A Teen Battles Cancer: Tyler’s Story

Posted June 17, 2013
By Kevin Spear

This story is supplemental material from Oil of Joy: How to Support Those Battling Cancer, by Donna Wheatley. 

Oil of Joy Book Cover

Earl was not the only cancer patient on our minds. Three weeks before Earl’s diagnosis, a young boy in our congregation, just 15 years old, had been diagnosed with bone cancer. His mother, Lillie, is in my Sunday school class and is in our small group. She had become a dear friend in the year or so that she had been attending our church. Tyler was a good kid: friendly, athletic, loved the Lord.

Lillie had made a request in Sunday school.  “Tyler has a large knot on his knee. It’s very sore. We took him to Jackson to see a specialist. They are going to do a scan next week. They say it may be malignant. Please pray.”

I remember well my response. “Oh, surely not!” We prayed. All week. The test was positive for cancer. Further tests showed it was in many places in his body and growing very fast.

Our son-in-law and daughter had just begun working with NorthPark’s youth group. They and the young people took Tyler’s case to their hearts. They began making the 90- mile trip over to Jackson at least once a week to visit. These young Christians were praying fervently for God to heal Tyler.

All through the month of June, while I was dealing with our news and Earl was dealing with surgery, the doctors had put Tyler into a drug-induced coma to conserve every ounce of his physical strength. Then they began to give him massive doses of chemotherapy. Our youth continued to visit Tyler and to pray.

Lillie and her husband and son kept a constant vigil. One would go and stay with Tyler morning and night while the other worked at home. After a few days, they would switch places. She and I texted back and forth, trying to encourage one another.

David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground. The elders of his household pleaded with him to get up and eat with them, but he refused.  II Samuel 12:16-17 (NLT)

The Church of God International Youth Convention was coming up in July. Tyler was supposed to attend. He had paid his money to go. At the last minute, a new girl in our group was given his spot.

The youth group decided to sell t-shirts to help Lillie and her husband with their mounting expenses. An advertising man in our congregation donated his time to do the design. Our daughter called Anderson and told the IYC team the situation.

Off they went to Colorado. At the end of the first service, our daughter, Erin, went to the prayer room to pray for her dad and for Tyler. One of the prayer counselors came to her. She was from Birmingham, Alabama, and was a cancer survivor herself. She prayed fervently with Erin and gave her great encouragement.

During the second night’s service, the organizer of IYC phoned Lillie from the stage. Andy did a brief interview with her, asking her how Tyler was doing. He said to Lillie, “There are 3,000 young people here who want to say hello to Tyler.” She held the phone to his ear so he could hear the roar of the crowd. He smiled.

Our youth group was galvanized! They were thrilled that this enormous group of strangers was offering love and care to their young African-American friend back home! In their part of the auditorium, various people came to them and offered words of encouragement and care. One person told them, “The Lord has told me that Tyler will be healed in three weeks time.”

After the service, a young delegate sought out my daughter and asked for an opportunity to pray with our young people for Tyler. He felt strongly that the Spirit of the Lord was telling him to do this, and he was certain he had a message of healing from the Lord.  The entire group, and our daughter, in particular, came home with great hope in their hearts.

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 15:1-2, 4-6 (NASB77)

Our youth led the morning service at NorthPark the next Sunday morning. There were very few stories of the typical fun and games that go along with a youth convention. These young people had been touched by the Spirit of God. They had come home with a deep sense of unity as a group and a renewed sense of commitment to Christ. Their Spirits were aflame with passion for the Lord. Concern for Tyler and hope for his healing was on every set of lips that morning. It was an electrifying service.

At the end, the group called Lillie to the stage, where they presented her with $3,000: the proceeds from the sale of the white t-shirts emblazoned in blue with “God is Able”.

Lillie and I prayed together at the altar. We promised each other to walk this road together and to be true to God no matter what the outcome, but we also prayed confidently for his healing. I set my mind to be glad for her when Tyler was healed, even if my Earl was not.

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless, I will argue my ways before Him. This also will be my salvation, for a godless man may not come before His presence.
Job 13:15-16 (NASB77)

Two weeks later, Lillie called me late one afternoon. I was just getting out of my car to go into a women’s prayer service to pray for Tyler and Earl. The doctors had told Lillie and her husband that Tyler was dying. The cancer had never even slowed down. It was now in his brain and his body’s systems were shutting down. He was on life support. It would be up to them to decide when to take him off.

All I could say was “Oh, Lillie…. Oh, Lillie…”

A day or two later, Lillie sent me a grief-stricken text asking me to pray that God would give them wisdom when to let Tyler go. She was concerned that they not say anything to him that would cause him to feel they had given up on him, but neither did she want him to suffer needlessly. My heart broke for her agony.

That night, Tyler let her know that he could see angels. Five. He smiled. She was greatly comforted.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
 I Thessalonians 4:13-15 (NASB77) 

Sunday morning came. The entire church was praying for Tyler, Lillie, Eddie, and Kyle. We worshiped. We prayed. We heard the Word of God preached. Just before the end of the service, my daughter received a text from Lillie that Tyler had passed away. She came to her daddy in the front row, and he weakly made his way to the platform to tell the church family the sad news. We all needed to hear it from our pastor and no one else.

Our youth were grief stricken and their young faith shaken to its foundation. I was so glad we were all together when they got the news. The service was dismissed, but it wasn’t over. Parents, friends and staff gathered the children into their arms to give them comfort and help.

Then on the seventh day the child died. David’s advisers were afraid to tell him. “He wouldn’t listen to reason while the child was ill,” they said. “What drastic thing will he do when we tell him the child is dead?”

When David saw them whispering, he realized what had happened. “Is the child dead?” he asked. “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions, and changed his clothes. He went to the tabernacle and worshiped the Lord. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate.
II Samuel 12:18-20 (NLT)

It was three weeks from the time of that second service at IYC. Tyler was fully healed. He is with His heavenly Father in heaven, waiting to welcome the rest of us. But this was not the healing we had pictured when we prayed!

So what does it all mean? Were the people who spoke confident words of healing to our young people reckless? Mistaken? Insensitive? Not necessarily. It is true that we need to be very careful when we say, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”  In the Old Testament, “prophets” were killed if they spoke for God and it didn’t happen.

However, the kind folks at IYC who spoke to our youth were speaking a healing balm on the aching hearts of our teens. And, we must remember that our ultimate healing always comes in heaven.

Our teens were not only grief stricken that Tyler was gone. They were disappointed in God. They were convinced that He had somehow let them down. This is a human dilemma. We believe that we know what is good and best, and so it is easy for us to believe that God, who is good, will do our bidding if we humbly pray: hard enough, long enough.

But, the eternal truth is that we do not always know what is good and best in God’s sight. He calls us to trust Him: His goodness, His best—even when it is not what we hope for.  That morning, I shared the rest of David’s story with the youth. Here it is:

“We don’t understand you, they told him. While the child was still living, you wept and refused to eat. But now that the child is dead, you have stopped your mourning and are eating again.

David replied, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day,
but he cannot return to me.”
II Samuel 12:21-23 (NLT)

David was a man after God’s own heart. He was not afraid to plead his case with God, to even ask Him to change His mind. He prayed with all his might. But when God chose another way, David accepted it, and returned to the business of worship. That is what our young people have done since Tyler’s death. I am proud of them.

One thought on “A Teen Battles Cancer: Tyler’s Story

  1. This is a wonderful and powerful reminder of God’s sovereignty, of our need to submit to Him, and of our need, even of God’s provision, of each other. Thank you, Donna. I look forward with great interest to reading “Oil of Joy”.

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