I’ll Let Him Go

I’ll Let Him Go

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

I’ll Let Him Go

When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

Matt. 8:10

I’ll never forget that September morning in 1981 when I received an urgent call from my wife: Our thirteen-month-old son, Michael, had just been diagnosed with cancer. It was an anguished drive from my office to our home in Provo, then with Sharon to a meeting with our pediatrician, where he explained the unbelievable details.

Michael had a tumor the size of a grapefruit growing inside his abdomen, which had taken over his right kidney and which involved several other vital organs, including his liver, adrenal gland and aorta. It had a name I couldn’t pronounce: neuroblastoma. At that time, no child with that type of cancer had ever lived to adulthood.

How could this be? Our precious, perfect little boy had not even been sick—he’d been a little fussy, but not sick. Sharon had taken him to see the doctor thinking he may have had an ear infection, but as Dr. Freestone poked and prodded he felt the tumor, tucked up under Michael’s rib cage where it didn’t show. He knew immediately what it was, but didn’t tell us until the next day when hospital tests confirmed his diagnosis.

We became immediate friends with the pediatric cancer staff at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, where Michael was referred for treatment. We were told that with current treatment protocols they might prolong his life as long as two years, but probably less. There could be some surgery, but not until radiation and chemotherapy had reduced the size of the tumor. It would mean some extended hospital stays, numerous trips to Primary for chemotherapy and a series of sixteen daily visits to the radiology center, where he had to have general anesthesia each day so he could hold still for radiation treatment.

Our lives became a blur of grief, tears and comfort from loving family and friends; meals brought in by the Relief Society; and, through it all, a few rays of hope from priesthood blessings.

During one home evening while Michael was in the hospital, I remember giving our three older children a lesson about death and Heaven, explaining to them that Michael would probably go there soon, but that he would be happy and would be able to live again with Jesus and Heavenly Father. For their young minds it was an easy concept to grasp. They seemed happy for him.

Early in the treatment program the doctors asked if they could try something new—a set of drugs that were still considered experimental. Nobody knew if they would help for sure, but there was some scientific indication that they might. After all, Michael wasn’t going to live very long, so what harm could it do? After fasting and prayer we decided to let them try.

After a few months, the doctors said the tumor was small enough to consider removing it with surgery. Did we want to put Michael through that? This type of cancer was considered to be particularly aggressive, and surgery might actually cause it to spread. Did we want to risk that, or did we just want to let him live his final months without the trauma of additional hospital stays?

We decided on surgery. Sharon stayed that week with friends in “Shot Lake,” as Michael had begun calling it, spending sixteen to eighteen hours a day in Michael’s hospital room at Primary. I went up for the weekend so she could have some time with the children at home. The recovery from surgery wasn’t going very well. The doctors had been able to remove the tumor along with Michael’s right kidney, but he wasn’t recovering as he should. They said he could get along just fine with only his one remaining kidney, but as the week progressed he became increasingly ill. Nobody could adequately explain why he wasn’t getting better.

That Sunday afternoon I spent in his room looking at this helpless, unconscious eighteen-month-old baby hooked up to several monitoring devices, I was in the depth of despair. I had partially prepared myself for his death, but I hadn’t really let go yet. I knew that his death was inevitable and could come at any time. I also knew in my mind that Heaven was a better place than Earth life. I knew, too, that Heavenly Father, in his infinite wisdom, had a plan for Michael that might not include the rest of us at this time. But I was still selfish enough to want him to stay—for me, for us.

All alone in that hospital room, I began to pray aloud. The Spirit filled my heart and for the first time I told Heavenly Father that I would accept His will in this matter. A flood of relief came into my soul as I realized that I had just come to terms with Michael’s deteriorating condition. I said aloud, “Heavenly Father, Michael is your son also, and if you need him now, I’ll let him go.” Much more was said, most of it positive, as I felt my heart begin to heal. I finished praying, and with tears streaming down my cheeks I reached over, kissed Michael’s tiny, sleeping face, and said good-bye. He didn’t stir. I expected the end to come at any time, but had finally found a tenuous peace. I could accept it. I would accept it. And I would go on living, with a sure knowledge that at least one member of my family would achieve Eternal Life.

That same evening Michael awakened. It began with a weak cry. I called the nurse. She was genuinely grateful for some sign of consciousness. The next day he was actually better. He began to recover and was released from the hospital later that week.

Why did he come so close to death only to be given more time? I could only believe it was for me. I had to learn some hard lessons. I had to be humbled. I had to give my will over to God’s will. It was hard. I fought it. But I had a feeling in my heart that said something like, “My son, this ordeal wasn’t for Michael, but for you—you are precious to me also. You had to learn.”

Miraculously, Michael got better. There was more surgery, more months filled with painful chemotherapy treatments. But two years came and went, and he was growing and seeming to be healthier than ever. He beat the odds, and he would become the first child ever to live through this type of cancer.

At age eighteen, after graduating from high school, Michael was diagnosed with cancer in his remaining kidney. It was removed. He had dialysis treatments three times each week for seven months. He became weak and lethargic before our only other son was approved to donate one of his kidneys. The transplant took place at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake.

A few months later Michael was allowed to apply for a mission. His doctor, a splendid man not of our faith, said, “You tell them you can’t leave the United States and for them to send you someplace near a good hospital for follow-up treatment.” He didn’t understand that you don’t “tell them” anything, but that the Lord is in charge. When his call arrived to Cleveland, Ohio, Michael asked the doctor if there was a good hospital nearby. He exclaimed, “Are you kidding? The Cleveland Clinic is the finest cancer hospital in the Midwest. You’re getting the best!”

Michael served an honorable mission and is married to his eternal sweetheart, Erin. They’re a precious couple, looking forward to adopting children to create a family of their own.

One of our precious granddaughters, Riley, was born with a cancerous tumor. Although I grieved, as any grandparent would, I breezed through the trauma of it knowing that Heavenly Father is in charge—and happy to let Him have His will. Riley’s doing fine now.

And me? I couldn’t be happier. The faith I developed through Michael’s cancer ordeal is even stronger. I’ve passed it to my children, and can’t wait until my grandchildren are old enough to understand what my heart yearns to teach them, too.

Stan Miller

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