Plan for Death: A Cancer Survivor's Perspective on the Corona Crisis

Author: Jim Risk
April 01, 2020

Except for official business of essential personnel and your trips to the gas station and grocery stores, can you believe our elected officials are shutting down entire States to limit social interactions and prevent the spread of the Corona Virus?  While I believe such actions are prudent, it is still hard to fathom in the land of the free and the home of the brave that we have been asked to stay in our homes and not leave.  With all that is going on in response to what our President is calling “a war with an invisible enemy”, has the COVID-19 outbreak caused your perspective on life to change?  With all the changes generated by the Government’s response to this pandemic, are you now sensing that life is not going according to your plan for it?  Are you emotionally drained and worried from watching all the news reports about people who are sick, in the hospital and dying from this pandemic?  Just this week on the BBC news website, I read the following article (3-20-2020) called “Coronavirus: Four members of New Jersey family Die”:

“Four people in the same family have died from Coronavirus in the US state of New Jersey, with three more relatives in hospital.  Grace Fusco, 73, and six of her adult children fell ill after attending a large family gathering.  Nearly 20 other relatives are now self-quarantining and waiting to find out if they have also been infected.”

As the preceding story indicates, a mother and three (3) of her children have died from the Coronavirus.  It is likely we are going to hear more shocking and sad stories like the one above.  Depending on your levels of exposure to this disease, the Coronavirus will continue to stress many of us out in ways which we have never experienced before.  Sigal Barsade, a management professor at the renowned Wharton School of Business, said the following about the emotional impact of this pandemic in her comments on 3-10-2020:

“I would argue that emotional contagion, unless we get a hold on it, is going to greatly amplify the damage caused by COVID-19,” she said during a segment on the Wharton Business Daily show on Sirius XM.”

Why does this pandemic have the world so emotionally stressed out and on edge?  If you think about it for a moment, it really comes down to one word, “death”, which scares us all more than any other term or word in this world.   Because of how quickly the virus is spreading and killing some of its victims, the constant negative news surrounding the pandemic causes many of us think about “death” more than we have previously done so in our lives.  When thinking about the people who have and will die from this pandemic, it is natural for our minds to start thinking about the influence this calamity will have on our own lives.  People are instinctively asking themselves; “will this disease directly affect us and our families”?  As a result of such introspection, our own mortality is immediately brought to the forefront of our minds as we begin to ponder various potentially tragic outcomes from this pandemic.  For maybe the first time in our lives, many of us are starting to realize that tomorrow is not guaranteed, and begin asking questions like, “what will happen to us if we die from COVID-19”?  Proverbs 27:1 tells us:

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

The following Wikipedia excerpt describes the symptoms and current death rates associated with COVID-19:

“Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease was first identified in 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has since spread globally, resulting in the 2019–20 Coronavirus pandemic.  Common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Muscle pain, sputum production and sore throat are less common. While the majority of cases result in mild symptoms, some progress to severe pneumonia and multi-organ failure. The rate of deaths per number of diagnosed cases is on average 3.4%, ranging from 0.2% in those less than 20 to approximately 15% in those over 80 years old."

Yes, COVID-19 is an extremely deadly disease.  Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health Director, has slightly different statistics than what Wikipedia has published.  According to Dr. Acton, “The Coronavirus mortality rate is about 2.3 percent. That’s deadlier than the flu, which has a mortality rate of about .1 percent” she said.  If her projections are correct, some quick math tells us COVID-19 is 23 times more deadly than the flu.  To most people, 2.3% is an amazingly high percentage and that statistic, along with others like it, is what is causing many individuals to become so nervous and anxious about this pandemic.  News stories about hospitals not having enough emergency rooms or respirators and speculation that such shortages might force doctors to be in a position where they will need to make decisions about who deserves to receive these limited resources and care are only adding to people’s anxiety and apprehension levels.  In order to protect healthcare workers, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago is discussing a universal do not resuscitate policy for infected patients, regardless of the wishes of the patients or their family victims. From the perspective of someone who has been battling this pandemic from the front lines, a nurse from the Detroit, Michigan area posted the following on Social Media: 

"Last night was horrible at work. These people coming to the ER sick AF. I've never seen anything like it. My boss was crying and took us all down to the chapel to pray. Nurses are breaking down now. We leave work crying including myself last night and we all know this is only the beginning. I ask myself how are we going to survive this? The virus takes over your whole body. Your lungs become tight, swelling everywhere, sweating, gasping for air, your heart swollen and working in overdrive. And these people come into the hospital not knowing if they will come back out alive. Some die alone (because of no visitors) We had only 4 ventilators left in the whole hospital last night. Royal Oak is out. It is almost time to start cutting out the most sickest and forcing the docs to make to most hardest decision to just let them die. My patient last night deteriorated over 5 hours. He was a 1 to 1 pt. If I wasn't standing right there with him he would've died. Family was sitting in the car for 5 hours waiting to hear how he was doing. I'm scared I will carry this home. We don’t kiss anymore, I can’t hug my family when I need a hug most. I am scared. God bless you And keep praying for you and us all. And most importantly PLEASE stay home. I Love you all. This is in God’s hands now."

No one knows for sure how many people this disease will infect this year, but I have seen projections from 500,000 to 11,000,000 people will be infected in the USA in 2020.  Some projections are even higher.   In a 3-20-2020 Yahoo Finance article, Dr. Oz, one of the famous TV wellness doctors, said the Coronavirus could result in the deaths of more than a million Americans.  While it certainly has a more devastating impact on the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, there are many recent examples where younger people and those without underlying health conditions are being impacted and even killed.  Globally, as of March 24, 2020, there have currently been 394,828 cases of COVID-19 worldwide and 17,226 have died from it.  Regardless of the varying death projection numbers, I think it is safe to say that a lot of people have died from this disease so far and a lot more are likely to die from COVID-19 going forward.

If we are truly honest with ourselves about how we felt about life a month or two ago, most of us likely felt like life was going along nicely and death was probably the last thing we thought about.  Seemingly out of nowhere, this virus comes along, and we are suddenly thinking “If I get COVID-19, it could kill me or someone I love”!  Instantly, we are scared we might die from complications from COVID-19 and the prospect of death scares us more than anything in this world.  If you do not believe me that death scares us more than anything in this world, look at what the Bible has to say about it as detailed in my 11-24-19 blog post I wrote called “How Would you Respond if you were Diagnosed with Cancer?”:

“The one common denominator I have seen is that cancer patients are terrified of cancer because of their fear of death and their lack of preparation for what happens to a person’s soul after death.  These days, it seems like people have a plan for all major events in their lives.  A plan for college, a plan for retirement, a plan for summer vacation, a plan for a big anniversary or birthday yet so many people don’t have a plan for death.  Why is it that so many individuals are so woefully unprepared for the one event, death, which is going to take place in each of our lives?  When trying to answer a question as big as “why are some people so woefully unprepared for death”, we need to turn to the Bible who can provide answers to questions like this one.  Romans 5:12 tells us:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Yes, as the preceding verse (Romans 5:12) indicates, the great enemy in this world is death, which is God’s punishment for man’s sin.  I repeat, death is God’s punishment for man’s sin.  According to creation.com:

“In Genesis 2:9, we are told that in the midst of the Garden of Eden, God placed the Tree of Life as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam was permitted to eat of every tree in the garden except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God warned that if Adam ate of its fruit, he would surely begin to die.  In Genesis 3, the Bible describes the fall of mankind and how sin, death, and suffering entered the world when Adam disobeyed God’s commandment and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

Yes, the Bible tells us that death was instituted by God as a result of man’s (Adam’s) sin.  Adam’s sin in Genesis 2:9 is also the reason there is suffering in the world today. Because death is a punishment for man’s sin, most people will run from God’s punishment just like they will often run from many types of earthly punishment.  How do people try to run from God’s punishment of death?  Even though God imbedded each of us with the knowledge that we will eventually die, one way which people try to run away from death is to avoid talking about it and preparing for it. “

When was the last time you were at a function or event and everyone was sitting around talking about “death”?  I am guessing this has never happened, even at a funeral where most people will skirt this sensitive subject while paying their respects to the deceased’s loved ones.  For me, the subject of death comes up quite often in the cancer support group I am involved with, so it is probably a subject I am more comfortable talking about and discussing than most people my age.  I realize this is not totally normal, but it is the reality of my situation and the cancer ministry I am involved with.  Because of what I have learned over the years from individuals who are way smarter than me concerning the subject of “death”, my goal in this blog post is to share what I have learned about this awkward subject called “death”, which of course no one ever wants to talk about or discuss.  Why?  To some degree, we are all thinking about “will the Corona Virus kill me or someone I love?”, regardless if we are willing to admit to doing so or not.   Since pandemics like the Corona Virus cause us all to think about death, the next questions to be asked are how scared or fearful of death are you and have you thought about what will happen to your soul after you die?  Even though God designed all of us to fear death, he does not want us to live our whole lives in bondage to the tormenting dread of death.  Hebrews 2:15 (TPT) tells us:

“By embracing death Jesus sets free those who live their entire lives in bondage to the tormenting dread of death.”

Before we go any further and as described in my 11-24-19 blog post (“How Would you Respond if you were Diagnosed with Cancer?”) I referenced earlier, do you believe that death and suffering are punishments by God for man’s sin?  Understanding this foundational biblical truth is key to understanding everything else I am going to say in the balance of this blog post.  Why?  The Bible tells us that sin is the reason why death and suffering exist in this world and it also tells us who (God) is responsible for allowing such events to happen.  Finally, the Bible tells us who (God) we must turn to in our time of need, especially when dealing with a catastrophic, worldwide event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

In my 3-18-20 blog post called “So, what does Bobby Knight’s Return to Assembly Hall have to do with Cancer anyway?”, I wrote the following paragraph about how a cancer diagnosis turns a cancer patient’s life upside down and inside out unlike anything they have ever faced before in their lives:

“After a lifetime of chasing their own dreams and passions, many of these individuals who live their lives without acknowledging their days are numbered walk into the doctor’s office one day and are given a cancer diagnosis.  Although they have all faced numerous trials before in their lives, these individuals don’t know how to respond to a trial like a cancer trial as it is unlike anything they have ever been confronted with in their lives.  In fact, it is perhaps the first time they have ever felt totally helpless, hopeless and not in control.  How they have responded to trials in the past doesn’t seem appropriate this time around as they realize their cancer battle could end up killing them.  As a result of this new and monumental medical diagnosis, many cancer patients focus on traveling the globe to look for a cure for their cancer.  Many others wallow in their sorrow with the belief that their life is being cut short as cancer was just not in their plans for their lives.  Frustration, bitterness, and many other mental issues such as depression and the need to stay busy are also common responses.”

Yes, major medical trials like a cancer trial and COVID-19 have a way of turning our lives inside out and upside down in ways we have never experienced before in our earthly pilgrimage.  It is both sad and interesting to me to see how people are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak in ways which are very similar to how I have seen so many people respond to a cancer diagnosis.  Feelings of helplessness and not being in control lead to responses which include frustration, bitterness, depression and the need to stay busy or to take our minds off this pandemic.  I have not spoken with anyone yet who has COVID-19, nor have I spoken with anyone who has symptoms which are severe enough that they require a respirator.  However, regardless of the deadly diagnosis, the bible tells us a natural human response to such a potentially fatal outcome is fear.  Matthew 10:28 tells us:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The scriptures tell us to not fear death but to fear God who can send us to hell for our sinful ways.  If you do not think you are sinful, Romans 3:23 (TPT) tells us:
 
“for we all have sinned and are in need of the glory of God.“

Yes, we have all sinned and are all in need of God’s forgiveness and grace.  If I may be brutally honest, the grim reality is we are all going to die so it is just a matter of when it is going to happen for each of us.  In 13 years of being involved with a cancer support ministry, I have observed how so many people live their lives as if they are not going to die.  How do I know this?  Until their cancer diagnosis, they told me they had not thought much about death and they also admitted they had no plan for what will happen to their souls should they pass away by cancer or some other means.  I have even interacted with more than a few terminal cancer patients over the years, and I am always amazed how so many of them circle the globe looking for a cure to their cancer predicament.  100% of their efforts and energies are dedicated to finding a cure for their cancer with the hope that someone or something can save them from their cancer predicament.  They refuse to recognize the possibility of their own death, which has been predicated by the medical professionals, and they do nothing to address what will happen to their souls should they not survive their cancer trial.  Sure, no one wants to die, and we certainly need to be good stewards of everything in our lives including our health.  However, since we are all going to die one day, it is only prudent to prepare for this guaranteed outcome in life.  So, the BIG question to ask is do you have a plan for the eternal destiny of your soul should you succumb to COVID-19 or some other disease or accident?  Acts 4:12 (NCV) tells us:

“Jesus is the only One who can save people. No one else in the world is able to save us.”

The Bible tells us Jesus is the only one who can save us from our sins, and He is the only one who can provide our souls with eternal life should we succumb to COVID-19 or cancer or something else.  Yes, He is the solution to the predicament outlined earlier in Matthew 10:28 where it states “…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  We live in a fallen world so that’s why there are trials and tribulations in this world like COVID-19.  However, when trials and tribulations do come, the bible tells us we can trust in Him because He has overcome the world.  Yes, the scriptures tell us He has overcome everything in this world including a COVID-19 outbreak.  John 16:33 tells us:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

We all know we have a finite time to live on this earth, but it is in the valleys of life, including either a COVID-19 pandemic or a cancer diagnosis, where God shouts at all of us to come to grips with our own mortality and to have a plan for the eternal destination of our souls.  God is the one who is actively looking for us and He uses trials as part of His sovereign and perfect plan to bring salvation to all who are willing to put their faith and trust in Him.  When life is going well, God has a hard time getting our attention as we start to admire our own abilities and accomplishments.  However, it is in the trials of life that God makes us realize that we cannot do it on our own, that everything we cherish in this world is fleeting and that we need Him.  Yes trials, including but not limited to sickness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, deceitfulness and envy, are the times when we can start to realize that we cannot do it on our own and that we need God.   The lyrics from the song “In Christ Alone”, written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, tell us that we need to rely on Christ through the fiercest drought and storm, which include times such as the Corona Virus pandemic.  This song is based on multiple scriptures and I am providing the following link if you want to reference these scriptures:  https://scriptureand.blogspot.com/2012/06/in-christ-alone.html  Here is the first stanza from this amazing song called “In Christ Alone”:

“In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand”

“In Christ Alone” is an inspiring song which gives hope to everyone who believes what the song says.  However, life and death trials are moments in people’s lives which take an emotional toll on many believers.  If you have no faith or if your faith is wavering as a result the events associated with this pandemic, please pray to God for His help in comforting and strengthening you during these trying and difficult times.  Psalm 23:4 tells us:

“Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

The preceding verse in Psalm 23 tells us that God is there to comfort us during the valleys or trials in life and this biblical truth is reinforced in the Song “In Christ Alone” where it states God is “My comforter, my All in All”.  It seems so simple yet so many people either do not believe or are unwilling to put their faith in Christ, turning their backs on the only savior who the Bible tells us can save us from our sins.  Yes, the Bible tells us there are only two destinies – either we will believe in Jesus or we will remain in our unbelief.  There is no neutrality.    Why do people remain in their unbelief?  As you might expect, the bible provides answers to this unbelief question as well.   John 3:19-20 (TPT) tells us:

“And here is the basis for their judgment: The Light of God has now come into the world, but the hearts of people love their darkness more than the Light, because they want the darkness to conceal their evil. So, the wicked hate the Light and try to hide from it, for their lives are fully exposed in the Light.”

Yes, people love the darkness, as it hides their sins and their evil deeds.  Because they do not want to give up the short-term pleasures associated with their sinful ways, they not want to come into the light for fear of being exposed.  The Bible tells us if we are unwilling to worship God, we will worship something else, including power, money, pleasure and our self-focused desires.  However, these substitute god’s will never satisfy, they cannot provide us with an eternal hope, and they will be useless to us when we die.  God uses trials like the COVID-19 pandemic to show us that death ultimately triumphs over our substitute god’s as these trials reinforce the fact that we come into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing.  For many people, a near death experience like a cancer diagnosis or a pandemic shows them for the first time in their lives that everything they have been working for and hold dear to their heart in this world is both fleeting and meaningless when facing a terminal medical trial.  For people who begin to realize that everything in this world will pass away, many of these individuals will start to inventory what they truly value in this life and they will wonder if there is really more to life than what they have been previously striving for here on earth.  Finally, they will start to think through what will happen to their souls should they succumb to a terminal medical trial.  Why have I seen such introspection occur in so many cancer patients over the years?  Because, God designed each of our souls to yearn and thirst for him.  Psalm 42:2 tells us:

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”

God designed us to thirst for Him as He is the one who is actively seeking us.  Many people do not understand that we do not seek God, but it is Him who vigorously seeks us.  If he did not seek us first, then he would not have designed us to thirst for him. Trials are one of the ways He allows us to finally recognize that we were designed to thirst for Him.  For some individuals who begin to realize that everything in this world is fleeting and begin to wonder about what will happen to them after they pass away from this world, many will hear the gospel preached and/or read God’s word and will be convicted of their sins and their need for a Savior.  As God uses the circumstances of a major trial to change their hearts, some individuals will end up putting their faith and trust in Christ.  However, many individuals will continue in their unbelief.  For those individuals who are unwilling to believe in Christ, the scriptures tell us the person who does not believe in Christ will not have life, meaning he or she will spend eternity in darkness.  1 John 5:12 tells us:

“The person who has the Son has this life. The person who does not have the Son of God does not have this life.”

As a result of the events over the last month, is the Corona Virus causing you to live your life in the tormenting fear and dread of death?  Do you realize events like the COVID-19 outbreak are trials which God uses to remind all of us that we are not in control, that everything in this world is fleeting and will pass away, and that we need Him?   Going forward, none of us know if we are going to survive the COVID-19 outbreak or not.  Although the medical professionals tell us most of us will survive this pandemic, we do need to be prepared for the potential outcome where we do not survive this trial.  If you do not believe in Christ, what exactly is your plan for your life after you die?

The good news is the Bible tells us that God has overcome everything in this world, including the COVID-19 outbreak.  Since He has overcome the world, the scriptures tell us if we renounce our sins and if we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we can experience peace with God.  Additionally, even if we pass away from COVID-19, we can have eternal life by believing in Christ as our personal lord and savior.  Knowing and believing these truths will change your heart and will change your perspective of COVID-19 outbreak.   Yes, in Christ alone, our hope is found because He has overcome the world!

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jim Risk, a two-time cancer survivor, is the volunteer Ministry Coordinator for the Cancer Support Group (CSG) at a non-denominational church in NE Ohio.  Jim and his wife, Kristina, have participated and served in CSG, a Christian ministry, since 2007. He writes about faith through medical trials on his blog, cancersupportchronicles.com.


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