My Son Has Cancer
In May 2012, Bryant started feeling back pain. He was 25 years old, and the doctor told him it was just back strain. Two months later, he was diagnosed with Stage 3C testicular cancer. Over the next year, Bryant went through extensive chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants, experiencing brief periods of remission. In July 2013, he was told the cancer had recurred and was deemed terminal. Bryant's response was: "I place my hope in Christ alone."
Yet I continued to pray and beg God for healing—even questioning: “Abba God, I have been faithful to you; how can you take my son?” His voice came across clear as a bell: “I gave you My Son…” I broke down and cried. For the very first time I truly understood and appreciated God's love. He willingly gave His Only Son for me and for the whole world. John 3:16 took on a deeper meaning: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” However, I did not stop asking God to heal Bryant until May 2014. During a prayer—although I did not hear God audibly—I strongly sensed that He was telling me that it was not His will to heal Bryant. From then on, my prayers changed. I asked God to give Bryant and us, as a family, peace.
My Son Bryant
Bryant was a unique individual—not a typical bookworm scholar. He was a National Merit Scholar and an Eagle Scout. In college, he majored in media art and loved watching and participating in sports. He loved food! Two of his favorites were burritos and Japanese ramen noodles. His favorite color was mint, and he wore that color during our Hawaii trip two months before he went home to Jesus. Bryant was also an avid reader. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch touched him deeply before and during his cancer journey. (The book is based on the final lecture given by Professor Pausch after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.)
My son also loved music, played guitar, and sang in the church choir. He loved to have jam sessions with his friends and his sister. Just two weeks before he died, a group of friends came over for a two-hour jam session, and even though he was using oxygen, he managed to enjoy and cherish the moment. He requested that two of his favorite songs be played at his memorial service: “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” by Civilla D. Martin and “Something Happens” by Kurt Carr.
Sweet things Bryant said during his last months of life will always remain in my memory. He loved Simba, the cat he had had for six months.
“Mom, are you going to get rid of Simba after I’m gone?”
“No, Simba is your cat. I will keep him and take care of him.”
“Who is going to take care of you and Dad when you are old?”
“Don't worry. God will take care of us.”
During the 4th of July weekend—after getting his terminal diagnosis—Bryant worked several hours to organize and donate his books, games, and clothes.
“Bryant, don't do this. You are pretty tired, just rest.”
“Mom, I have to do it. After I’m gone, it will be too hard for Dad to do it, and I don't want you to end up doing it by yourself.”
I gave him a hug and went to my room and cried. Four days before Bryant left this world, we had our last conversation.
“I am ready to go see Jesus and all the saints.”
“Are you afraid?”
“No, Mom, I’m not afraid.”
Bryant was at peace.
My Son Arrives in Heaven
The night before Bryant left us, I prayed that God would send me a sign when my son arrived in heaven, and I asked Bryant, too, to let me know he was in heaven and with Jesus. Bryant died the next morning, August 19, 2014, at 5:45 a.m. His dad, sister, brother-in-law, an aunt, and I were by his side. With the help of a hospice nurse, we bathed him, anointed him with oil, and dressed him. His mouth was slightly open and in a neutral position. About four hours later, we noticed that a smile appeared on his face. The hospice nurse and the aunt, a hospital pharmacist, said they had never seen anything like it in their professional career. I asked the hospice doctor about it, and she told us there was no medical or scientific explanation for the smile. That was the sign I had asked for. Bryant had arrived in heaven! I will always miss him, but I have peace knowing that I will see him again. The Bible verse 2 Timothy 4:7 is scripted on Bryant’s headstone: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
My Son’s Spirit Lives On
Bryant did not let cancer define him. Even with the limitations of cancer, he lived fully. Between chemotherapies, he played on a basketball team, playing his last game to say goodbye to his teammates one month before he died. Eleven days before Bryant died, he accompanied me on my daily walk. He was using oxygen, pain meds, and a walker, yet he insisted: “I want to walk with my mommy when I still can.” Bryant loved people and kept his faith in Jesus to the end.
How does one deal with the grief of losing a beloved son? How did God do it? I read many books on grief from both a Christian and secular perspective, attended a Christian grief group for three months, and went through six months of grief counseling. My head knew all the facts, yet my heart took much longer to accept Bryant’s death. A Christian counselor friend often asked me how I felt. The first year, I was numb. I didn’t notice the changing of seasons and food had no taste. The second year brought the searing pain of separation and my failing health. Grief often wears down the body and brings on health problems. The third year, I progressed from being housebound to enjoying limited outside activities.
Though I have struggled through mental, emotional, and physical hardships since my son was diagnosed with cancer—sometimes feeling depressed, sad, despondent, and even fearful—my grief does not define me. God has never abandoned me. He is loving and faithful, always keeping His promise to “never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Being a follower of Christ does not negate or minimize pain and suffering, but it enables us to bear them. I still find joy in this life—and I have hope in eternity.