Ep.311: Lessons Learned?

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

You may ask what I learned from my journey with cancer and chemo. My heartful reply is, “Life is confusing. I’m never sure what I’m learning.”

Perhaps Pete Seeger was thinking of me in Where Have All the Flowers Gone when he sang:
    When will they ever learn?
    When will they ever learn? 

However, since I do reflect on my life and my experiences, here are some thoughts. 

First, life is fragile and uncertain. I was physically healthy for 68 years, until cancer swept that away and introduced me to surgery and hospital stays and chemo-sickness. It doesn’t take much to land me in pain and helplessness.

My health is better this spring, but age now speaks to me in aching muscles. And creaky bones. And a forgetful mind. 

Moses said, “The length of our days is 70 years, or 80 if we have the strength. Yet their span is but trouble and sorrow for they quickly pass and we fly away” (Ps 90:10). I often think about flying away.   

A second lesson. My faith is in God, not in the medical system. The psalmist said, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Lord our God” (Ps 20:7). 

Yes, some trust medicine and some natural remedies, but I trust in God who watches over life and death. Last November in the hospital with chemo-caused sickness, the medical profession didn’t understand what was wrong with me. My comfort was the beauty of cold winter sunrises in hospital windows, and the Spirit’s witness that God was looking out for me. 

My third lesson is endurance. Paul said, “We rejoice in our trials because we know that trials produce endurance” (Ro 5:3). I didn’t rejoice my way through chemo. But I endured it. I was miserable and fatigued, but I tried not to dump my misery on those around me, because God was teaching me Endurance 101. If I have passed that course, maybe I’m ready for Endurance 201. I think I’d prefer a lighter course. Does God offer basket weaving?

A fourth lesson is community. I’ve always been very private, but the Spirit prompted me to invite my community to journey with me. So I published a newsletter, posted on Facebook, and welcomed family and friends and visitors. During that chemo winter, I lost my spiritual disciplines—prayer and scripture and dog-walking. But the prayers and encouragement of the community supported me in some way I don’t understand. 

Let’s pray. 

O Father, I don’t look forward to Endurance 201. But I do look forward to the day I will fly away.

Thank you for lessons in endurance and community, for those who shared your love with me through the worst of my cancer winter. 

Life is a mystery. Science studies it and doctors heal it, but no one really understands it. 

Because life is your gift to us. You walk with us through the mystery we live on earth, into the mystery of eternity. 

Teach me to walk with grace and patience and humor.


I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.330: Cancer, Chemo, COVID, and Wildfires.

Ep.330: Cancer, Chemo, COVID, and Wildfires.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

The effects of my chemotherapy were just wearing off when I got . . . COVID. 

Chemo and COVID, not exactly a marriage made in heaven. One evening when my COVID fever crept beyond 39 degrees Celsius, I checked myself into Emergency. They poked and prodded and took statements and extracted blood. Finally, they sent me home at 2:00 a.m. saying, “Come back if your breathing gets difficult and painful.”

After a restless sleep, I phoned the COVID hotline. A doctor prescribed the new COVID drug Paxlovid. Pills morning, pills evening, fatigue all the time! Oil-sludgy tasting tongue. Tingling feet. It was like chemo all over again. But only for five days. Small mercies?

Paxlovid didn’t kill or heal my COVID, it just slowed it down while my body built immunity. When I finished my pills, I got a COVID hacking cough and runny nose. My taste buds quit working, an improvement on the sludge, but not an outcome that made me happy.

A week later my home test kit declared me COVID-free. My taste buds and sense of smell started to recover—just in time to experience the smoke-filled air of Alberta wildfire season. A record 23 out-of-control wildfires burned thousands of square kilometers, creating 20,000 refugees. 

Edmonton air quality, normally one or two on a scale of ten, jumped beyond ten. My winter of sickness progressed into a spring of smoke-filled air.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, my tomato seeds grew stems with smooth, generic leaves, and then replaced them with pointy tomato leaves. 

My life is at the generic stage. In the dark soil of cancer and chemo and COVID, bits of your word germinated and grew timidly into the smokey air of my life. My garden has produced weak stems and immature leaves. 

What plants are you growing here, as you dirty your hands in the soil of my life? Are you breathing my smokey air and tending the tender plants?  

Paul said, in all things for the good of those who love you. May my heart respond to your love. May my life mature in your care. Bring your seedlings to a rich harvest.


I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.329: Chemo, Part 2.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

My first round of chemo for colon cancer landed me in the hospital with a broken digestive system. Two weeks later and twenty pounds lighter, they sent me home. My digestion wasn’t back to normal, but it was usable.

My oncologist summoned me back to the cancer clinic to discuss resuming chemo. 

I said, “I don’t want to repeat that experience.” 

He said, “We don’t want you to repeat it either.” 

So we agreed on a second round of chemo at a 60% dose, starting after Christmas. 

On December 28, they gave me a two-hour intravenous drip of chemo meds, and sent me home with two weeks of chemo pills. Happy New Year, Daniel!  

I resumed my familiar routine: Omelet and pills in the morning, chemo pills for dessert after dinner. After two weeks, my digestion was out of order again, so I prescribed my own solution: an easy-to-digest, mostly liquid diet, while my body tried to flush out chemo meds.

My wife added popsicles to my recovery diet. Omelet for breakfast, popsicles for lunch, canned peaches with yogurt for dinner. The Michelin restaurant reviewers did not drop by to review my culinary adventures.  

The cancer clinic sampled my blood for a third round of chemo, and sent me home because my white blood cell count was low. The next week, my cells achieved the minimum passing grade. Yay . . .

This time, they added a growth hormone to the mix, and prescribed a syringe to self-inject it on my third day of chemo pills. 

The doctor said, “This encourages your bone marrow to produce more white cells. You might get growing pains–achy bones and muscles–like when you were growing up.”  

I have always wanted to grow up, but injecting myself with growth hormones didn’t make it happen. Instead, it made me ache all over. Miserable and fatigued, I spent a weekend sleeping unhappily on the couch. 

When round three ended, I restocked my popsicles for another round of digestive recovery. The good news was, my bone marrow responded to the popsicles and growth hormones, creating enough white cells to start round four of chemo on schedule. One last infusion of intravenous meds. Two final weeks of chemo breakfasts and desserts. One last self-injected syringe of growth hormones. 

On March 1, I finished chemo. At last my body would have an opportunity to  eliminate the poisons that persisted and the meds that lingered. Was the end in sight for abnormally dry hands, tingling feet, treacherous digestion, and endless fatigue?

Now, nearing the end of April, I eat almost normally. My hands and feet have improved. I still fatigue easily. And I am re-integrating into society. 

My first Sunday back at church I said to my friends, “The doctor cleared me to re-enter civilized society.” 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, my chemo companions were the Bible and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and our dog, Wall-E. The dog shared my long cold chemo winter. The Bible promised that endurance produces character. Dostoevsky held out hope that even the worst of us can find new life. 

Thank you that I have finished chemo. Thank you for the family that supported me and the church that prayed for me and the Christ who lives in me and the Easter story that shifs my focus from death to life. 

O father, clear out the poisons in my life. The remnants of chemo meds and the sin that so easily entangles me (Heb 12:3). 

As Paul said, “Let us celebrate the resurrection, not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). 


I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.328: Chemotherapy.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Eight weeks after my cancer surgery, the Cross Cancer Institute inEdmonton extracted blood to determine if I’d survive chemo. “You’re good to go,” said the doctor as he cleared me for intravenous medicine and chemo pills. 

On the first snowy Wednesday of winter, nurses sat me in a recliner, draped me with a warm blanket, and started my two-hour drip of chemo meds.

The nurse said, “We’re the lucky ones. We have a fourth-floor view out the window!” 

I said, “Can you turn my chair so I can enjoy it?” 

Couldn’t be done. The view I got was busy nurses completing forms and hooking patients to IV’s. Blood, paperwork, chemicals. That’s life in Chemo City! I fed my brain with Dostoevky’s Crime and Punishment while the IV meds attacked the evil inside me. 

Then they sent me home with two weeks of chemo pills. Four pills morning, four evening. Take them with food because they’re hard on the stomach.  

The oxalyplatin from the IV lingered in my body and made me cold-sensitive. At night I wore socks to bed. In the morning I needed gloves to get an egg from the fridge for my morning omelet. Two weeks of eggs and chemo pills for breakfast, two weeks of chemo-pill dessert after dinner. I hated those pills. They coated my taste buds with motor-oil sludge, they threw off my digestion, made my hands and feet desert dry, and I always felt wasted. 

As Lamentations says, 
   I remember my affliction. . .
      the bitterness and the gall (3:19). 

It also says,
    Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.
      His mercies are new every morning (3:23). 

I thanked God for small mercies under the merciless regime of chemo. I thanked God for the gift of sleep on cold winter nights. For warm naps on cold winter afternoons. For the daily omelet. For the courage to follow it with the hated pills. And I was most thankful for the promise of a week-long break after two weeks of meds.

I finished the round of pills on a Wednesday and started my week off. But my digestion had other plans. The pills left me unable to eat, and barely able to drink. I toughed it out, miserable and dehydrated, until Saturday, waiting for things to improve.

They didn’t. So my family took me to emergency, where I was put on IV to rehydrate, and kept for two nights until a hospital bed was available, in a room with a man who had spent 40 unhappy days in the hospital after a stroke. 

They gave me a clear liquid diet, of which the mainstay was jello. Red jello. Yellow jello. Green jello. Like stop lights. I just wanted it to stop! I tried, but I just can’t handle that much jello. Chicken broth and beef broth were better, thank you! Orange juice in the morning, cranberry juice at noon, apple juice at dinner. My wife supplemented the hospital fare with homemade broths and juices.  

After a week they declared I could eat regular food and they sent me home. I celebrated with a package of Japanese noodle soup, which proved my digestion had not recovered after all. An ambulance collected me, burping green bile, for a midnight ride back to the hospital. 

They didn’t know what was blocking my plumbing and backing up the bile. A CT scan showed nothing. So they put me back on a liquid diet, this time in an isolation room with a view of Sister Mary Ann Casey Park. In the coldest week of November, I watched the winter sun rise every day through fog and smog. It was beautiful.

Somehow, the winter sun warmed my soul. I found gladness in the sunrises, joy in the wintery landscape, hopefulness in the care of friendly nurses, patience with the everlasting hunger, grace in a podcast of morning prayers, love in the care of my family. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I spent two weeks in the hospital. So did you. You were with me, my family cared for me, my church and friends prayed and visited. 

Who understands these gifts of your grace? 

O father, surprise me again today with the grace I need. May the sunrises of spring light my darkness. May patient endurance lead me to new hope and better character. I say with Paul, “I rejoice in my trials, because trials produce endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope. And hope does not make ashamed because the love of God is poured out in our hearts” (Rom 5:3-5).  


I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.327: Cancer from the Inside Out.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

On July 26 last year, waking up after a routine colonoscopy, I was surprised to see the doctor and my wife at my bedside. 

“We found a lesion on your colon, so I took a biopsy,” the doctor said. 

“A lesion?” I replied. “I have a high-stress personality, so it’s probably just an ulcer. No real surprise there. Will I have to give up spicy foods?” 

Dr. Switzer replied, “The biopsy will tell us.”  

On the way home I said to Pearl, “I like that she didn’t use the word ‘cancer’. I doubt the lesion is really serious.” 

Pearl, who reads people, said, “Wrong. Her manner shows she is treating this very seriously.” 

Guess who was right? The biopsy showed Invasive Adenocarcinoma. Carcinoma. That’s cancer. I had colon cancer.

When my younger brother got colon cancer in 2014, he had surgery and chemotherapy, but he died in nine months. I started counting months. Nine fingers took me to April 2023. I hoped for a different journey than my brother. 

In month 2 of my journey, on a sunny September day, my wife left me at the Grey Nuns Hospital. I had lived 68 years without seeing a surgeon’s knife, but my lucky streak was over. Stripped and gowned, my glasses and hearing aids in a hospital bag, I waited for my summons to surgery. 

The porter tucked me into a mobile hospital bed, wheeled me into a huge operating theater and transferred me to an operating table with large overhead lights. The surgeon introduced me to the anesthesiologist who mainlined anesthetic into my veins. I slept through the removal of a third of my colon, with associated blood vessels and lymph nodes.     

I spent three days and nights in the hospital, in a pea-soup fog of pain and medication and fatigue. 

The doctor told me to get mobile, so I escorted my intravenous pole up and down the hospital corridors. That IV pole was a poor substitute for the dog I prefer walking. 

Despite my fog and pain, the doctor declared I was adjusting well to my new life with surgery scars and a shorter colon. He sent me home on day three.

I felt like Lazarus walking out of his tomb into the spring sunshine where his sisters, friends, and Jesus welcomed him. 

Meanwhile, the surgeon had preserved my spare parts in a formalin solution and sent them off for study. The pathology report said two of my 25 lymph nodes tested positive for cancer. “We call that stage 3,” the doctor said. “The cancer has spread, but two affected lymph nodes are better than 15 or 20! The next step is chemotherapy. We don’t know where the cells have roamed, and we don’t have tools to track them, so we send in drugs to ferret them out.” 

The good news was: my cancer was diagnosed at an earlier stage than my brother’s. I retired my nine-finger counting obsession, and braced for chemo, scheduled six weeks after surgery.  

I had a fine sunny fall in the reprieve between surgery and chemo. I walked the dog in the bright sunshine, contemplating the goodness of life and healthcare and family. I dreaded the impending start of chemo. 

Let’s pray. 

Dear Jesus, Mary and Martha said to you, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” They trusted your healing skills, but resurrection was beyond their vision. 

I don’t know why you permit sickness. I don’t know why it sometimes leads to death, and sometimes is a valley that opens to new life.

But I thank you for doctors, for medicine, for healing by natural and surgical and chemical and spiritual means. 

Thank you for living in us, for sharing our brief and fragile lives, for telling us about hope and healing and death and resurrection. 

Be our companion in glad times and sad, through sunny days and nightmare nights. Teach us to trust you today and as we face the death that will soon come. 

Our times are in your hands (Ps 31:15). 


I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube