After I posted “God’s Fugue,” my friend Bob Zinnecker sent me this wonderful article about his wife’s faith walk while he battled cancer. Elaine Zinnecker’s story appeared in the September 2, 1984 issue of Evangel. It speaks so well about God’s loving hand in our lives, I am posting it, with permission, in its entirely. Thank you Bob and Elaine for sharing.
RELEASE BRINGS HEALING
by Elaine Zinnecker with Maureen Rank
A hospital waiting room is no place to plan for a vacation, I complained to myself as I waited for the results of my husband’s tests. A probably prostate infection nagged at Bob, so we decided to get it taken care of before we left for a delicious, two-week escape to Yellowstone. Everything needed to be right for this vacation, I reminded myself, because it celebrated the start of a new phase in our lives. Professionally, Bob had climbed to the place he wanted to be as President and Division Manager in a large telephone company. Strains in our marriage had just unknotted, and nine months with a counselor had freed me from recurring depression. Two of our four children were gone from home; the third would graduate in a year. Bob and I both felt settled, solid, ready to enjoy a freedom from struggles. What better way to begin than with a getaway week at Yellowstone?
“Mrs. Zinnecker?” I looked up from my to-do list as our doctor joined me. I welcomed him, ready to hear the test results so we could be on our way. But he didn’t return my smile. “The tests…” he began, and then paused and started again, searching for the right words. What could be so difficult about a routine test report, I wondered. “We didn’t find the prostate infection we expected,” he said. “But we did discover a baseball-size tumor on his bladder. And there is the possibility, Mrs. Zinnecker, that it could be malignant.”
Malignant? I turned the word over in my mid. Malignant? But malignant meant…Cancer. Could this man be telling me that my strong, vital forty-four-year-old husband who’d never been hospitalized in his life could have cancer? I mentally shook myself and turned back in to his report. “We’ll have to do more tests to be sure,” he was saying, “but if the tumor is malignant, Bob’s condition may be very serious. You can expect weeks of radiation and radical surgery, probably leaving Bob incapacitated.”
I appeared to be comprehending but the doctor might as well have been speaking in Portuguese. My husband? Cancer? The words refused to combine. They’ll remove the tumor and it will be benign, I assured myself, as we scheduled the exploratory surgery.
This time in the waiting area outside the operating room, there were no vacation lists. I paced and twisted and prayed and paced again. As the minutes stretched to an hour and then beyond, I began to relax. Hadn’t the doctor said that if he found cancer, he’d just close the incision and follow with radiation later? A longer surgery had to mean all was well.
Two hours after the surgery began the doctor beckoned to me. “We removed the tumor and part of the bladder,” he reported, but before I could express my relief, he went on “But the tumor…it was malignant, and the organs around it may be infected. They’ll have to come out too.”
I don’t know if I ever understood the meaning of the word “shattered” until that instant. “No! It can’t be!” I cried out. Not now! Not my husband! But my desperate protests couldn’t change the devastating facts. Bob might have from two to five ears left to live, and they would be years riddled with pain and debilitation. The next hour and a half, I cried uncontrollably.
We had stumbled into a nightmare. Bob reacted severely to the post-surgical medication and hallucinated, afraid he was losing his mind. As I held him in my arms, I cried out to God, “Why is this happening? And why now, when our future seems so full of hope? Where are you, Father” All those years since I’d trusted my life to Christ at age five, had conditioned me to believe in His presence and expect his help, yet I felt confused, afraid, not even able to pray beyond a desperate cry for help.
Bob was too weak to make decisions, so I knew I had to pull myself together for his sake. When I informed the doctor that we’d be going to the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, he shook his head reluctantly, “You can go if you want,” he said, “but you’ll just hear what I’ve already told you.”
Those fourteen days from Bob’s operation until we left for Mayo were a blur. Outwardly, I conferred with the doctors, cared for Bob, relayed information to the family, but inwardly I was struggling for peace. I thought of trying to strike a bargain with God for Bob’s health, but even in my turmoil, I knew that the sovereign God was not to be manipulated. We’d committed ourselves to God years ago, I reminded myself, and now I saw with a sinking heart what that commitment might mean. I wanted Bob with me, but that choice was not mine to make. Alone in bed one night, I prayed, “Father, my husband is not really mine. You may have chosen his death, and because he belongs to You, You have the right to take his life.” I decided then that if Bob died, I would accept it. There would be no anger, no blaming God. I had resigned to God’s will, but still I lacked the peace I craved. How will I manage without my husband? I wondered. And how can I be both mother and father to our children? That night I wept as I slipped into sleep.
The next morning at the hospital as I taped the get-well cards Bob had received to the wall of his room, I sensed what seemed to be the voice of God. “Elaine,” the Lord said, “I am healing Bob.” Tears of hope and confusion streamed down my face, and I turned toward the wall so no one could see me cry. That evening I went again to the Lord. “God,” I pleaded, “I don’t understand Your message. Last night I gave Bob to You for death. Do you tell me now that You are healing him?”
I paused, anguished, waiting for a reply that didn’t come. “Oh Lord,” I finally cried, “I can’t handle all this. Do whatever You want with my husband…and with me. The outcome is Yours to choose. I’ll trust You and Your goodness.” And I visualized Bob’s life in my hands and lifting him up, not just out of my grasp, but into God’s care. This time the peace I longed for flooded in. I didn’t have to know how it all could end. Whatever came, it would be good for all of us, and there would be grace to carry us through.
And, as I relaxed in this confidence, a word came back to me. God was whispering “Isaac.” “Isaac?” I protested, remembering the Old Testament account of Abraham releasing his only son to God. “But Lord, You spared Isaac.”
And the Lord responded, “Yes, Elaine, and I am sparing Bob. There will be healing, not death, and no radical surgery like the doctors are predicting. But you are to tell no one until you get an answer from the doctors at Mayo.”
Bob was very discouraged as we left for the Mayo Clinic. My heart ached as I watched my dear husband getting weaker and more despondent as he faced the future. He’d always been the strong and sure one the whole family leaned on. But at the same time, God’s spirit was daily confirming to me that what I’d heard in those quiet moments alone would come to pass. When in the face of Bob’s weakness, I’d ask, “Lord, did I really hear you correctly?” He would assure me with “Don’t doubt, Elaine. Just trust me.” And so, we began the rounds of the specialists at Rochester, Minnesota.
Our doctor had been right. The Mayo physicians agreed that Bob had a rare and nasty kind of cancer, a type that had seen only twenty-five times in the clinic’s history. Bob’s case, they told us, was one of only 125 documented occurrences in the world since 1900, and their radiology specialists recommended seven weeks of radiation. When the surgeons looked over Bob’s condition, however, they felt it was very unlikely the first surgery had removed all the cancer. They recommended another operation the next day.
To Bob, still weak and in pain from his surgery sixteen days before, this was the final blow. “I’m not afraid to die,” he told me, “but I can’t face the prospect of so much incapacitation for the time I have left. He began to cry in despair. But I was exploding with joy. Somehow, the miracle God had promised me was going to happen in that surgery. I didn’t know how, but I knew the time had come, so I told Bob about releasing him to God, and the Lord’s assurance that he would spare Bob. I was sure…but Bob wasn’t. There’d been no voice from heaven to him, and he was, after all, the one facing the pain, not me. He agreed to the doctors’ decision, but only because there seemed to be no other recourse. This time we cried together, he in hopelessness, and I for joy.
But God had not abandoned my husband. While he’d been sick, he’d been receiving from five to thirty cards a day from friends, sharing their concern. But on that day, only one came. This one pictured a little child, nestled securely in the palm of a large, strong hand, and written beside it was this promise, “I will not forget you. Behold I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:15-16b NASV). As Bob read those words, he became the little child safe in the hand of his loving father. God had not forgotten him! He was not alone! He knew now God was caring for him.
Bob slept well that night and was prepped for the surgery at 9:30 the next morning. As he was ready to be wheeled away, he gripped my hand and insisted, “If the doctors tell you the major organs are malignant, don’t agree to their removal. I want to live my time out. I’m ready to meet God.”
His ultimatum caught me off guard. Would I be pressed between the doctors’ opinions and Bob’s wishes? What should I do? But, as quickly as the doubts invaded, the Lord’s assurance settled in. There would be no need to decide. I was alone in the waiting room, but His presence was as real as my breath. The surgery stretched over the lunch hour, and when my son arrived with sandwiches and coffee, I was ready to eat. “How different this is from Bob’s first operation,” I mused, “when I was so terrified my stomach was in knots.”
A nurse notified me that the waiting was over and escorted me to meet the surgeon. “I operated as planned,” he reported, “and I found cysts which I was sure would be malignant, just as the tumor was. But they’ve been checked microscopically, and though they’re filled with bacteria, there is no more cancer present. And we couldn’t find any traces of cancer in any of the surrounding organs.” He shook his head and smiled. “All I can say, Mrs. Zinnecker, is that you are looking at a silver lining!”
But I knew that his “silver lining” was the healing hand of God moving in our behalf. The cancer that was to have destroyed my husband’s life in a few short years couldn’t be found sixteen days after its discovery. When we got ready to leave the Mayo Clinic, we asked about the radiation treatments they’d scheduled when we checked in. “I don’t know why we’d do radiation,” was the reply. “There’s no cancer there to radiate!” Less than three weeks after Bob had been given a death sentence, he walked out of the hospital with nothing more than a bottle of pain pills in his pocket. Periodic check-ups since then have confirmed his health.
Of course, I’m so grateful that my husband’s life was spared. But I’m just as grateful for the healing of my fear as I went beyond submitting to God’s authority and chose to trust in His goodness. That release opened the way for God’s peace…and for a healing to all of us.