“Congratulations! You’re hired.” The news came as a welcome reprieve for my husband, Tom, and me. His new position in the Buffalo school system would give us a better, more stable income. With five young children, we had struggled to make ends meet, so this was a breakthrough. It also meant that we now had health insurance. And boy, was that God’s perfect timing.
The Mysterious Pain. Not long after he started teaching, Tom began to feel pain in his lower back. It seemed to come out of the blue, and kept getting worse. That winter, he saw various doctors, but no one could find anything wrong with him. The doctors dismissed it as stress related. But the ever-increasing pain wasn’t stress; we knew that. It finally reached a point at which Tom couldn’t drive, lie down, or work. One February, after coming home from another fruitless doctor’s appointment, Tom’s legs suddenly buckled. With no warning, he was paralyzed from the waist down.
An ambulance rushed Tom to the hospital while I stayed home with our kids. I waited and worried, wondering what was going on. Then the phone rang. “Mrs. Shriver, your husband has a cancerous tumor,” said a surgeon. “Do we have your permission for emergency surgery?”
They had discovered a malignant tumor pressing dangerously into Tom’s spinal cord. I gave my permission and hung up the phone. I was relieved to finally know the source of Tom’s back pain, but I was also scared for our future. So I started praying that God would miraculously heal him of the cancer.
A Prayer of Surrender. As my mom drove me to the hospital that night, I had a flashback of my father’s death twenty years earlier. My mom often told us the story of how he had a massive heart attack at work. He was only fifty and perfectly healthy—just like my thirty-nine-year-old husband before all of this started. My heart started pounding. Was Tom about to die?
Years ago, when my mom went to my father’s side at the hospital, the doctors told her that it was very serious. At that moment she prayed that if he couldn’t be well, she wanted to “give him back to God.” Apparently, God accepted her offer, because a couple of minutes later, my dad died. That was our family history, and here I was reliving it—riding to the hospital with my mom in a startlingly similar situation. Her presence reminded me that I needed to accept God’s will for the future, no matter the outcome of the surgery. I started crying. I knew that ultimately, I wanted God’s will for Tom and me, whatever it might be.
I prayed, “I give him back to you, God. I want your will for his life.” It was the hardest prayer I ever had to pray.
“How Could This Happen?” While Tom was being operated on, friends and family congregated in the waiting room with me. I was thinking all kinds of thoughts. We’ve always been faithful to God, haven’t we? How could this happen to us?
Tom made it through the first surgery, but there were many more battles to face after that. After surgery Tom was still functionally paralyzed. It could take years for him to learn to walk again. Each day it seemed they found more cancerous tumors: one in his head, another in his leg, and so on. Doctors predicted that he would live for only two or three more years.
Tom remained in the hospital for the next few months. He went through radiation, chemotherapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. Slowly he got back on his feet. Friends came to pray with him, but no miracle of healing occurred—just good old-fashioned medical treatment. This was disappointing to me because I had prayed for the tumors to disappear altogether. But I had surrendered, so I trusted that this slow, uncertain progress was God’s answer to us.
“Tom Shall Not Die.” Meanwhile, the kids’ lives went on: school, visits with friends, and the daily grind. They probably didn’t realize that their father was on his deathbed more than once. His friends could hardly tell either because he was so calm and confident. He was clinging to the promise of a Scripture verse that had remained on his mind: “I shall not die but live and declare the deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 118:17).
That spring, we learned that Tom needed a type of bone marrow transplant that involved a risky procedure. The doctors explained that they would be killing many of Tom’s abnormal blood cells, then rescuing them with the donor’s healthy cells. For several weeks after the surgery, Tom seemed to be recovering fine, and we were relieved. But then one morning, he woke up, and his speech was slurred. I asked the nurses to check on him, and they discovered a bleed in his brain.
Time seemed to speed up then. Tom went into cardiac arrest and had a blood count of zero at one point. His weakened condition made surgery extremely dangerous. As he went into the operating room yet again, I again prayed that prayer of surrender. Then I called one of our friends to send out a request for prayers. That friend happened to be at a Catholic men’s conference, so he asked everyone there to pray. The entire group responded by kneeling down and pleading with God for Tom’s healing.
Against all odds, Tom made it through that surgery. And not only that. He woke up the next day walking and talking like normal. He even began drinking tea with the nurses. His doctor was so surprised that he labeled Tom “The Miracle Man.” God had answered our prayers—through doctors and surgeries and a bone marrow transplant. It didn’t happen in the way I had expected, but God brought about the cure we were seeking.
God’s Mysterious Ways. Tom has been cancer free for twenty-four years now—thank God. He went back to teaching, and we have lived to see our five children marry and give us fourteen grandchildren. Over the years, we have tried to keep “declaring the deeds of the Lord”—like the fact that Tom is a walking “Miracle Man”! And every year, we understand more and more how our prayers are being answered in God’s way and God’s time, not ours.
In the years after Tom’s bone marrow transplant, we wondered if the cancer would return. We knew that every anniversary of his healing was not a given; it was a gift from God. Each year, I willed myself all over again, and again, to surrender and accept whatever outcome occurred. Still, Tom’s life—and health—reminds us to let go and trust God’s mysterious ways.
Theresa and Tom Shriver live in Buffalo, New York.