Tuesday, February 2, 2010

There's remission, and then there's remission

The remission of sins is a phrase from Scripture that’s pregnant with meaning. So too is the remission of cancer. Let me explain how they may be related, and why this matters to me.

When I became a Christian, I confessed and repented of my many sins, begged God for his forgiveness, and through no merit of my own, received his saving grace. I am who I am—for better or worse—largely on account of the work of the Holy Spirit within me. I can’t describe my conversion to faith any simpler than that. It was the decisive moment of my life—the richest and holiest thing I will experience on this earth.

I’m no theologian, so I won’t attempt to unpack the full meaning of the word remission, other than to say that in the very personal transaction with God that I experienced on Dec. 7, 1979, my sin went into remission. It was sent packing. The English word mission is derived from a Latin word meaning to send. The prefix re- means back. Thus, remission means to send back. In case you’re interested, in Greek the word for remission means freedom, particularly that experienced after a pardon. Those Greeks had a way with words the Romans had reason to envy.

I have received in my soul the remission of my sins. That doesn’t mean I haven’t sinned since, or that I’m even aware of all the sin that still exists in my life. If sin can be defined as disobedience to God’s laws, then, yes, I’m still a sinner. But miracle of miracles, by God’s grace I’ve been forgiven once and for all time from the burden of trying to self-justify myself for what I’ve done wrong. He’s done it for me by his atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I’ve been pardoned and my sins have been returned to sender. I am free.

What I am not so free of is cancer. It’s become an element of my life that I contend against, both physically as well as spiritually. Since metastatic nodules were detected in two locations last month, it’s become apparent that the cancer cells I’d hoped would not spread beyond the lymph glands in my groin have indeed jumped the fire line. The cells could be anywhere in my body. The fact that they have so far accumulated visibly in only soft tissue, and not in internal organs, is good news.

Metastatic melanoma is not reversible under the normal rules of cellular biology. One can sometimes live at stalemate with the disease for many months or even years, but it rarely loses. It’s remission that cancer patients typically hope for: the absence of signs or symptoms of cancer. To be in remission is not to be cured, but it does mean your cancer is no longer on the march. It’s a time during which the normal activities of life can be resumed. I was in remission for almost two years until last month. After Friday, I will be in remission again for what I hope will be a good long time.

So while God is in the business of completely wiping our slate clean through his remission of sins, oncologists can’t say the same about cancer. They don’t have the authority. The remission of cancer is provisional. Once your cancer has been declared to be in remission, you are not free of anything. Your cancer can recur at any time, and may require a second, third or fourth intervention. As someone who’s been there before and who hopes to be there again, I can tell you that remission is a great place to be as a cancer survivor. But it can’t remotely compare to the remission of sins, which I’ve also experienced. That remission was a one-time deal, and it’s forever. It's the rock on which I stand. The fact that I am acceptable before God is beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Addendum: I mentioned in a previous post that the PET/CT scan I had less than three weeks ago showed an area of “hyperintensity suggestive of metastasis” in my left leg, as noted by the radiologist who read my study. I didn’t need the scan to know that I had a 1-cm nodule just under the skin that was obvious to the touch. My doctor found it easily by physical examination, and I could push it around with my fingertip like a lima bean on my dinner plate.

That nodule now is now essentially gone. I know where to probe for it, and can barely feel a thing. It would not be detected by PET/CT if I were scanned today. No doctor could palpate it.

Great news, right? It’s what I and many others have prayed for. Tumors sometimes regress, and there’s no explaining why, other than we assume the immune system really got after the bugger. I’m a little shocked that in less than 10 days a mass like that could just melt away. It gave me hope that perhaps my body might yet mount an immune response to match the power of those proliferating cancer cells.

Unfortunately, while that bump has vanished a new one has popped up on my upper left arm near the elbow. It won’t be examined until Friday before surgery, but I’m getting pretty good at calling these things. It needs to come out. I’m hoping the surgeon can skip the leg and take action on my arm instead. This feels like some really demented version of Whac-A-Mole. Too bad a hammer is all we've got to work with.


Anonymous said...

I wish you had mentioned the Whac-A-Mole earlier today. I could have used the laugh and visual. Let's hope that after Friday the remission and freedom will last many years.

grsmouse said...


Thanks for the thoughts on remission. I find them to be highly theological and preachable.

We are asking God's presence and grace in the day of surgery and beyond.


Anonymous said...

Peter: I was stunned to read your comments about remission. The contrast of God's remission and cancer's is something wonderful to contemplate. We are all so thankful that God didn't go "half-way". Your name is on a post-it on my computer screen to remind me to be praying for you tomorrow.