“We’re trying not to make a big deal about it,” she said in a text message to our family.
But it was a big deal.
That text came from my sister a couple of weeks ago. The situation her and her husband were trying not to make a big deal about was the fact their four year old son was losing his hair due to his chemo treatments.
Meet my nephew Oliver.
The sweetest boy you could imagine. He’s four (about to be five!) and has all of the joy and zest for life every kid should have.
Last year he was diagnosed with a scary condition called Neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1) which basically means he has multiple brain tumors.
After a year of monitoring the tumors and treating some rapid growth symptoms, my sister and her husband found out the tumors were growing and that chemo was the next course of action.
The point of this blog post isn’t necessarily to get into the specifics of Oliver’s condition. If you want, you can read more about those specifics on his Caring Bridge page. The point of this blog post is to share some of my thoughts and prayers personally as this situation has unfolded.
I haven’t posted a blog in quite a while.
Mostly, that’s because I knew in my heart the next post I needed to write was about my sweet nephew. It didn’t feel authentic for me as a Christian to write about anything else when all my prayer and worship time was spent interceding for Oliver. I knew eventually I would have to write about it, but for weeks I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I avoided this post because I didn’t want to reflect on the risks and uncertainty chemo brings.
I didn’t want to tell you about the number of hours I’ve cried while praying for his little body.
I didn’t want to tell you about the list I wrote of all the reasons chemo sucks.
I didn’t want to cry at the keyboard while I wrote (already too late).
And mostly, I didn’t want to make this situation about me.
My sister and her family are the ones really walking through this nightmare. Obviously it affects me deeply as an aunt, but one of the hardest parts of all of this is watching my sister, my best friend, walk through something she can’t fix. My heart aches for her as she talks about traveling to Oliver’s weekly chemo appointments, as her mind and body get worn and tired, and as she prays in a way only a mother can about Oliver’s future.
Living far away from your sister at a time like this really sucks.
But I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a Christian blogger if I let the story end there. Because as much as I hate chemo, as heartbroken as I am that Oliver and his family have to walk through this darkness, as sad as I am that I can’t be right next door to help every single day– I know that I serve a God who says he’s working everything out for our good.
Yes, even chemo.
God has a plan for Oliver. He will not be deterred.
For weeks I was praying against any chemo-related symptoms. I prayed not a single hair on Ollie’s head would fall out, I prayed against exhaustion, I prayed against nausea and constipation, I prayed against illness, I prayed to strengthen his immune system despite the odds.
And then I got the text saying his hair was starting to fall out.
I realize this is a very common side effect of chemo. But I truly believed God would prevent it, so this brought on a fresh wave of tears as the reality of what was happening to his little body sank in.
What God said next in the middle of my pain and tears changed the direction of my prayers. He said, “Yes Kirsten, hair loss is what chemo does to the body. But do you know what else it does? It shrinks tumors.”
Oh Lord Jesus.
Here I was asking for you to remove what was unpleasant, what was unfair, what was difficult. And all along you were saying, “Trust me.”
You were saying, “I know it’s hard and I wish Oliver didn’t have to experience any of this. But the symptoms are a result of the chemo doing its job.”
Of course, God could stop the symptoms, he’s strong enough to do anything including removing the tumors instantly. But for some reason, known only to him at this point, that’s not the way he’s chosen for Oliver’s story to unfold so far.
It was clear to me, I needed to trust God to take care of Oliver. Not in the way I thought was best which included an easy, symptom-free treatment. But in a way that God knew was best. In a way that would last. In a way that would allow him to have a healthy life and a future.
God is always working in ways higher than we can comprehend.
So friend, whatever it is you are walking through right now, I know it sucks. I’m not saying it doesn’t. But right in the middle of the pain, I pray you would turn your face to heaven and ask God to show you how this pain might be working out for your good.
Maybe you’ll never know. Maybe it will always be hard. But that is why we walk by faith. Faith is believing God is who he says he is even in the pain. And there is so much hope, healing and joy in knowing who he is and what he has done as your savior.
As a sister, a sister-in-law, and an aunt, I’ve been praying through this whole difficult circumstance. And it is in those roles today that I ask you to rally in support of this family.
Would you please take a few minutes to pray for Oliver? Here are a few specific ways you can pray for him as he continues his weekly chemo treatments which are scheduled to last 15 months.
- Pray that the chemo would be effective and that the tumors would shrink until they disappear completely.
- Pray that his body miraculously withstands the treatment, his immune system stays strong, and the symptoms are few.
- Pray for his younger brother (and sister who is on the way!) that they would remain happy and healthy as well.
- Pray for Oliver’s parents. It can be a helpless feeling to know there is little you can do to help your child in a difficult time, pray they continue leaning on their heavenly father as the provider of all things.
- Pray for Oliver’s story. Pray that God would be glorified in this and that for the rest of his life Oliver would be a testament to how good our God is.
And finally, if you have a heart longing to give financially to help this amazing family of believers, would you consider giving a donation to help cover medical bills, prescriptions, gas, food, babysitting, entertainment for Oliver as his sits in the hospital each week (he loves legos and coloring books), and sanitary products to keep his environment as sterile as possible while his immune system is compromised?
I’ve set up a GoFundMe page (Help Oliver Conquer Chemo) for this purpose, and your help is appreciated more than you know.
I’ll close with this: I’ve never been more amazed in my life. I knew my sister and brother-in-law were faithful people. But when you see someone walking through the deepest depths with faith still in tact, head lifted to Jesus, with a resolve to fight the battle God has laid before them you gain a new appreciation for who they are.
To Bill and Erika, thank you. You might not know it yet, but your story of steadfastness and your ability to trust God in everything is drawing people to a Jesus they never knew or closer to a savior they deeply love (myself included). Thank you for teaching me so much as you fight this fight. May God bless you and heal Oliver.