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The nine-dollar prayer

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A guest column by Michael Sapp

I don't believe God ever created anything evil. I think he created man with an intellect to live as independently and as self-sufficiently as possible. In our haste and greed, I think we began to short circuit God's creations, and thus bad things evolved.

My experience with cancer began with a simple blood test in Lexington this past December. I was diagnosed with anemia, or more simply, low blood. I was given a handful of iron pills and told to come back in three months.

My daughter, Dr. Christy Sapp, felt I needed to find the source of my blood loss, so she scheduled me for a scope procedure. When I awoke, the doctor was upbeat about things appearing pretty normal. Just before he left the room he mentioned a shallow looking place that he biopsied just on a whim. He assured me he didn't think I should worry.

On New Year's Eve, my daughter texted my wife that she was coming for a visit. I know young couples don't drive 150 miles to visit parents on New Year's Eve, so I instructed my wife to ask about the biopsy. Two things I knew about my daughter was she wouldn't give me bad news on the phone, yet she wouldn't lie. I figured if my hunch was correct she would simply not answer. Later on that night she walked into my house and said the dreaded words, "Dad, you have cancer."

She was upbeat in that we had found it early, but warned that I may lose my stomach. Our battle cry pretty much became, "You can live without your stomach, but you can't live with stomach cancer."

In the next few days I contacted prayer warriors Tom Gupton and Joyce and Eddie Graham. Soon, Leona Read, Marietta Moyers and cousins Kirby Cox and his wife, Martha, and Jeannie Matney and her husband, Kerry, were calling.

For 30 years, I have subscribed to a little Christian magazine in New York that prints testimonies from common people, and the rich and famous. I knew the leaders met once a week to honor prayer requests sent to them, so I instructed my wife to email them.

Two days later, my daughter called ecstatically proclaiming someone greater had taken over my care. She went on to explain that as she called making appointments for me, it was as if these strangers were sitting by the phone waiting for her call. For example, she said, you have a full body scan tomorrow, and within an hour you will meet with those at Taylor County Cancer Center to discuss treatment.

I wasn't surprised that God had taken over. After all, I had you and those people in New York praying for me.

Now as anyone with cancer knows, it is a roller coaster ride. The first doctor removed my cancer and felt certain I was cured. Three days later, pathology felt differently. Thus I began a hard but not impossible road. Within days I was in a Louisville hospital having my entire stomach removed, along with 46 lymph nodes. Of those 46 nodes, all were negative for cancer, but I wasn't surprised. After all, I had you and those people in New York praying for me.

Weeks passed and I finally returned home. Within days I was at Taylor Regional Hospital with complications. TRH quickly found my problem and sent me back to Louisville with a strong message. Not only was I an important member of my community, but everyone who passed through TRH's doors was as equally important, and TRH demanded the best of care.

For the next few days my son, Jason, ferried x-rays from Louisville to TRH as the doctors here followed my progress. My wife, Shirley, my son-in-law, Matthew Harpold, and my sister, Sherri Angel, all stood by my bedside.

One morning I awoke as my friend, Gene Vaughn, slipped a prayer cloth in my pajama pocket sent from a church he and his wife, Joyce, help support in the Louisville area. I thought of the weathered hands and the little hands of children as they touched the cloth and prayed for a stranger. A day later, Kirby came to visit with word of people asking about me. I asked Kirby how many people at home knew I was sick. His answer was, "It seems the whole town, and all are praying for you."

With no stomach and no appetite, it became apparent I needed a feeding tube. With no ordinary anatomy now, this turned out to be a difficult procedure, even with the best doctors in Louisville. The first attempt in my room ended up with the tube in my windpipe, which I'm sure happens sometimes. I was then sent to x-ray so the doctors could have the aid of fluoroscope. There I experienced 30 minutes of the most excruciating pain and nausea I have ever known. With no success, the doctors vowed to give it another try the next day.

When my daughter arrived the next morning, she couldn't believe my weakened state. I convinced her we would go down and see if they had a different idea today. The doctors were adamant we had no choice, as they were the only two in the hospital at that time qualified to perform the procedure.

After several minutes of discussion with my daughter, the doctors left the room. The next thing that transpired was certainly a miracle in my eyes. Out of the shadows of the x-ray room stepped a lady I had not noticed before. She took my hand with a pulsating firmness I have never felt before. With her other arm around my daughter, she said in a soft voice, "I know the man you need. He's not a doctor, but a physicians assistant and he will be able to place the tube in your intestine."

My daughter and I agreed to meet him. In just seconds, the lady reappeared with the young man and his attending physician in tow. The strange lady again took my hand, but this time with a simple set of instructions. "If your pain or nausea becomes too great, simply squeeze my hand," she said. It was almost as if in direct proportion, the pain and sickness subsided as I placed pressure on her hand. In less than eight minutes, the young man declared the tube in place and correct.

As the lady quickly left the room, I knew what my daughter was thinking as she called after her, asking her name. As I closed my eyes, I wondered who had sent an angel of mercy my way. But I wasn't surprised. After all, I had you and those people in New York praying for me. I improved and soon was home.

After several more days, I was eager to check my emails. As I scrolled to the bottom of the page, an email from my beloved little magazine caught my eye. It seems the people in New York weren't able to honor my prayer request until I remitted a $9 administration fee. Later on, I renewed my subscription and I included the $9, knowing I'll always need prayers. You might say I understand the cost of doing business. After all, spreading God's word is our business.

As I was able to get out, countless numbers of you assured me you were praying for me. I began to recall the miracles of the days past. I thought how my cancer was discovered early, simply on a whim. I thought of an excited confession from my low-keyed daughter that someone greater than her was watching over me. I thought of 46 lymph nodes, and how they were all negative for cancer.

I thought about my angel of mercy and how she bore my pain. Through all of this I wasn't surprised; after all, I had you, the greatest people on earth, praying for me.

Later, I looked forward to my daughter introducing baby Charlotte in November. I, however, began to feel gloom as I pondered how to repay those that prayed. God soon took care of that as he sent solstice to my soul one Sunday morning. Thumbing through an old hymnal of songs we don't sing anymore, the words of a chorus stood out: Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.

Michael Sapp

Campbellsville