Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Cancer and Contentment, Part 3

Leslie Basham: When Karen Melby feared for her husband's life, she and her family would read Scripture in his hospital room, and here's what happened.

Karen Melby: Maybe Scott didn't stop shaking. Maybe his pain didn't go away in that very moment. But it brought us all into a right place where we had a right perspective on the whole situation.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for October 22, 2015.

All of us will face suffering one way or another, so all of us need to hear the perspective of Scott and Karen Melby. God has given them grace to handle a rare form of cancer with joy and peace.

We've heard Scott and Karen's story over the last couple of days, and on Tuesday, we heard an interview about how thankfulness affected their first round of treatment in 2013.

Yesterday Karen told us the moving story of Scott's blood transfusion and what it taught her about Jesus' sacrifice for us. You can hear those programs at ReviveOurHearts.com. And since the time they told those stories, the Melbys have gone through many ups and downs.

Today Nancy will bring us up to date on what's been happening to them lately. The conversation will help you face suffering with valuable perspective and joy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I'm sitting here looking at you, and after you've been through the ravages of this for two years, you've lost a lot of weight. You're just coming out of the second bout of all of this. You sound very strong, for those who are just listening to you but haven't watched you go through this, but this was life-threatening. This has been excruciating.

I was with you guys in the hospital not too many months ago, and it was really, really bad. I don't think, Scott, you even remember that I was there. You were in so much pain, so much shaking, going through the treatment at that point.

So for someone listening, this was not just like a bump in the road where it was easy to say, "We're just going to trust God. God knows what He's doing." This was the fire.

Karen: Yes.

Nancy: Recently, Karen, you were saying over the past few months there have been times when you didn't think Scott was going to make it.

Karen: Yes. There were many times in the last two years when I left the hospital praying and just begging God, "Please, don't let him die tonight. I'm not ready." That's a very selfish prayer, but it's an honest one. But it was that bad several times.

Nancy: You've been through this two times now. Two bone marrow transplants. After the first one, of course, there was a lot of process involved in this, and we're fast-forwarding in a lot of the story. There was a lot of restoration process. You thought the numbers were good. It was going well. Your sister actually was the donor. We were all thanking the Lord. You were. Your kids were.

How long was it from that point until you found out the news that the cancer had come back?

Scott: It was eleven months from the first transplant, and we had been told that we were in remission and that all was good. Rather than going to the doctor weekly, it was, "Well, why don't we just see you in a month." And then it was the very next visit that the cancer came back.

Nancy: And can you go back and relive some of the emotions and thoughts at that point?

Scott: I had mixed emotions. There was a part of me . . . Obviously, you're very sad and devastated because you've gone through this incredibly, excruciating experience to rid yourself of cancer.

Before the transplant, you have to have numerous rounds of very aggressive chemo. In fact, my doctor said, "We need to totally wipe out your marrow in your bones, and so my job is to bring you as close to death as possible without pushing you over the edge."

That's a very painful thing to go through. And so, all the emotions of leaving my family came up again and the sadness over that. And yet, at the same time, there were also feelings of what I had been saying over and over through the whole journey, that "God is good. God is in control, and He can be trusted. Whatever He has, we're willing to go through."

Now, going through a second transplant, the good thing is: You know what to expect. And the bad thing is: You know what to expect.

Nancy: Right.

Scott: We did try some drug combinations to try to quell the growing leukemia before the decision was made to go for a second transplant.

Karen: Yes. It's a tough decision because the survival rate drops significantly with the second transplant.

Scott: Yet we knew without the transplant, your time on earth is significantly shorter.

Karen: We had to make a decision that was very difficult. Ultimately, it was up to Scott because he had to go through it, but we chose life. We decided that God had put before us very wise doctors, and we felt just by His leading that it was the right thing to do, to try it again.

Scott: Once the initial shock wore off, and we began to remind each other of all the amazing stories of God's goodness during our first transplant, it really gave us such hope for the future. And isn't that what we're supposed to do, to focus on God's goodness and to look back on the many times where He's been faithful and has provided over and above? And because of that, we can have hope for the future. Because of what God has done and is doing in our lives, we can have hope for the future.

Nancy: Scott, I've watched you, both of you, and it's just been astonishing to me . . . I guess it shouldn't be astonishing because you have a track record with God, and He's proven Himself faithful. But to see somebody in the fire, in the storm, just relentlessly clinging to what you know to be true about God when you are sick, weak, and scared, and facing . . . really, facing death.

Being in the hospital this last time, visiting that afternoon, and, Scott, you were so, so, so sick. You were just writhing. You were shaking. You're not really aware of anything else going on around you. But periodically, you would just say something. It could hardly be understood. It was quiet, but it was intense. As I got closer, I could hear.

Two things you kept saying were, "God has been so good to us. God has been so good to us." You would say that repeatedly. And the other thing you would say was, "We've got so much to be thankful for."

I'm going: Here is a man who is in the jaws of physical death potentially, and you're saying, "We've got so much to be thankful for." How did you get that perspective? Why was that what was coming out of your mouth in that very, very low point?

Scott: Nancy, it's all of grace. That's where that came from. It came from God's grace that has been shown to us in so many areas. Karen and I had been fortunate enough to be raised by Christian parents and Christian grandparents and we have really taken advantage of a significant amount of great Bible teaching in our lives. I know ROH is for women, but I love to listen in on the programs as well, Nancy, and so you've been part of that.

So we had a deep well of biblical knowledge that we could dig into that really helped us formulate the basis for how we were going to look at this. I lost my dad three years ago, and Karen lost her mom eight years ago. They were both godly people, and they both suffered significantly. So it's been modeled for us how to go through suffering and to watch my mom and Karen's dad walk alongside of a spouse that they loved very much who was going through intense suffering. We were able to take away significantly from that as well.

Nancy, in a time of turmoil when the world is turning upside down, Scripture is the only true north we have. So we threw ourselves into Scripture. And we would continually ask the Lord . . . You know that verse in Romans about renewing your mind? We would pray back Scripture to the Lord. We would remind Him of His promises. We would claim His promises. We would say, "Lord, Your Word says You care about every detail of our lives, and we've got some details that we really need Your help with." And we'd remind ourselves that God promises to never leave us nor forsake us; that He's always with us; that His love never runs out. We can never reach the end of His love for us.

So, really, it was marinating our minds in Scripture, and marinating was the word we kept using. We have to keep going back to Scripture.

When I couldn't read, Karen would read Scripture to me. When she wasn't there, I would listen to it on my phone. My children wrote some of my favorite verses on 3 x 5 cards, and I would go through those over and over again in the middle of the night. Sometimes all I could do was focus on one word because it was difficult focusing, and it was difficult opening my eyes. Yet I would just focus on one word over and over and over again.

There's also power in Jesus' name. It says that in Scripture. We found that repeatedly there were times when we couldn't pray a long prayer, and it would just be, "Jesus, help! Jesus, help!" Crying out to Him, and He came through. He brought us through these hard times.

Nancy: One thing I'm hearing that I think is something for everyone of us and our listeners to be reminded of, and that's: When you came to this point of crisis, what prepared you for it was years of being in the Word, getting to know God, getting to know His ways. So you weren't cramming for the final when you got there.

You had new tests when you got there, but you had, for years, been laying a foundation of knowing that God is good, that God is faithful. That's what theology is. It's not just something for the classroom. It's not just something for your notebook. It's for the DNA of who you are and what you think and what you believe. What your theology is is what comes out in the time of testing.

So I'm thinking about people who are listening right now, who aren't going through any major crisis at the moment. The best preparation for crises which will come—physical, financial, relational, marriage, prodigal children, whatever, things that just break your heart or tear you apart or tear your world apart—is, in the good times, to be laying that foundation of getting to know who God is.

That's one of the reasons on Revive Our Hearts we spend so much time teaching the doctrine of God, the ways of God, the heart of God, the foundational pillars of God's Word—that God is good; God can be trusted; His steadfast love endures forever.

Those kinds of programs don't bring huge response in large donations and whatever. People want to hear more about how do you heal a broken marriage, or more of those, like, practical programs. But I'm saying it's those basic foundational studies in who God is and His ways are really what we need to get us through the hardest storms of life.

Karen: Yes. I would say you're absolutely right. We have benefitted from growing up in the church and having those foundations built into us.

Nancy: So it gave you something to build on when you came to the crisis.

Karen: Yes.

Nancy: But then what you did, you turned, and you kept turning over these past two years, into what you already knew was going to sustain you, which was the Word of God, the name of Christ, the truths of God's Word.

Karen: Yes. And right away I was able to begin to keep a record of God's faithfulness, which I'm so grateful for. I think that's one of the things I wish I had started earlier in my life. I did, if I went back in my memory, I could remember the times that God was faithful to me, but I didn't always journal, and I wish I had.

I had a Bible teacher at one point say, "Don't be afraid to write in your Bible. Mark it all up and put dates by things." Because now, as I have journaled through these last two years of Scott's leukemia journey, I do have that journal. And there are times when, even now two years down the road, there's certain things that God did where He intervened, or He showed His lovingkindness to me.

I saw parts of the character of God that you're talking about that I had already forgotten. But it's on a sticky note in my Bible, and that verse is underlined with a date on it, and I know exactly. It's a good reminder to me of God's faithfulness, and those things help you walk forward.

Nancy: Scott, you're sitting with a journal in front of you on the table here. You've been doing that over the last few months. I know there are some times in these two years that you were way too sick to be journaling, but I see you've got quite a collection there. Just read us something that you would feel free to share, some of the kind of things you have been recording about as you've been in this journey.

Scott: Sure. Here's an entry that was written about eighteen months into the journey. I've always fought journaling because I never had confidence in my writing skills, and I always thought when you journal, it has to be perfect, and it has to be impactful, and it has to be if anyone picked it up . . . Then I realized in this journey that journaling is really just pouring your heart out to the Lord, and that oftentimes becomes a prayer.

So that's kind of what this one is. Like I said, this one is about eighteen months through the journey, which you reach a certain level of pain fatigue after that. I was talking to the Lord about that, and I said:

Lord, as fatigue of long-term pain sets in, I want to restate that I totally trust You. One of my greatest fears is that I will, in my attempt for pain relief, that I will miss out on some of the lessons that You have for me to learn. Lord, keep me in the crucible of suffering for as long as it takes to complete Your work, Your ways. Please don't let my desire, oftentimes very strong, for pain relief to rush Your perfect plan. My desire is nothing short of Your work done Your way in Your perfect timing.

No matter what the cost to me and my comfort, keep me in Your refining fire. Keep the pressure up. Grant me a tender heart to hear You over the roar of the refining process. Grant me the strength and perseverance to stay all-in in the process. This is impossible to do in my own strength, but You promised to never leave me. You promised to supply all my needs through Your riches, vast riches in glory.

As long as You stay with me, allowing me to feel Your presence and giving me the strength I need, I will go through anything You ask me.

Nancy: Wow!

Scott: And then I was always concerned for my kids, and I closed this journal with a little prayer about my kids. I said:

Lord, I will go through anything, give up everything, endure anything that brings You glory and honor. I will do anything that will draw my kids closer to you, anything to strengthen their faith. So turn up the pain volume to any level necessary to keep my kids walking close to You. 

We knew that our kids were watching us closely, and we so wanted to model how a Christ-follower should act in times of suffering and pain.

Nancy: Can you think of a moment when you saw something in one of your children that encouraged your heart to see how they were being . . . I know this has been hard for them, but have you seen a moment where you thought, Something's catching in their hearts that is making this journey fruitful in their lives?

Karen: Yes. The doctors call a transplant another birthday because you're getting a whole new set of stem cells, and they're like newborn. So they kind of call it another birthday. Since it was another birthday, we decided that since the whole family was going to be together, and this is an infusion that takes maybe thirty minutes to an hour for the stem cells to go in, that we would make it meaningful.

In our household, when it's somebody's birthday, we like to go around and tell that person what we appreciate about them. So I asked the family to do that during Scott's transplant birthday.

Scott: Now, let me just paint the picture. We're in the hospital room. There are about twenty-five people in the room—my five children, my wife, my mother, and my sister. And then there are people from the blood donation center. There are nurses taking my vitals every five minutes. There are three nurses in the room. There are four doctors in the room all monitoring what's going on.

Nancy: Wow!

Scott: So it's a bit of a hub of energy and whatnot, and then Karen led the family in this time of sharing.

Karen: Scott wrote a prayer which he had done the first time. He called it his transplant prayer, which was just beautiful, and it was just asking God for healing, asking God to be glorified in this process. After he led us all in prayer, I asked the family to go forward, and we would do our birthday tradition, and we would just all tell Scott what we appreciated about him.

That was a wonderful experience to actually hear our children verbalize what they thought about Scott. They just so honored him and his faith throughout this entire journey, and it was beautiful. And in each of their own ways, just to hear them speak about their dad and his trust in the Lord, his courage. Our son called him his hero. It was really beautiful.

They encouraged him about how he shares his testimony with the hospital staff. And we realized at that point that yes, as hard as this has been for our children, it had made a positive impact on them.

Nancy: And probably more deeply than they or you know yet. Years from now there will be things they will be telling their children, things they will be putting into their own walk when they face suffering.

You talked about how you'd had an example in your parents of how to walk through suffering and how that prepared you for this. But you're preparing them for days to come for only God knows what they'll be going through, and they'll be reflecting back on what they have seen.

Scott: Yes. I really want to encourage the listeners, too. We all face times of suffering and illness and pain and stress and disappointment in life. I want to encourage everyone to look at those as opportunities. Don't run from them, but remember that those experiences in our life, I know I already said it already, but they only come into our lives by being sifted through the hands of an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God. And so, therefore, let's look and see what we can learn. Let's lean into those times of suffering.

And we really focused not only on saturating our minds with Scripture and prayer, but, Nancy, your book Choosing Gratitude really set a platform of trying to go through this time of suffering and always looking for something to be grateful for because no matter how tough the situation is, there are always things to be grateful for.

We found that when we focused on gratitude, it really redirected our thoughts automatically to God's goodness; whereas, when we focused on the pain and the what-ifs and the "How is this going to work out?" it always would lead down the path to fear and to anguish.

So we had a choice to make and by doing it God's way and looking at these as an opportunity to draw closer to Him, an opportunity to be refined into the men and women of Christ that He wants to turn us into, it gave us a whole different perspective on approaching the cancer journey.

Nancy: Talk about how you used even the pain to become points of reminder to focus on God's goodness.

Scott: Yes. There was a point when the pain was so overwhelming, almost to the point of feeling like you were about to get consumed by it, and so I was really praying, "Lord, what can we do to turn this pain into something that brings honor and glory to You?"

So we developed this category called pain points. So anytime there was physical pain, I would put it in the category of pain points: when your IV line or your Pick line pulls and it hurts you, everything that goes along with chemo—the nausea and vomiting and chemo brain, or you look in the mirror and you see someone that looks like a concentration camp survivor instead of that of a healthy father of five. So put those all into pain points.

And then I thought, What if every time a pain point came, what if we could quickly deflect it to something that would bring honor and glory to the Lord?

So it's kind of like the old game when you're a kid of Hot Potato. The point was to hang on to the pain points as little as possible, to be able to pass them off. And so we would pass them. I would pass them to something called "X." Every week I would pray and ask the Lord, "Lord, what should my "X" be this week?" And so "X" was either a verse or a statement.

So the first week the "X" was, "Lord, thank You that Your Word says that You are my strength and shield." So every time I felt pain or began to become overwhelmed or anything that was painful, I would then say, "But, Lord, thank You that You are my strength and You are my shield." And I prayed next week, "Lord, what should my "X" be this week?" And the Lord gave me a verse that He promises that He will never leave you or never forsake you.

Again, the goal was get to the place where the time between the pain point and "X" was seconds, like the game of Hot Potato—passing the basketball, just trying to spend as little time as possible.

Nancy: Wow! So the pain became a prompt . . .

Scott: . . . to praise the Lord, to be reminded of His goodness, or to be reminded of His Scripture. That was so helpful for me, too. No, I didn't do it all the time. I wasn't great at it some of the time. But it was just a great way to renew my mind, to get my mind set on the right things.

Scripture says, "Whatever is true and right," and all those verses in Philippians 4. That's where we need to be focusing, not focusing on statistics or a prognosis or a chemotherapy regiment that's coming your way.

Nancy: Karen, I know there are a lot of things the Lord has used in your life. You were suffering, but you were also helping someone else go through suffering. God was using other people in your life to help you walk through this. So you've got people ministering to you while you're ministering to Scott.

What are some of the things? I remember, for example, I was in a car with you once. On one of those visits, somehow we ended up in a car together. You said, "Let me play for you this song that's been really ministering to me." I don't remember exactly which one it was, but it was one you had listened to a lot. You said that you would listen to it late at night when you were going back home from the hospital. So it became music that pointed you to who God is, what His ways are. And praise is one of the things, don't you think, that Satan runs from?

Karen: Absolutely! I really would practice two things. Nancy, you have been saying these things for years, but you prayed it with us: Let there be no unauthorized thoughts. And we, as Scott mentioned earlier, we really recognized the value of praying that often. That just became something that was part of our regular routine.

Nancy: What would be an example of an unauthorized thought?

Karen: He's not going to make it until tomorrow or self-pity. An unauthorized thought would be, "This isn't fair that two years of my life has been put on hold. This isn't fair." A fairness thing, letting bitterness creep in. There are a lot of things.

Nancy: "I can't take any more."

Karen: Yes. "I can't take any more. I'm tired. I don't want to go to the hospital today. I want to go get a manicure." To be quite honest, I'd like to be able to go out for lunch with my friends. All those things that are not necessarily selfish things, but they do become selfish if the enemy plants it in its wrong thinking, and it is an unauthorized thought.

Nancy: So instead of those unauthorized thoughts, you guys have been so faithful about putting right thoughts into your hearts through Scripture, through music.

Scott: I remember one time when I was beginning to despair, going into the second transplant, doing chemo again. I remember thinking, I just can't. I don't know how I can do this. I'm so low right now. My energy level is so low. The pain level is so high. I dropped seventy pounds from the first one, and I thought, I just can't do this. Lord, I don't know how I'm going to do this.

Then that night I picked up those Scripture cards, and the top one was 2 Timothy 4:7, which says, "But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength." And it was God just being so gracious to say, and reminding me of His constant presence and reminding me that I don't face this alone, reminding me of His provision of strength, and that He will provide what I need when I need it. It's just another example of the importance of saturating your mind, surrounding yourself, marinating in the Word.

Nancy: The Word really does give life.

Scott: It does give life.

Karen: It does. We've known that in our minds. We've had a knowledge of that since we were children. But when you have the opportunity to actually experience the life that comes out of God's Word and how it can change your mind, how it can change the atmosphere around you . . . We don't see what's going on around us in the heavenlies, I might say it that way. We can't see behind the curtain of what God is doing. But we can sense, and we can feel the atmosphere that literally changes when you read God's Word, when you sing His praises, when you have praise music on.

There's a verse in Scripture that I love, it's Psalm 42:8, where it says, "The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime and in the night, His song shall be with me."

Nancy: You asked about that a lot, didn't you?

Karen: We experienced it a lot. And it was interesting, too, how just waking up in the night, to go to sleep with Scripture and praise music on, I would often wake up hearing it, not literally hearing it, but remembering it in my mind. When we would fill our days with reading the Scripture cards, starting the day in God's Word, His lovingkindness was throughout our days, and that was beautiful to experience.

Nancy: And the Lord used other people to help at times when maybe you were so weary and weak in this fight.

Karen: Yes.

Nancy: I'm thinking of your dad's wife, Pam, and how she would send you those notes. Tell about that.

Karen: Yes. The very first day that Scott was hospitalized, she just sent me a text at bedtime. It was a Bible verse. She didn't write it out. She just texted the reference. She continued to do that for almost a year. She sent me a Bible verse every single night at bedtime.

Nancy: Wow!

Karen: I slapped a sticky note, because I had those next to my bed, on that Bible verse. I underlined it. I dated it. I wrote down just a little bit of what happened that day or why that verse was meaningful, how it pertained. So often they were just so perfect for what had happened that day. That actually became a journal of faithfulness. It was a beautiful gift that Pam did for me to help sustain me during that time.

Leslie: That's Karen Melby talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Karen has been telling us how the body of Christ served her family as her husband Scott was in the hospital fighting for his life while undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer.

Scott serves on the Revive Our Hearts advisory board, and when he recently visited our offices, he was so encouraging to everyone who met him. He and Karen shared such valuable perspective on worshiping God right in the middle of intense suffering. Nancy was eager to grab that opportunity and interviewed Scott and Karen.

The details of our situations may be different, but all of us will face suffering. It's inevitable in a fallen world. God has given grace to Scott and Karen to show us what it looks like to point people to the Lord in the middle of suffering.

God used some resources in Scott's life to help him focus on being thankful. One was Nancy's book, Choosing Gratitude. Another was her piano CD, Be Still.

Maybe these resources would help you in the middle of difficulties you're in. You can find those resources at ReviveOurHearts.com. We're able to provide practical programming like this thanks to listeners who support Revive Our Hearts financially.

This month, when you provide a gift of any size, we'll send you the 2016 Revive Our Hearts Wall Calendar. The theme is "Cry Out."

What do we mean by "Cry Out"? Like Scott and Karen know, sometimes you have nothing to lean on except the Lord, and you can't do anything except cry out to Him in prayer. This calendar will explore that theme and encourage you to cry out with intense prayer for your community, the nation, and the world in dark times.

Ask for the "Cry Out" calendar when you make a donation of any amount. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, Scott Melby says he wouldn't trade the experience of having cancer if he could. Find out why he says that tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.