Posted May 22, 2007:
A Surgeon’s Story

by Dr. Joe McKenna.

Cancer, a dread word that can instill instant fear into the hearts of most people, continues to be a baffling challenge to the medical profession.

The exact reason why a perfectly normal cell, obedient in every way to the complex cellular laws of God, changes suddenly into an undisciplined, self-reduplicating, destructive, disobedient cell, which endangers life, is not known.

The parallel between the nature and activity of cancer afflicting the human body and the more serious cancer afflicting the soul, is very striking. In fact, sin kills the soul more effectively than cancer kills the body.

I am a surgeon and, as such, I was severely hampered in my management of cancer and other diseases until I became aware of the spiritual component in the cause and progress of all disease.

This insight came only after I experienced the healing of the cancer that was destroying my soul.

Born into a Catholic family in Ireland, I learned about God, but I never really knew God until much later.

In my earlier years, I focused more on the worldly wisdom which would enable me to survive in this life than on the knowledge essential for my eternal salvation. Scholastic achievement, technical excellence, economic security, and social status all became the essence of my existence.

Add to these a driving personality and a preoccupation with sports, television, parties, and alcohol, and you have a perfect recipe for spiritual decay.

My treatment of my patients was exemplary by worldly standards. But though I was able to bring them professional competence and empathy, I was unable to bring them genuine compassion. And many of my patients were facing the most significant event of their lives—their deaths.

My inadequacy in coping with dying patients became very obvious when my sister struggled with cancer for four years before finally succumbing. This personal disaster was quickly followed by the deaths of my only brother in a plane crash and my father from lung cancer.

These personal experiences with dying and death underlined the inadequacy of my cultural Christianity. I also resented God for allowing these deaths.

With no real conviction about my eternal existence, I could only cope with all of this in a worldly way—escaping into television, alcohol, and selfish pursuits. Of course, that didn’t help. Further guilt and despair ensued.

Through all of this, in the eyes of the world, I was a success with a wife, four children, a house, a car, good clubs, and a busy practice.

But by the only criterion that really counts, I was a lost, wretched sinner in great need of "amazing grace."

The prayers of many loved ones over a period of years and the many prayers and rosaries said in my youth no doubt were responsible for the beautiful touch of Jesus, which one day transformed my heart and soul.

But I still was not taking my faith seriously enough. Then an eight-year struggle with back disease and constant pain brought me for healing prayer to a small charismatic community. There I got to know spiritually committed Christians for the first time.

I decided to learn more about this life in the Spirit they talked about, and as a result, I made a firm commitment to turn away from sin. Soon after that, I was prayed over, and my back was totally healed.

But far more significant than the physical healing, genuine repentance and the sacrament of reconciliation had a great cathartic effect, lifting the sense of guilt and despair from my spirit.

Recognizing that we are eternal beings and that the earthly portion of our eternal existence is infinitesimal was an important breakthrough for me. Equally important, I now discovered the spiritual component in disease.

Obviously most people in the medical profession neglect this essential component. But without it, it is difficult to treat any disease, and it is impossible to meet the needs of the patient struggling with cancer.

Early in my newfound approach to cancer management, God showed me the importance of prayer in conjunction with the standard forms of treatment. When I prayed over the dying mother of an Italian family, both she and her family received dramatic spiritual healing.

This incident encouraged me to be bolder in praying for others. I began to do so even while operating and had some dramatic results.

This power is available to all who wish to plug into the Source: an all-loving God.

I had set aside the old ideas I had been taught in my youth about the salvific value of pain and suffering.

God’s words to St. Rose of Lima helped change my perspective on healing. God told her:

"Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of affliction, it is impossible to reach the height of grace.

"Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. This is the only true stairway to paradise and without the cross, they can find no road to climb to heaven." (Ref. Ad Medicum Castillo: edit. L. Getino, Las Patarona de America. Madrid 1928, pp. 54–55.)

Then through the death and dying of several people, God showed me what a gift cancer is for some people.

The only really important thing in this life is whether or not we ultimately save our souls. But this fact is far removed from the minds and hearts of most people, including many Christians.

When a person not following in the steps of Jesus is suddenly faced with Judgment through sudden death, he does not have a period of grace to get right with his Creator.

On the other hand, the cancer patient is faced with a relentless process and is forced to focus on the reason for existence. Even in the eleventh hour, many come to experience God’s infinite love and forgiveness.

Jesus showed me that the spiritual healing that often occurs like this is far better than a health-filled life in which the soul is at risk.

My primary objective now in all my patient contact is to help people save their souls and to bring them closer to God.

In order to bring the love of Jesus and his message of salvation, I have to strive for holiness myself. This striving will enable me to be in a constant state of readiness to serve and to bring genuine hope to the people I minister to each day.

The greater my awareness of the indwelling presence of Jesus, the greater will be the hope experienced by my patients.

For it is spiritually renewed people who are able to bring the healing love of Jesus to cancer patients and to see hope and love replace fear and despair.


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