As the regular readers of this blog may know, a few months ago, I was understandably convinced I had brain cancer – that is, for an hour-and-a-half. During that time period, I was terrified – like never before – as I tried to fathom how life was going to change.
My almost-comical ordeal only lasted ninety minutes – Jason Weathers got a real diagnosis of cancer in 2008, resulting in a powerful testimony of God’s grace in the face of a worst-case scenario. So today I’m going to share the first part of Jason and his wife’s story.
Heads up: it’s not exactly a feel-good story that’s going to get featured on the 700 Club anytime soon. It’s a story about hard-core faith, about stumbling around in the darkness when the only thing you can see is the love of Jesus.
Dark Clouds Gather
For over two weeks, 33-year-old Jason Weathers had been mysteriously ill, running a fever and battling extreme fatigue. Naturally, he presumed it was viral. But as the symptoms continued, his wife, Stephanie, inexplicably had a morbid thought: this could be leukemia.
Stephanie wasn’t one to dream up life-threatening illnesses for her husband. But when the thought of leukemia continued to nag her, an easy Google search turned up two early symptoms of leukemia: consistent fever and extreme fatigue. And with that, Stephanie was all-but-convinced Jason had cancer.
Jason was out of town the week these thoughts began quietly gnawing at Stephanie’s mind. At 32-years-old, she was seven months pregnant and raising two children, ages six and three. She couldn’t imagine being a single mother, widowed in her early thirties.
One night that week, she lay in bed alone, and an unnerving thought came to mind: “A God who loves you would never allow you to lose your husband right before you have your baby.” But then she sensed the Holy Spirit say, “Trust Me. I love you with an everlasting love. Just trust Me.” Back and forth the two thoughts competed until finally, at 4 a.m., she could take it no more. She sat up and cried out, “God, please just don’t let it be leukemia.”
She would receive clarity in less than eight hours.
The next morning, she called Jason and firmly asked him to get his blood count. He was resistant but did it that morning anyway. When he called her in the middle of church, she rushed out, answered the phone, and heard a sound that was very unfamiliar to her: the sound of Jason sobbing.
“Stephanie,” he said, “the doctor thinks I have lymphoma or leukemia.”
Privately Facing Facts
Twenty-four hours later, Jason was back home with Stephanie in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where a specialist confirmed Jason had acute myeloid leukemia and would have to undergo chemo treatments immediately. Minutes later, Stephanie walked into the hospital admissions area with Jason, and her baby kicked from inside the womb. She forced herself not to cry, wanting to be strong for Jason.
However, as she drove home that night to be with their children, her raw emotions broke through, and she began weeping. She cried out to God, overwhelmed by the changes that were afoot. When she pulled into the driveway, she wiped her tears away, took a deep breath, and then went inside to begin the months-long task of keeping life normal for her kids.
In the coming months, the daily drive home from the hospital became her sanctuary, a place where she could unreservedly break down before God for 15 minutes. She knew He was mighty to save, but she also realized He might choose to heal Jason in Heaven. That thought was too much to bear, so as Jason’s aggressive chemo treatments continued, she just kept believing for his healing on earth.
Holding Each Other
The next few months were, at times, nightmarish, and at other times, it seemed like the clouds were breaking.
In January, Jason almost died after getting a life-threatening infection. But then by the next month, despite being frail and emaciated, he made it to the delivery room just in time to see the birth of his third child, Ally. Then, after another near-miss with a life-threatening infection in April, Jason bounced back again later that month.
As time went on, many who were praying for Jason found their faith increasing as he continued fighting into summer. By July of 2008, seven months after being diagnosed, he was not only alive, but his all-important blood count was in good shape.
On July 9, Stephanie and Jason had a rare moment alone at his parents’ house. That day, she met Jason in the hallway, and when she saw him, she walked up and wrapped her arms around him. As she held his shrunken frame, she thought of how cancer and chemo had ravaged his once-strong body, how much he had suffered in the last seven months.
Standing there in the hallway holding him, she told him how much she loved him, how proud she was of him, and how sorry she was for all he was going through. And in response, again and again, he simply said, “I love you so much, Stephanie.”
After their conversation, Jason insisted that Stephanie go swimming with the kids, rather than spending the day with him. She said goodbye and drove away, not knowing that was the last conversation she would have with Jason.
While at the swimming pool, Stephanie got a phone call from Jason’s mother, Peggy. Jason was spitting up blood, and they were headed to the hospital. When Stephanie arrived at the emergency room, she learned that Jason had gone into respiratory failure on the way to the hospital, causing him to have a heart attack. As a result, his brain had been without oxygen for over seven minutes.
Although the circumstances had never been so dire, Stephanie still believed Jason would be healed. She went home that night and typed an update about Jason on Caring Bridge, a website that allows families to provide reports about ailing loved ones. Unable to sleep, she stayed on the website the whole night, which she now describes as one of the holiest moments of her life.
All night long, people posted messages, prayers, and scriptures on Jason’s page. Stephanie felt strengthened as the chorus of interceding saints joined her in lifting up Jason, whose life was hanging in the balance. And that night, with so many believing for God’s miraculous intervention, she felt certain Jason would be healed.
But the next morning, when she sat down with the doctor, the news was grim and conclusive: Jason had no brain activity.
After these words sank in, a strange peace unexpectedly came over Stephanie, bringing the quiet calm of the Holy Spirit. It did not take away the pain of reality – it gave her the grace to understand that she, Jason, and so many others had fought the good fight. The battle for Jason’s health would be won in Heaven.
And in this moment of peaceful clarity, she could sense the Holy Spirit saying, “Hang on.” But she knew the Spirit wasn’t telling her to hang onto Jason – no, He was telling her to hang onto Jesus. Because if she was going to face life as a single mother of three kids – life without Jason – then Jesus was the only one who was going to be able to hold her together.