I've written the basic chronology of the beginning of our cancer journey. I say our because my husband Allen has been traveling this road too. It has been very difficult for him but he has stepped up as needed to help both with day to day tasks and with spiritual comfort. Our families are involved too and they have been there whenever we have needed them. I don't know how people who don't have family can get through something like this, so I am thankful for each and every one of them.
What I haven't written about yet are the circumstances of this event from a spiritual standpoint. I am hesitant to write about spiritual events in a forum like this, for fear that my inability to convey the true spirit might fall on deaf ears or seem unbelievable to the skeptic. I have been thinking about this for a few days and have decided that while this story is my own and I can choose to keep it to myself or share it with all, I would be a very ungrateful servant of our Savior if I did not tell all who read this and let them make their own decisions about what it means.
Allen had the opportunity over 30 years ago to meet a wonderful man who became his spiritual mentor and a second father. This man was his mission president in the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission, Douglas Callister. I'll keep it short in this post but let it suffice to say that I believe that mission calls are inspired and Allen's call to serve under President Callister was life-changing and life-saving for Allen. In the ensuing years, Allen has strived to keep tabs on the president, whether he was in Southern California, countries of the former Soviet Union, or Bountiful, Utah. So when the diagnosis came for me, it was only natural that Allen would call the president, especially since he has been a general authority located in the Church Administration building for the last 7 or so years. Allen expressed his sorrow and fears to the president like he would have to his own father, and knew he would receive comfort there.
President Callister immediately reached out to Allen like a father would to his son, and offered to give a priesthood blessing. This was arranged to happen within only a couple of days of the call, and was set for March 17. We invited everyone to come who could get away on short notice, my brothers, sister-in-law Ellen, my mother, our bishop and our son-in-law. He had made sure his calendar was clear to take plenty of time for us, and he sat and counseled with us in a conference room near his offices. He is very knowledgeable about the subject of cancer; he has a son Matthew who is a radiation oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and told a story of a man who came to him with a cancer that was seemingly incurable, but Dr. Callister persisted and came up with a regimen that put his cancer in remission. He also related the story of a friend of his in California who has lung cancer but still functions in church service and with patients, even though he is past retirement age. My impression at that time was that this man believes in the miracles of modern medicine, and that scientists and doctors are inspired to find cures and treatments for all kinds of ailments. I found myself peaceful and calm as he counseled all of us to be of good cheer. In fact he said that our Heavenly Father looks dimly on those who are constantly in despair when faced with sickness that can end our mortal lives. He said such despair demonstrates a lack of faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
When the time came to receive the priesthood blessing that was the reason for our visit, I asked our Bishop Dave Platt to do the anointing and President to seal the anointing. Bishop Platt applied the consecrated oil to my head. All the priesthood holders gathered around me as I was seated, while they stood in a circle while putting their hands atop my head.
Even before he started to speak, I felt a warmth begin to course from the top of my head and slowly move downward. To begin, his exact words were: "Sister Joyce Annette Bennion Luker, by the power of the holy priesthood, and in the name of the Master--" At this point the warmth had reached my chest. Then suddenly it was no longer just warmth, the sensation was heat. It enveloped my whole chest, both right and left sides. It lingered there as he spoke. It was a sensation that burned but was not painful. At that moment, I felt the presence of that Master of whom he spoke in the room. I knew to my core that my Heavenly Father and my elder brother were aware of me at that moment. My spirit told me that my Father had created this body that I inhabit for this earthly journey, and that he was fully aware of the cancer that was in my chest, he knew full well where the problem was, therefore the burning was a communication between just me and him. I also felt that my brother, my Savior, knew only too well the suffering I was going through and would continue to experience in the future. He understands suffering and pain to an extent I will never fully comprehend. All these things were communicated to me within seconds as the blessing continued, and the heat left my chest, returned to a gentle but perceptible warmth, and continued through my body and exited through my feet.
Before the blessing started, I was slightly panicky because I was afraid I would not remember the words that were spoken. I knew that if I could just remember everything he said, it would give me great comfort. In fact, Allen and I had talked about taking a recorder but ended up not doing so, and in that moment I regretted that decision.
However, I did remember 2 important points he included, and as I reconstructed these words later, I realized that while someone else might remember other words, these were the 2 things that were most crucial for me to remember. First he said that this illness would not have the power to shorten my life. He said I will live the entire length of time that my Heavenly Father and I agreed upon before I left his presence. Second he said that my Father in Heaven will direct the doctors in my care and all details of the medications that will be chosen for my therapy. He will be involved in every decision made by the doctors and nurses who care for me.
This post is long but I hope those who read it can feel of my sincerety in posting it here. I don't do it lightly. I am a believer, in fact I would say that "I know that I know" that God lives, He loves us, and He has given us His holy priesthood, which is His power to act in His name, and that if we honestly and truthfully seek Him, we will find him.
I don't know how long I will stay on this earth, but I do know when the time comes for me to go to my heavenly home, it will be when my agreed-upon hour arrives. As I said in an earlier post, when we first got the big diagnosis, we thought my death was imminent, probably within 2 months. Now here I am, nearly 6 months later. Each extra day seems like a gift to me.