From Faith to Trust
Calling Ken Rahal a cancer survivor is like calling Edmund Hillary a mountain climber.
In July 2006, he went to UNC-Chapel Hill to undergo a complex, nine-hour abdominal surgery to remove a lemon-sized tumor. The surgeon, in what’s called a “Whipple procedure,” removed half of Ken’s pancreas, all his duodenum, gall bladder and five feet of intestine.
The surgeon, Dr. John Martini, walked into Ken’s room two days later and delivered the prognosis: Stage IV cancer and about nine months to live.
His response was, “Well, Doc, that’s a win-win situation.”
Martini was puzzled and asked Rahal how he figured that.
“If the Lord allows me to stay, I’ve won,” he said. “If he takes me home, I’ve won. So I can’t lose. It’s a win-win situation.”
The cancer specialist, who had broken plenty of bad news to patients over the years, thought about that for a moment and told Ken that was one reaction he’d never heard from someone given a death sentence.
“I got out of bed, grabbed my IV pole, waddled over to the window and spoke, in front of the doctor, ‘Satan, you can take your pancreatic cancer, your Whipple procedure and anything else that comes along and go straight back to hell where you belong, because you will not steal the joy I have in my God.’ And I became a fighter.”
Ken recounted all this in my office the other day. His nine months to live is now going on six years.
There have been setbacks aplenty: four successive major surgeries and 34 hospitalizations, each stay lasting no fewer than five days.
But as inspirational as his battle back from the precipice of death has been, that’s not the best part of the story.
The real story of Ken Rahal is a lesson for all of us and what we do with our lives in the face of adversity.
Ken’s experiences have all led to him being the quiet, tenacious, spiritual, passionate man he is today. He leads an active nursing home ministry through Christ Community Church in Pinehurst and a core of more than 20 volunteers engaged in ManorCare Nursing Home, Pinehurst Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, Carolina House and the FirstHealth Hospice House.
As chaplain at ManorCare, and in his work through the local Habitat for Humanity and Senior Enrichment Center, Ken’s reach in this community extends far and wide. He is actively promoting upcoming Habitat projects when he’s not at the nursing home.
And while he’s happy to share his story and his faith journey, it’s also enough for him to bring simple human contact and encouragement to bear. That means reading the paper to a patient, bringing another a candy bar or just sitting and sharing of his time.
And it also means holding a bedside vigil with the dying family member of a friend or helping a suffering family make sense of the labyrinthian medical process for patients. You’re hard pressed to find anywhere in this town where you can buy Ken a meal; his money’s no good for folks whom he has graced with his kindness.
It’s also pointless to ask Ken if he has a “bucket list.” If he had a bucket, he’d fill it with water and look for the thirsty.
“I live for one purpose,” he says, “that when the time comes and I’m called home, that the Lord will stand beside me, put his arm on my shoulder and say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ That’s all I live for.”
Ken’s learned the secret of living. He’s not doing it for himself, or his daughter or his three grandchildren, although they are the jewels of his round, shiny brown eyes.
He’s living for others, and he’s not worried about anything else. It’s not because he’s worry-free. There’s another lump in his small intestine — this one the size of an egg — and doctors aren’t sure if it’s a tumor or a hernia. Surgery in another week down in Charlotte will clarify the situation.
But Ken has something stronger than his faith in God. And that’s the biggest lesson.
“There’s a difference between faith and trust,” he says. “Faith is saying that God can do something. But I belive in my heart that he wants more than that. He wants our trust. Trust is saying that God will do something. We have to have that trust that God will take our problem and deal with it.
“He wants us to go from faith to trust.”
Contact John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.
More like this story