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When Maxine Pink found out the daughter of her friend Gloria Harrington had cancer, Pink wanted to make sure Harrington knew the right questions to ask doctors about the disease, treatment, and medications.
Pink, an oncology nurse, says that Harrington had mentored her at Christian Life Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Thomas Manning serves as senior pastor. So Pink made sure she equipped Harrington to interact with physicians who would provide treatment for Harrington’s daughter, Anita O’Brien.
“I want people to understand what they are getting into, not for them to have to go through the process without knowing what is going on,” says Pink, 50. “People need to know that God is with them through the treatment.”
O’Brien, 48, survived two bouts of aggressive cancer in a three-year period; in between, Harrington’s sister, Vivian Cheeks, also was diagnosed with cancer, which likewise went into remission. Harrington took turns proactively being a caregiver for her daughter and sister.
Afterwards, as part of her women’s ministry and altar worker roles at church, Harrington found herself dealing with myriad prayer requests seeking healing for cancer, either for family members or from the churchgoers themselves. Harrington and Pink determined to start an ongoing cancer recovery ministry at the church. Encouraged by Outreach Pastor Sol Levy — a two-time cancer survivor himself — they connected with Our Journey of Hope (OJOH).
Our Journey of Hope is a biblically based cancer care ministry training program sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Pastors and other local church leaders meet with doctors, clinicians, and hospital chaplains in an intensive two-day seminar.
In five cities around the nation, OJOH provides on-site free leadership training for Christians who want to meet the spiritual and practical needs of cancer patients and their caregivers. Harrington and Pink went to Newman, Georgia, outside Atlanta, where they interacted with doctors and clinicians during educational sessions.
Aking W. Beverly, a spiritual outreach specialist based at CTCA in Philadelphia, says OJOH is designed to inform pastoral team members so they can help those in their congregations.
“The real issue is about overcoming fear,” Beverly says. “If fear is a roadblock, patients might not make the best decisions.”
The OJOH group at Christian Life Center meets weekly, for encouragement, prayer, and Scripture reading. Practical information about medical treatment and nutrition also is shared. Since the group started a year and a half ago, two dozen of the 2,500 attendees at the church have let their diagnoses be known. Pink and Harrington have in turn trained 10 others in the church through an eight-week small group study program.
Thanks in part to her mother, O’Brien didn’t allow cancer to take over her life. Even though she endured regular chemotherapy and radiation treatments, O’Brien continued to work, started a Bible study, and regularly attended her daughter’s college track meets.
“Cancer can cause people to be paralyzed,” says Harrington, who is the church receptionist. “They stop going places and doing things. They just stop living their lives.”
Sometimes the stigma can be worse for Christians.
“People are still ashamed of cancer,” Harrington says. “They don’t want people to know. Some fear being judged because they think people will believe they sinned against God. This keeps them from coming to the one place that will help them through the journey.”
“Most people avoid having cancer discussions,” Pink says. “They don’t want anybody to know.”
But Harrington and Pink say those who view cancer via a faith grid have a better survival rate.
“We want people to know God has not forgotten them,” Harrington says. “Most survivors will say if God had not been with them, they wouldn’t have been able to get through it.”
According to the American Cancer Society, 12 million are living with the disease in the U.S. and 1.5 million more diagnoses are made annually.
“It doesn’t matter what denomination you are, cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Beverly says. “Cancer can be an awkward conversation for anyone to have. Believers can be as intimidated as nonbelievers because it shakes their faith to the core. No one should go through it alone.”
OJOH meetings function as an outlet for some cancer patients to express themselves in ways their families won’t allow. Attendees aren’t chastised for voicing fears or for asking why God allowed it to happen to them.
“My daughter came to see that some people she came in contact with and shared her faith with may not have heard about God otherwise,” Harrington says. “Medical staff members were in awe of how she recovered. God uses everything, even cancer, for His purposes.”
“God can heal anybody touched by cancer,” Pink says. “We understand God is sovereign, and some will become survivors and others will go home.”
Pictured: Maxine Pink (left) and Gloria Harrington