bizarre tongue cancer

Trusting God in the Bizarre

I have tongue cancer. Bizarre, right? I’m not male, nor do I engage in the particularly bad combination of both smoking and drinking, which are the big markers for this nasty invasion. In two weeks I am scheduled for surgery to remove the cancer by cutting out a big chunk of my tongue—which is a particular challenge and sadness for a professional speaker.

One of the things I have discovered is that, even without any drugs, the weight of this diagnosis and the upcoming difficult surgery and recovery has consumed a lot of my mental and emotional energy. Everything in my life has taken a back seat to this crisis.

Let me share some observations from my “Cancer Journey” journal, in no thought-through order because . . . see the above paragraph.

The oral surgeon who biopsied my tongue is a dear believer from church. When he delivered the bad news to me with amazing tenderness and gentleness, he was “Jesus with skin on” to me. I truly sensed the Lord was telling me through my doctor-now-friend that He was allowing this challenge that was going to be hard, and a lot of work, but He is with me. I was so blessed to be able to freely respond by asking, “Would you please pray for me?” And he did. The first of many, many prayers I have received.

Years ago, when an older friend got breast cancer, I asked her if she struggled with anger at God for letting this bad thing happen to her. She said, “Oh no! God has been so faithful and so good to me all these years of walking with Him, I know that He is allowing this for a reason. I trust Him.” And that’s why she didn’t ask the “Why me?” question, either: living in a fallen world, why NOT her? At that time, I prayed, “Lord, I will continue to ask that You spare me from cancer, but if You don’t, I am pre-deciding to respond the way Delores did.” So I didn’t have to work out my response when the diagnosis came.

My primary care doctor told me a long time ago to stop diagnosing myself; I’m never right. (And not to consult with Dr. Google either.) But that’s what I had done concerning the soreness on the side of my tongue that has lingered for months. Two dentists advised me to see an oral surgeon and possibly get it biopsied, but I was so sure it couldn’t be cancer that I dragged my feet following through. I am fully repenting of “leaning on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) and diagnosing myself. And I now have a fuller understanding of why self-sufficiency is a sin . . . and I’m repenting of that too.

Early in this cancer journey, Jesus spoke to my heart through Revelation 2:10—“Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” I know He was addressing the church in Smyrna with that verse, but He pretty much burned it into MY heart when I read it one morning. He knew that, being a pain weenie, I was going to struggle with fear. I have to keep reminding myself of what to do with my fear: Psalm 53:6 says, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” And in these days of Advent, I get to be reminded frequently through Christmas music that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” I need to trust Him; I need to trust IN Him; I need to recall Isaiah 43:1-5, where He says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.” Just like I used to soothe my frightened children when they were small with, “It’s OK, it’s OK, Mommy’s with you.”

One night as I prepared for bed and took my evening medication and supplements, I realized that taking oral pain meds post-surgery is going to be a challenge with a crippled tongue. Then I realized that I am going to be losing a body part, and I need to grieve that. The next morning, on the phone with our church’s women’s pastor who was checking on me, I shared about this realization. As she prayed for me, choked up with compassion, my tears started to fall. The moment I hung up, great heaving sobs overtook me. And I grieved.

(As hard as it was on me, losing a body part because of disease, I also cried out of anger that the enemy has deceived so many people, especially young people, into thinking that they would be happy if they would just have perfectly healthy body parts amputated. I cried out of compassion for their inevitable double grief of not only losing a healthy body part, but the eventual realization that they were lied to about what would fix everything in their thoughts and feelings. And that evil spirits laugh at their pain.)

Instead of a women’s Christmas Coffee at church, we were blessed to have 25 hostesses open their homes in multiple cities and multiple zip codes for 25 teachers to share the same basic message that each of us made our own. In my final point, about abiding in Christ, I was able to hold up an IV bag and tubing to illustrate what abiding is like: Jesus said He is the vine, we are the branches. Our job as branches is to stay connected so His “supernatural sap” can flow into us. Just like when we’re hooked up to an IV, our job is to stay connected. I asked my hostess’s husband to record that part of my message as well as my application about abiding in Christ as I wrestle with this cancer. I was able to edit it down to 6 minutes and post it on Facebook with a request for prayer.

Now on my own Facebook feed, I see a very limited number of people’s posts. But somehow (cue God to show up) my post made it to hundreds of people’s feeds, and 400+ comments and over 3600 views of the video later, I am being prayed for—a LOT! Thank You Lord!

And I need the prayers. I think the cancer is spiritual warfare that God is allowing for His glory and my good. And for other people’s good as well, though I may never see it on this side of eternity. One of my friends said, “You are outspoken and the enemy wants to silence you. What better way than to go after your tongue?” On top of the attack on my body, I’ve also wrestled at times with fear about the pain. I think it’s a spirit of fear. (I’ve been here before: see my blog post “I’m Scared, Lord.”)

But God . . . because He loves me . . . just gave me a connection on Facebook with a young lady who is not only recovering from the same tongue cancer surgery, it was done by the same surgeon as mine! She has encouraged and reassured me about the pain management. We look forward to meeting face to face soon. That is a Christmas gift from the Lord, and it’s part of His answer to the prayers of many people.

I have been in this place of experiencing peace from the prayers of God’s people before. My last trip to Belarus, before I lost the ability to walk, I posted a request for people to pray daily for me for “stair grace.” There are few elevators in Belarus, and the building where we were staying and teaching had two flights of stairs I had to climb several times a day. I asked for 10 people to pray, and 70 promised they would support me through prayer. And boy did they ever. It was amazing how easy it was to go up and down stairs for almost two weeks.

Until the last day, on my last stair climb, when I sensed the Lord telling me, “I have been answering your friends’ prayers for stair grace all this trip. Now I’m going to remove the grace so you can experience what it would have been like without the enabling grace.” And. It. Was. HARD!!! I was sore, I was out of breath, my polio leg yelled at me. So I know the huge difference prayer makes, and I am so grateful for the prayer support I’ve already received. I am desperate for the prayers of God’s people!

The story continues . . . in God’s loving hands. . . as I continue to trust Him in the bizarre.

Sue Bohlin is a speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries, a Christian organization that helps people to think biblically. She loves teaching women and laughing, and if those two can be combined, all the better. She also loves speaking for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Clubs) on the topic How to Handle the Things You Hate But Can't Change, based on her lifelong experience as a polio survivor. She has a freelance calligraphy business in her home studio; hand lettering was her "Proverbs 31 job" while her children were young. Sue also serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered organization that helps people struggling with unwanted homosexuality and the family members of those with same-sex attractions. Sue never met a cruise ship she didn't like, especially now that God has provided a travel scooter for getting around any ship! She is happily married to Dr. Ray Bohlin, writer and speaker on faith and science with Probe Ministries, and they have two grown sons. You can follow Sue on Twitter @suebohlin.


  • sonshine

    Sue, my heart and my words feel so inadequate. I wish I had just the right words but I fail in my earthly way to do so. But, know this you are now on the prayer list and God will carry you through. We are trusting God because with Him nothing is impossible.

    Jer 31:3 is one of my favorite verses and that is the word I leave here for you: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. That is why I have continued to be faithful to you.” [God speaks deeper and more loving than I can]


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