In this blog I share the incredible power of prayer that God’s people possess. At the age of thirty-one I was given two years to live. Doctors pronounced the cancer in my body as terminal and began walking me through the process of coming to grips with my death. As this death sentence was pronounced something amazing happened. What should have been the worst days of my life became the most special days in my life because of Christians who love and pray for one another. I hope you enjoy reading: PRAYER CHANGED ME BEFORE I WAS HEALED.
I sat in Dr. Willis’ office as he shared with me the bleak outlook. When you have as many tumors in your lungs as I had surgery is not an option and at that time there was no drug treatment that showed any promise for curing renal cell cancer. Dr. Willis was speaking about the end of my life and what he would do to keep me comfortable. He mentioned some experimental treatment if I was interested in helping to find a cure for renal cell cancer. I asked if there was any chance these treatments may cure me. Dr. Willis is a believer and shared with me, “Preacher, just as Isaiah told Hezekiah, you need to get your house in order. Unless God performs a miracle you will not see your son start school.” I honestly would have been a Guinea pig if I signed up for the experimental treatments. Cheryl and I left Dr. Willis’ office that afternoon headed 45 miles north to our home in Magee. We had to tell our families. We had to tell Corinth Baptist Church. We rode in silence most of the way home. Finally, I asked her permission to attend an event that night where I was scheduled to preach. Cheryl knew I wanted to live life as normal as I could and preaching is as normal as it gets for me so she told me she really wanted to be alone and my preaching that night would give her that chance. I shared with the host pastor, Clark Stewart (no kin), before the service my diagnosis. I asked him not to say anything because it might take away from the service. That night a few men were born again at the conclusion of our event. At the end of the service Clark shared I was sick and all the men, one by one stood to pray over me. It was a very emotional time, one I would experience several times over the next few weeks.
When you are dying of cancer everyone wants to help you. It is amazing how news used to spread so fast before Facebook. I got cards, calls and notes literally from all over the world with people wishing me well and sharing their prayers. One thing I got tired of quick was everywhere I went someone knew a doctor I needed to see or a miracle cure for cancer. I shared with my secretary, Robin Prestwood, that I was tired of the nonsense. I would take no more calls from anyone that was not in my immediate or church family. I wanted to pastor, be a good husband and dad until God took me to glory. I didn’t have time to listen to people tell me to drink tea made from shark cartilage or inhale the smoke of burning Haitian fern trees for a cure of cancer. My church was numb, their young pastor was dying and he was leaving behind a wife and an 18 month old son. I had to be strong, show no fear and assure them God was in control. I now had to trust what I had told them about God when they were faced with trouble. They were worried about me and as their pastor I was worried about them. I remember one day visiting a church member, Billy Ray Hankins, who was a builder/entrepreneur. I showed Billy Ray a set of plans for a home. I told Billy Ray how much money Cheryl and I had plus I was going to get $150,000 from a life insurance policy when I died. I asked Billy Ray if he would build this house for $150,000 on our property in Lamar County for Cheryl and Micah once I died. He never batted an eye and responded, “Preacher, Cheryl is going to need that money. I give you my word I will build this house for her and Micah and pay for everything if anything happens to you but I do not want to talk about you dying.” I love Billy Ray Hankins, who today is in glory, and his widow, Donna. What a gesture by this brother!
There were dozens of prayer meetings on my behalf, however, a few of them have impacted my life forever. The pastors in my association called a pastors only prayer meeting for me at the associational office. My goodness they prayed. Charles Ray Burnham laid on his belly with his face on my feet weeping to God that He might heal me. This is the only time I have seen anyone laying prostrate while praying for me. A retired pastor, Bro. Billy Guest, who was one of my church members and had pastored Corinth for nearly 25 years prayed, “God, this is Billy, I am praying for my pastor. He is a young man with a wife and son. God I am old and used up. Will you please take the cancer from my pastor and put in me so he can live and I can die. I am ready to see you and Bro. Dean has so much to live for.” I have no words to describe my feelings for Billy Guest? This prayer meeting is etched in my mind. What love these precious brothers poured out on me. I am not worthy of such friends.
A second prayer meeting happened in private. One of our missionaries was stateside and had attended the event I spoke at for Clark Stewart. This man came to my house one day when I really was sick and not feeling well at all. He asked where the cancer was. I replied, “My cancer started in my kidney and is now in both lungs.” He told me never to say “my cancer” again. He said there is power in words and you do not want to own or possess this cancer. I’m not sure I agreed with all his theology but if you read through the previous five blogs I never referred to the cancer that was in my body as my cancer. I have never once done that again since the day I met this missionary. He then prayed over me like no one I ever heard. He said something to the effect of, “Jesus you told us to speak to mountains and they would be thrown into the sea. I don’t understand all that means but I speak to this cancer and order it to be gone just as you told us to in Mark 11.” I was amazed at this man’s prayer. He prayed as if he believed in the authority that God’s Word says Christians have.
One final prayer meeting I want to share with you was a prayer that a friend of mine, Barry Curtrer, heard his son pray one night as Barry stood in the doorway of Brandon’s bedroom listening to his young son Brandon pray. I had preached a couple revivals for Barry and his son was special to me. Brandon prayed a prayer of a child, “God please help Bro. Dean not to die.” Tears well in my eyes every time I think of Brandon praying this simple prayer for me.
All of these prayers God heard and he began to work in a great way. First of all, I can tell you I was never afraid, worried, angry or sad. God’s presence was amazing. I was ready to die and doing a good job of living a normal life and at the same time was convinced God could heal me. This is the result of prayer and the power of God. The prayers of the saints and God’s presence had changed me even before God healed me. God was going to do even more however, He was working! One day Robin, my secretary, called me while I was eating lunch with a group of pastors. She apologized for sharing with me another cure that had come to our office for cancer but this one was different. A lady named Pam Campbell, a childhood friend from my hometown, called and had the name of doctor who might could help me. Robin gave me Pam’s number. It is time to confess. When I was a young teenage boy Pam Campbell was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. Any male around my age, even a preacher, will return Pam’s call. I broke my rule not to listen to anymore cures that people had for the cancer in my body and returned Pam’s call. She was a prayer coordinator for a church in Louisiana and had gotten my name and details for prayer. She had a friend whose father had the exact same diagnoses as I did and there was a doctor, Dr. Robert Cerfolio, at the University of Alabama Birmingham who could extend my life. The fact that Pam Campbell came across my prayer request while in Louisiana and had a friend whose father had the exact same diagnosis as me and was able to speak to me is surely the providential hand of God.
This sets the stage for one final prayer meeting, a visit from God and a surprised surgeon.