-woman check-up. Because my mother (a first-degree relative as she put it) died of ovarian cancer, having this type of family history is a red flag or risk factor for hereditary cancer.
The title of the brochure my doctor handed me was called “A Patients Guide to Hereditary Cancer and Genetic Testing.” Because I was “at risk”, she recommended I undergo hereditary cancer testing to help her provide better care for me. Hereditary cancer testing is a genetic test that determines if someone is at an increased risk for developing cancer due to genetic mutation passed down through their family.
BENEFITS OF HEREDITARY CANCER GENETIC TESTING
But if I am completely transparent, right now, I have conflicted feelings about undergoing this testing. According to my “patient guide”, the benefits of undergoing this type of testing include:
- Increased surveillance
- Risk-Reducing medication
- Risk-Reducing surgery
- Treatment options
IS RECEIVING GENETIC TESTING LIVING BY FEAR OR BY FAITH? It depends..
So here is the question I have for YOU–my fellow Christ-follower. As a self-identifying Christ-follower who lives by faith DAILY–does undergoing this type of screening (or any medical screening or testing for that matter) mean I lack faith? Does it mean I’m putting my trust in man instead of God? Does it mean I don’t trust God with my life if I have the screening? Does NOT having the testing PROVE I trust God? Does knowing my risk of something cancel out my faith? Does discovering cancerous genes in my body mean I am destined to have cancer?
How we perceive or process diagnoses, diseases and data like this impacts what we do or don’t do. Fear-based thinking can cause us to choose to stay in the dark because we don’t want to know or face a certain possible reality. It’s like avoiding a scale because we don’t want to face the facts of how much weight we’ve gained (I’m guilty). Some of us just don’t want to own our part in the matter. As they say, ignorance is bliss right?
But doesn’t the Bible talk about getting knowledge, wisdom and understanding (Prov. 4:5-9)? Doesn’t it tell us there is wisdom in a multitude of counsel (Prov. 11:14)? And shouldn’t our faith in God override the facts of any crisis situation we may face? I believe how we respond to the facts of our lives determines whether we are living by faith or living out of fear. We can trust our ‘facts’ or trust the one who can change those facts in His way and time.
Here is a personal example from my life that I think will help illustrate my position and perspective on this matter.
In my early 20’s, I started experiencing sharp chest pain, dizziness, chronic fatigue and shortness of breath. After my family doctored advised me to have an EKG, a heart sonogram and a transesophagal echocardiogram (TEE), it was discovered that I had a congenital heart defect called an atrial septal defect (ASD).
In other words, I had a large hole in my heart. This defect allowed oxygen-rich blood to leak into the oxygen-poor blood chambers of my heart. An ASD increases the amount of blood that flows through the lungs and over time, it may cause damage to the blood vessels in the lungs. Damage to the blood vessels in the lungs may cause high blood pressure in the lungs and heart failure. My cardiologist told me if I didn’t have open heart surgery to correct this birth defect, I could possibly die of a stroke or congestive heart failure because my heart (which was already enlarged) was working too hard to pump my blood. This was a risk I did not want to take.
Having these medical tests and receiving this recommendation from my doctor increased my awareness and understanding of what was going on in my body and WHY it was going on. The cardiologist provided me with his counsel for correcting the problem (which was open heart surgery to close the hole) in order to improve my health and prevent negative health outcomes such as congestive heart failure or premature death.
Seeking Medical and Spiritual Counsel
Now, what you don’t know is that I sat on this medical counsel for a year. I was conflicted about what action I should take. So I didn’t take any action. My faith community encouraged me to just trust God to heal me supernaturally and believe me. I wanted that more than anyone! And so I waited for divine confirmation from God before taking any action. I asked God, “Do you want to use a doctor to heal me?” But I wrestled within myself thinking “If I have the surgery, does that mean I lack faith in God’s ability to heal me?” And if I waited for divine healing, was that foolish and unwise when my body was clearly telling me something was wrong?
As I look at whether or not to have this hereditary cancer testing this year, I look back to how I handled my heart situation years ago. I sought the Lord in prayer for guidance. In my 20’s, I asked the Lord to show me what he wanted me to do. If He told me to wait for my supernatural healing by His hand, I would wait. But if He told me He’d use a doctors’s hands to heal me, then I would have the surgery. Here’s how he gave me my answer.
The Confirmation I needed
One day, I ventured out to do some shopping at a Family Christian Bookstore. As I entered the store, I was drawn to the beautiful paintings that hung all over the walls. But one picture in particular caught my eye. There in the picture, was a man (or woman. I can’t recall) lying on an operating bed. As he or she lie there, a surgeon was pictured standing over the patient with his hands entering the body of the patient. But painted over the surgeon’s hands was an illuminated silhouette of divine hands guiding the hands of the surgeon. Immediately I knew in my spirit what step I was to take. I was to schedule my open heart surgery knowing God’s hands would be guiding my surgeon as he worked to repair the hole in my heart. Talk about divine confirmation in an uncommon way!
So. All of the heart tests I had received in the past helped me to present that health facts to the Lord in prayer and seek direction from Him so I could make a Spirit-Led decision. And so it is the same right now when it comes to me having the hereditary cancer genetic testing.
My Next Step
As I have processed with you through this blog, (thank you for letting me work out my inner conflict in this piece), I have concluded I will have the genetic testing done. And after I receive the information, medical counsel and preventative/health recommendations, I will then take all of that information and present it to the Lord in prayer. As I did in the past, I will seek Him for how He wants me to proceed and I will obey. My agreeing to this testing may not align with the convictions and beliefs of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters as they may view my decision as living out of fear or not trusting God while others may see my decision as being wise while living by faith.
Nevertheless, What matters to me is being made aware of the facts BUT then presenting those facts (health data, health symptoms, test results) to God in prayer and seeking His face for how to proceed with my ‘genetic’ facts. Because no matter what any test shows and no matter what any doctor thinks, says, recommends, or predicts, my life is in God’s hands. Genes don’t determine my future. God does. But research does show we can turn cancerous genes off or on in our bodies in various ways (such as what we eat and don’t eat) so why not make healthier food choices? It would be foolish not to!
Here’s where I stand. I choose to make wise-informed decisions about what I eat and how I live AND I choose to trust God with my life. I choose to go to doctors and have testing and screening done and then present the findings to God in prayer seeking His counsel on how to proceed. This is me doing MY part. But ultimately, my life is in God’s hands and I trust him with all the facts of my life.
But we all have a choice when it comes to our health. We can’t engage in an unhealthy lifestyle (when we know better) and be angry at God for sickness and disease that we bring upon ourselves. We can’t blame him for our actions. He gives is free will. A choice. And He wants us to choose wisely. He wants us to choose life.
Your Health and Hearing from God
Although I believe it’s wise to hear the opinions and counsel of medical professionals — what’s MOST important is what you hear from God when it comes to every aspect of your health.
You have a role to play in your health. Your actions directly impact your overall state of health, mortality and well-being. There are many things within our control such as our diet and activity levels. But so many things are beyond our control too (like genetics). You do your part and then trust God to do His.
Ephesians 5:15 tells us “Be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” I think this scripture not only applies for holy living–I think it also applies to healthy living. Don’t be foolish and disregard wisdom provided to us through doctors, research, informed friends, family members etc.God uses doctors and so many other people and resources to speak to us. He even uses pain in our bodies to speak to us. But don’t choose man’s wisdom and ways OVER God’s wisdom and ways. The best advice I can give to you is this. Take man’s words and wisdom and present it ALL to God. Ask God to show you what you are to do when it comes to your health and well-being. Then listen, expectantly, for him to speak. You never know who or what He will choose to answer you and direct your next steps. For me, it was a painting hanging in a bookstore.
One final thought. Our “risk results” or family medical history does not guarantee our destiny. God does. BUT–we are to use wisdom and make informed decisions. If God can use a donkey to give us insight, surely he can uses doctors! Proverbs 11:14 says “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” I think doctors would fall into the category of counselors, don’t you? Of course they don’t know everything and of course they miss things and get things wrong. But when we seek and receive their counsel, we can present their insights and recommendations to God and receive the direction we need from Him.
Part of living an abundant life is living a healthy life. What are you willing to do to obtain it AND maintain it?
Let’s support one another as we work to lead our lives strong toward good health. The body you have been given is God’s holy temple. WHAT are you doing to take care of it? Let me know in comments below. One of my next steps is getting a mammogram. Hope you’ll get one too.