LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Just 11 days before Christmas, Don Whitney received three words from his doctor that no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.”
By Jeff Robinson
Southern Seminary Communications
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Just 11 days before
Christmas, Don Whitney received three words from his doctor that no one
wants to hear: “You have cancer.”
Whitney, associate professor of biblical
spirituality and author of numerous books on prayer and other Christian
disciplines, was stunned. There were no signs that anything was amiss
in his body – no pain, no bleeding, no mysterious lumps. He felt
The news came from a routine medical checkup that included a colonoscopy.
“I think I was kind of numb at first,” Whitney
recalled. “I tried to ask some questions and I tried to write down [the
doctor’s] answers because I knew I wouldn’t remember. My hand was
quivering as I tried to write down what he said.
“My mind was tumbling [with] a thousand things
running through my head,” he continued. “I was trying to stay with the
subject at hand and ask him questions [such as] ‘What’s next?’ and ‘How
bad is this?’”
After two surgeries for colon cancer and a painful
recovery period, Whitney is cancer-free five months after the initial
diagnosis, and doctors have given him a healthy long-term prognosis.
Early on, however, the type of cancer he had and
complications rendered his future uncertain. Colon cancer can be a
“silent killer” because it typically does not manifest any symptoms
until it has reached an incurable stage.
“I had no problems, no pain, no symptoms,” he said.
“I was absolutely shocked…. The doctor said if I had put the
colonoscopy off until May, he wouldn’t have been able to save my life.”
It seemed that Whitney would face a grim waiting
game; it was near the end of the year and Whitney’s surgeon warned him
that most, if not all, operating rooms in Louisville would be booked
As the doctor called around local hospitals to find
an open operating room, Whitney paced the floor in the doctor’s office
and prayed. God’s hand of providence clearly trumped what seemed to be
a negative set of logistical circumstances, he said.
“We got the last operating room in the city of
Louisville for 2005 and surgery was set for six days later,” Whitney
Whitney had surgery on Dec. 20 and spent 10 days in
the hospital. He went home in late December but soon developed
complications and underwent a second surgery, weathering another week
in the hospital and a difficult recovery period.
Despite complications from the second surgery,
Whitney began to heal and was able to participate in the annual
collegiate conference at Southern.
He continues to regain strength and has resumed his
full course load of teaching at Southern and speaking engagements for
his ministry, The Center for Biblical Spirituality.
Colon cancer is the No. 2 killer among the various
types of cancer, and Whitney says he is grateful he had a routine
colonoscopy which led to the discovery of his cancer. He urges all men
over 50 to have the procedure.
“Ninety percent of the people who die from colon
cancer would not die from it if they had a colonoscopy,” he said.
“Everybody should have one when they are 50. If they have a relative
who had colon cancer, they should get it at 40.”
Whitney said his cancer caused him to reflect more deeply on biblical truths regarding life and eternity.
He credits a strong belief in the sovereignty of God
and the prayers of fellow believers for strengthening him through the
Whitney and friend John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem
Baptist Church in Minneapolis, exchanged e-mails to encourage each
other after doctors discovered that Piper had cancer on the day of
“It makes you realize your life is a vapor,” Whitney
said. “You always realize you are going to die, but when you realize
that you may be at the borders of heaven, it makes you think. It has
made me appreciate time with my family more, especially with my little
“I have never sensed the prayers of God’s people
more,” he continued. “There were times I was so medicated or in so much
pain that all I could pray was ‘Lord, hear the prayers of Your people.’
“I knew people were praying for me,” Whitney said. “I couldn’t put two thoughts together.
“It was a reminder of Romans 8:26-27, ‘You do not
know how to pray as you ought but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us
in groans too deep for words’ and prays according to God’s will for us.
I was just relying on the Holy Spirit’s prayers for this.”