Chicagoland

Leaning on faith and intercessory prayer to fight cancer

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Leaning on faith and intercessory prayer to fight cancer

When I learned I had breast cancer on Feb. 13, the first thing I did was cry. The second thing I did was text family and friends letting them know the news and asking for prayers. Later, when I calmed down enough to be understandable, I called asking for prayers.
Andrew Lyke. Photo provided.
Kathryn Worthen. Photo provided.

When I learned I had breast cancer on Feb. 13, the first thing I did was cry. The second thing I did was text family and friends letting them know the news and asking for prayers. Later, when I calmed down enough to be understandable, I called asking for prayers.

I also leaned on my faith and my relationship with God.

When I told my news to friends who have been through cancer themselves, they shared how faith and the prayers of others helped them get through treatment and how the journey changed them for the better. Their stories give me hope and inspiration. I share two here.

Andrew Lyke, a longtime marriage minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago and author with his wife, Terri, of “Marriage on a Lampstand: Exploring a New Paradigm for Modern Christian Marriage,” was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2015.

He had not been feeling well for a while, but thought he just had a bad abscessed tooth. But when heavy antibiotics didn’t work and he landed in the emergency room because his throat swelled up, doctors knew something was seriously wrong.

At first, the medical personnel in the emergency room were cheerful with him but after a few hours, he said, he could feel “there was just something different going on.”

“That’s when the doctor told me it was leukemia. I can also see in hindsight that that was the most frightening moment,” Andrew told me. “I wasn’t sure what leukemia was, but I knew it was serious and it was frightening.”

He instinctively reached out for help.

“I really didn’t know what to do but reach out to people and ask for prayers,” he said. “It wasn’t a strategy. It was a cry. ‘Hey, y’all, help me! Pray for me! I’m scared.’”

He reached out to friends and family in traditional ways but also turned to social media for prayers. Since he and his wife have traveled the world giving marriage talks and retreats, he heard from people around the world.

“I was quite overwhelmed with the hundreds of responses I was getting from people who were letting me know that they were praying for me,” Andrew said. “I didn’t know what to do with that, but I did know that with all these people praying for me I owed them something. What I owed them was to not get caught up in fear, to really lean on my faith. It really helped me so much. It eliminated fear. I let the fear go.”

Even the staff at Lutheran General, where he was receiving treatment, noticed a peace about Andrew.

“It’s no virtue on my part, honestly. I just felt that this is where I landed and all I had was my faith to go with. It seemed to be helping me,” he said.

As his treatment progressed, he felt a responsibility to keep his “prayer warriors” on social media updated every step of the way.

“That began this almost daily journaling through Facebook that became kind of like a ministry for me,” he said. “That too was very instrumental in my attitude. It kept me in prayer.”

It wasn’t until a relapse in 2016 that the thought that he could die ever entered Andrew’s mind.

“Here it was right in my face and I had to make some decisions about how I’m going to end. Am I going to fear this or am I going to walk into this? What I was getting back from God … I was reassured that I was loved, that whatever the future held that I was immensely loved by God,” he said. “My family and friends and colleagues were making that clear to me as well. That sense of being loved allowed me to let go.”

As much as Andrew planned to continue to fight cancer he was also ready to go home if God was calling him there.

“It gave me a peace that in a lot of ways I still carry with me.”

One of Andrew’s prayer warriors was Kathryn Worthen, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia herself in 2016 after suffering bouts of dizziness, headaches and pain.

Kathryn was admitted to University of Chicago Medical Center for chemotherapy. However, she contracted a viral infection that left her unconscious on and off for two weeks. She was hospitalized for over 140 days.

“My sisters and brothers in Christ and my priest came and they prayed with me and around me and I knew that they were lifting up prayers for me everywhere,” Kathryn recalled. “Through the grace of God, I made it through.”

After treatment, she began doing outreach in the African American community about blood diseases. She found a friend at her parish, St. Ailbe, who was a leukemia survivor and another at St. Felicitas Parish.

“We talked to each other and we prayed together and we shared these experiences with other persons,” Kathryn said. “I do know that I could not have made it without faith and being around persons like my family who are very much steeped in their faith even though they are not Catholic.”

Much like Kathryn, I cannot imagine going through cancer, or any kind of serious illness or event, without faith and the prayerful support of others.

I’m learning that life with cancer is a roller-coaster journey with things changing from one day to the next. Not too far into my treatment I’ve already experienced some bumps in the road that have delayed things.

It can be frustrating and disconcerting, but God has shown himself in this and, in hindsight, I can see how he was laying the groundwork for this some time ago. 

I’m taking all of the prayers I can get and am praying for others along the way too. It’s not difficult to tell I am going through chemo — or could have alopecia — because I shaved my head when my hair started falling out after just three weeks of treatment. My bald head attracts some stares, but it has also drawn the attention of people who’ve had a loved one go through cancer or who have loved ones going through cancer now. We pray for each other.

With 1.7 million new cancer diagnoses each year, according to the National Cancer Institute, there is no shortage of people going through this and opportunities for prayer.

Please pray for me and I’ll pray for you. If you have had an experience of how prayer has helped you get through a major illness, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at jduriga@archchicago.org, or by mail at Chicago Catholic, 835 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL 60611.

Topics:

  • cancer
  • prayer

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