Living the good good life in the midst of storm

Mike Murphy, founder and CEO of Warsaw Volunteer Mission, received lung cancer diagnosis last July. Despite treatment, the illness has now reached stage 4. Nevertheless, Mike says he couldn’t be happier and more at peace. How is this possible?

I think all of us can learn from Mike not only how to have faith in the midst of adverse circumstances but also in daily life. I certainly am and Mike’s faith has been an inspiration to me not only in the last few months but since I’ve met him in 2010.

I worked with him for several months at Warsaw Volunteer Mission and we have remained friends since then. His daily devotionals are encouraging and I have learnt so much from them over the years. When, a few months ago, I heard about the cancer diagnosis I could not believe it. Yet, over the last few months, I have been absolutely amazed by the example of faith he is to those around him.

Therefore, it is with immense pleasure that I am publishing this short but to the point interview with him in which he talks about living the good good life in the midst of this unexpected and difficult circumstances. I hope you’ll find his faith as encouraging as I do.

Can you tell us what’s been happening in your life over the last few months?

In July, I was ready to fly to England and then to Denmark to see my family but I had been coughing up blood and noticed that I was losing weight significantly, and so I went for a check up. The results showed a tumour in my lungs and the doctor said it was either a TB or lung cancer. Further tests revealed it was cancerous.

It was a complete surprise and came absolutely out of the blue. We have no family history of lung Cancer nor any type of Cancer. My dad smoked a lot – until he was 90, but never had cancer. My younger sister died of TB at the age of 21 but that’s it.

Thanks to the help of one of dear friends who is a Medical Professor I was operated at the beginning of August. Following the operation, I was told I was ok. However, after a few weeks one weekend I woke up in the middle of the night with unbearable pain and when I eventually got to the hospital, the tests revealed that the Cancer had spread to my bones and the tumours were pressing on my spine and causing the pain.

It was exactly 6 weeks after the operation and if I needed any further treatment it should’ve commenced at the latest 6 weeks after the operation. I was told that it’s now stage 4 cancer – the most serious level.

Mike in the hospital during his chemotherapy

What was your initial reaction to the whole situation? Did you get angry with God?

No. Not at all. It’s actually so surprising that I still don’t feel it’s really happening, and that it’s happening to me.

I can honestly say I’m living my life to the full. I look forward to getting up in the morning, to having my breakfast, to quiet time with God, etc.

Apart from those few days when I experienced excruciating pain, I’ve been feeling absolutely amazing. I’m going to be 70 next year but I feel like I’m 25. Spiritually and emotionally I feel absolutely amazing – happy and at peace.

I’ve had such an amazing life, which I am very thankful for, and any extra days, months, or years that I get are going to be a bonus. I know that what’s happening to me right now is either short term suffering before God calls me to heaven, or He’s going to use this ‘impossible situation’ for a greater purpose – and I will be healed. At the moment, I believe it will be the latter, but I’m preparing myself – and those around me – for both scenarios.

One of the ladies at the International Christian Fellowship in Warsaw prayed for me and in the prayer she mentioned king Hezekiah from 2 Kings 20. He was ill to the point of death, but he prayed to God and asked for healing. God indeed healed him and promised him 15 more years to live. That prayer resonated with me, and I’d like to claim an initial 15-year extension too.

Mike ready for the battle with cancer; source: his private archive

Many people, even though having lived a fantastic life, when faced with such a serious illness wouldn’t be as joyful as you are. What’s the key?

Faith and believing in what the Word of God says. If you have faith in God’s promises and everything He says in His word, you can feel blissful despite adverse circumstances.

Over the last few months I’ve been revisiting some scriptures and looking at their interpretation.

For me, the key scripture has been Luke 14:33 NIV:

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

It speaks about total surrender. This is what every Christian should do. We need to sign a blank piece of paper and let God write His plans above our signature.I feel that people become distracted from their purpose, especially when they don’t feel good enough, and that is such a waste. I would like to have an input in helping them re-discover the purpose.

Throughout the course of treatment and during your stays in the hospital you’ve met a lot of people in a similar situation to yours, yet not experiencing such bliss. What do you tell them?

I have witnessed to the doctors, nurses and fellow patients and it’s been absolutely amazing.

During one of my stays in the hospital, my roommate received the news, that from a medical point of view, nothing else can be done for him. Understandably, he felt depressed. I gave him a Gospel tract and spoke to him about what happens when we die and what choices we have. He was encouraged to know that there’s more to life than just the here and now. His wife was also very appreciative of this perspective too.

Another man I met was in a very dark place. He’s been battling Cancer in his family for the last 40 years, and lost his wife to it, and now is suffering from it himself. He felt very low and anyone could clearly see that. But when we talked, he opened up and the atmosphere in the room changed.

When you speak to anyone in a similar situation it’s what you think that matters. Even if you don’t put it into words, your attitude changes things and helps them to change their perspective and possibly re-consider faith. It’s like verse 13 in1 Thessalonians 4 says: “we do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

In my conversations I refer to verses like Revelation 21:4

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

It’s the same when we meet families with terminally ill children. It’s hard to say anything, but just the fact that we have faith and bring hope related to it, it makes a difference to them.

Mike speaking about his experience at a recent WVM’s community meeting

How do you yourself pray in this situation?

I pray for God’s will to be done and that’s what you can pray for me too. This time of sickness has been also special from the family point of view. I’ve got quite a large family, both in terms of siblings and my own children, and we get a fair share of differences and misunderstandings on such topics, but since my diagnosis we’ve seen some amazing things happening. My brother, who has not called me himself for the last 50 years, has finally picked up the phone and called. And my sister who’s never come to visit me in Poland, came and we had an absolutely amazing time. She left in tears and full of appreciation for the work we do in Warsaw.

So if you could pray for my family and the meetings that will be taking place, it would be much appreciated.

If you could tell people one thing you’ve drawn from this whole experience what would it be?

If you aren’t a believer, I would say re-consider faith. Even if something or someone put you off before, it doesn’t mean that the whole idea is wrong.

To Christians I would say, make a full surrender and sign a blank piece of paper, and let God fill it in with whatever He wants.

A few months ago, long ago before the diagnosis, Mike wrote for me this reflection on what good life means to him.

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