by Michael McCartney
It began one day last April with blood in my urine. Concerned, I called my urologist and set up an appointment, which included all sorts of tests, scans, and scopes. Within a week the answer was confirmed: a tumor on my bladder.
Cancer, stage 3—not good. The doctor said it looked as if it had been there a while, though I had just seen him four months before.
Surgery was scheduled for Monday, just 11 days after the blood first appeared. The doctor removed the tumor and treated the site with a form of immune therapy. He said surgery went well, though it was extremely hard to get to the tumor because of its location. He most likely would have to go back in.
So my journey through cancer had begun. And I had enrolled in the school of higher learning—my unexpected journey through the valley of shadows.
The First Dove
When the doctor first examined me, I left his office in shock and walked out into a severe storm. I drove my truck home through the storm, went in, and sat in my chair. Looking out of our bay window at the raging storm, I started talking to the Lord about my cancer.
As I prayed, I opened my eyes and I saw…a dove! There in the midst of the storm was a dove looking back at me through the window!
The dove’s feathers were being blown around by the stormy winds, but it kept looking right at me. Pellets of cold rain hit the dove, and its eyes would close to shut out the pounding rain. But again and again the dove opened its eyes to look at me.
I knew from Scripture that doves are a sign of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, in the middle of a storm, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit! So I prayed, “Lord, I need your help with this cancer!” and I felt the Spirit say: “I will be with you through this stormy journey. You will come out the other end of the storm.”
The dove stayed around for about five minutes. Then the phone rang—it was Tiffany, my daughter, calling me to see what the doctor had found. When I turned around, the dove was gone.
The Second Dove
I hit another rough day in my journey when the doctor called me. I was in a church staff meeting at the time, but I had recently come through my second surgery and biopsy.
The pathology report said things were not looking good. Cancer was lining my bladder “like a carpet.” Explaining the results, the doctor suggested I should consider removing my bladder, my lymph nodes, and my prostate—the “Gold Plan.”
“If you don’t do this,” he said, “this type of cancer could take your life.” It was an aggressive, rapidly spreading type of cancer.
I left the meeting and went home to pray and talk with my wife, Kathy. We prayed and decided to stay on the same track—no removal of important parts. I chose the “Silver Plan”—and ask God for a miracle.
At one point in our talk and prayer, I said to Kathy, “It would be nice to get another visitation from a dove today.”
That night, Brock and Brittany, a young couple from church brought us a meal and with it, a heart-touching card. But most remarkably, they also gave me a small, glass dove.
They explained. The Holy Spirit had prompted them to stop at a store to get a dove as a reminder of the dove in my window and remind me of God’s promise: “I will be with you through this stormy journey. You will come out at the other end of the storm.”
It was another God moment—a second dove with a reminder of God’s promise and presence.
Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”
I was struck by the phrase reminding me that I am just walking through a valley of shadows while the Lord is with me, right by my side! The valley has a shadow of death lurking off somewhere in the distance, trying to torment me, wanting me to resign myself to it—as if there were no hope.
But with the Lord by my side, all things are possible!
Years ago I saw the movie, A Beautiful Mind, starring Russel Crowe. It’s the true story of a professor who suffered from schizophrenia. “Voices” in his mind tormented him, luring him away from reality and creating havoc in his family, career, and life.
After a long battle, the professor learned to ignore the voices. He choose to live in reality and not delusion. He admitted to another professor, however, that the voices were always there, off in the shadows, beckoning him to come to them, tempting him to listen and pay attention. But he chose to ignore and even reject the voices. He chose instead to focus on his family and his work.
For me, the shadow of cancer is like those delusional characters in the movie. Cancer taunted me, standing off in the shadows. But Psalm 23 and other Scriptures reminded me, “I will be with you, Mike, through this unexpected journey and through the valley of shadows.”
I didn’t choose this journey. It was unexpected. But in my cancer journey I choose to focus on the Lord. I’m sharing my journey with my church and others. And I choose to focus on God’s promise—and the Doves. I choose to be positive, to be filled with faith, to hope in Jesus.
Every day I tell the Lord, “I will praise you through this valley and honor you! No matter what happens!”
Psalm 46:1-3 says, “1 God is our refuge and strength, an everpresent help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
I know my unexpected journey is not over! I have a year of maintenance immune therapy to go through, but the Lord has been with me through it all encouraging me along the way. I trust him as well as my doctors. Jesus repeatedly promises in Scripture, “I will be with you!”
He will be with you too! “God is no respecter of persons.” He will walk with you through your unexpected journey and be by your side to bring you out the other end. All you have to do is ask him to come help you too!
Mike McCartney is Senior Pastor of Christian Hills Church in Orland Hills, Illinois.