Free Us From All Anxiety
A young man facing a terminal diagnosis witnesses to the overwhelming response of his friends--and the recognition of the Father.
I was really struck during morning prayer as we said the “Our Father.” There is a mysterious line in the “Our Father” that I never really understood growing up: free us from all anxiety. It always just seemed out of place to me. I always read it as preventing the situations that cause anxiety in my life. And so I am just giving that as a starting point.
Last December I was abruptly diagnosed with leukemia, and this past year has been a huge shift in my life. Before the diagnosis life was going along, and work was going well. I have a family, and we were living comfortably in St. Cloud, Minnesota. And suddenly, the veil of control was lifted from my life. Suddenly, everything that was certain became uncertain.
I'm just going to tell you about some things that have happened.
From the beginning, what was clear is that I was being accompanied and that there was this mercy for me that I had not earned. And so this was clear at every moment, from José initially flying out and our Fraternity group gathering together at the hospital.
It also was a shocking and difficult moment: suddenly coming to terms [with the fact] that we're not immortal. I became sort of paralyzed with anxiety about everything, […] the idea that I am not going to live forever, that I'm probably not going to live very long, and also the idea of my children, my family, being left alone. I remember speaking with José many times over it, especially in those early days.
Before the diagnosis, I was already medicating my anxiety. I couldn't function, and I didn't even know where to start. That was the topic of the conversation that we had. José asked me what the problem was, what my anxiety was, which seemed silly when I had just been diagnosed with leukemia. I thought that seemed like a strange question, but he made me answer it, actually. So I was forced to look at it, and I said, “You know, the anxiety is that I'm going to die and leave my family behind, and that's it.” And he said, “Well, that's a problem of certainty. It's a problem of faith.” And I said, ”Okay, that's fine. It's as if there's a giant chasm between me and the type of faith that I would need to face this. I don't know where to start.”
And he said two things: prayer and trust. And he explained them. Prayer means. . . I guess [it needs] no explanation, because that's the beauty of it, that you can just pray in an actual way, like you say prayers. And trust was described to me as being open to the possibility that the things that happened in my life--and not big things, but like a conversation with my wife, a discussion with the doctor about the disease--that those things are being presented to me as signs of the Father and that there's a possibility that the circumstances which I would not choose are moments where it was possible for me to recognize the Father--and it spark[s] a change.
At that point in time, we had a medical plan. Okay, we'll go four rounds of chemo and then we're going to do a bone marrow transplant. Great, because my brother was a perfect match for bone marrow donation. The bone marrow transplant required me to stay near the hospital for one hundred [days]. [...] I had to stay in the Twin Cities and live down there for one hundred days. And not only was I forced to stay down there for a hundred days, but I was also forced to have a companion with me 24/7 for a hundred days. A strange thing that probably not many people will have the opportunity to live. A strange set up full with miracles surrounding how that got coordinated--because I have a wife with children, and she has job.
My group of Fraternity, friends from St. Cloud, and people from all over the country--people I'd never met--took flights and came and stayed with me for one or two nights. It was one of the greatest mercies that I've experienced in my life. Despite my pride, It was a moment when I was being forced really to [pay attention]: No, you stay here and I'm coming to you. This isn't an effort of yours and you're not going to go out and find Christ. You are forced to stay here in the small physical area, and I'm going to come to you and stay with you always, 24/7, in this.
And I imagined it was like the early life of the Church. It was like these pilgrims, these apostles, these people coming and just witnessing to me what's happening with them. And I had to be still, I had to listen to what was trying to be communicated to me.
So, that being said, an amazing "life moment" happened to me that was not planned, that I wouldn't have chosen. But [I was] moving still towards sort of getting over this and getting to the next thing. I didn't have any of the symptoms that you're supposed to get for the bone marrow transplant. I didn't have a rejection or graft-versus-host-disease. Everything was going well. My numbers were great. I was feeling normal. And then I got out.
The day before I was to have the central line stitched into my chest removed, the doctor called me and said that the transplant had failed, and that the leukemia was back. Another moment where the veil of control sort of shattered. I immediately started calling people, texting people, and asking people to come, come and be with me. And everyone did.
Olivetta came down to St. Cloud. I had to go to the hospital, so I had to miss my daughter's birthday. So I asked Olivetta to come and make a cake and stay with her. She did. And I spoke with her that night when she came to visit me in the hospital when she arrived. And there was this moment in the conversation where I came to a point where I sort of had to recognize that my entire life has been a constant plucking out.
I am a farm boy born in the middle of nowhere. Homeschooled. Nothing extraordinary had been happening there. If you were to bet, if you were going to bet on somebody who was going to have an amazing, beautiful life, with thousands of people praying for him, it wouldn't have been me. And I was plucked out and taken out and embraced at every moment in my life. My life has been a series of this taking up and being embraced. And it was the first time I really recognized that in my life.
And from that moment, I have never been afraid. Sad, yes, but all fear and anxiety were gone. I'm less anxious now than I was before the diagnosis. I don't take any anxiety medication or anything even like that, which is pretty normal for cancer patients. It's not there.
The difference is the Father, the recognition of the Father. And it's in every moment I've been getting phone calls and had conversations and met people every single day, to this very day. Every day without fail. People basically have been witnessing to me miracles, things that are impossible. Pilgrimages that people are going on without letting me know until after the fact that they've gone on a pilgrimage with one hundred people to some place with some people I've never met in my entire life. It's a recognition of life given. [...] [This is] the discovery for me here today at this moment. Because I'm beginning to realize through faces, this is not like a spiritual, pietistic thing. It's not. There are people who come, who are staying with me, that I am constantly accompanied by. And it's just a recognition of that.
I find myself at this point with no medical path to a cure and, paradoxically, I find myself in this situation where it required a terminal illness for me to begin to live. This is an extreme situation, but I really am surprised, and I'm still trying to understand. But I find myself in this moment where I'm not afraid to die anymore. If anything, I am grateful that in this moment I've been able to live for the first time. I apologize for the lack of coherence, but that's it.
Dan, St. Cloud, Minnesota