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Vernon Brewer: Coronavirus isolation – I was quarantined while battling cancer and learned 4 important lessons

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I am a cancer survivor. About 35 years ago, the doctors removed a five-pound tumor from my heart and lungs. I had 18 surgeries and underwent 18 months of chemotherapy.

I lost count of the days I spent isolated in a hospital room and at home after that, unable to leave the house because of my weakened immune system.

So, even before this coronavirus pandemic, I knew what it was like to be quarantined. I knew what it was like to feel lonely and afraid you’re going to die.

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My struggle with cancer was extremely difficult, but I can truly say that the most painful period of my life is now the most meaningful to me. I learned some specific principles that comforted me, empowered me and opened my heart to a better life than I ever dreamed possible. I hope they will help you as well.

1. We need to remember, “Sometimes, it’s not all about me.”

To be perfectly honest, in the midst of my cancer I was, at times … well, self-centered. In a way, it was understandable. I was fighting for my life, and every ounce of my strength was focused on just surviving. But sometimes a self-centered attitude can get out of hand.

I love the prayer by Fr. Michael Graham that has been going around social media. One of the lines says, “May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.” The point is that no matter how bad our situation may be, there is always someone who is facing even more difficult circumstances.

When facing cancer, it was my wife who snapped me out of my selfish bubble. “You’re not the only person in the world suffering,” she told me one day. “Get up, and let’s go about life.”

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2. People come into our lives when we need them most.

I wouldn’t have made it through that dark, difficult season of cancer without my close friends and family who came together to support me. Whenever I was in the lowest points of my despair, almost without fail, the phone would ring. A friend from work or church — and occasionally a complete stranger! — would be on the other end of the line to encourage me.

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At that time, I served as dean of students at a university, and the students became my support group. They sent me cards to tell me they were thinking of me. And on Nov. 25, 1985, 3,000 students gathered for a 24-hour “Miracle Day of Prayer” to pray for my healing. I don’t know all their names, but I am so thankful for each one of those young men and women. And I believe God heard their prayers, because less than two years later I was declared cancer-free!

If you are struggling right now during this time of isolation, I encourage you to turn to the people in your own life. You may not be able to be with them physically, but you can still call on your family and friends. Be honest with them. Let them know where you are spiritually, mentally and emotionally. They can’t help you if they don’t know what you’re going through.

Each of us was designed with an innate need for community. Don’t go through this trial alone.

3. In every trial, we can take comfort in God’s promises.

During those long, lonely months of sitting at home while my family went to church and school events, I took comfort in Isaiah 41:10: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

I can’t think of a more appropriate verse to hold on to during this unique moment in history we’re all going through. The needs are great. People across the country are out of work. Every day the number of coronavirus cases and deaths rises. And our nation’s medical professionals are exhausted and overwhelmed.

But God can and will supply all our needs.

Commit this verse to memory if you haven’t already and quote it to yourself every day. Search God’s Word for other verses you can draw comfort from in the face of uncertainty. God knows what we face. Nothing catches Him by surprise — not even a global pandemic.

4. You could be the answer to someone’s prayer.

After God healed me of cancer, I knew it must have been because He had something big planned for my life. It was because of my battle with cancer that I was willing to say “yes” when a few years later I had the opportunity to found World Help, an international humanitarian organization.

Over the past 29 years, we have delivered humanitarian aid to millions of people in dozens of countries, and we are working right now to help people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Perhaps today you can drop off some groceries for the family who has recently gone from two incomes to none. You can check in on the senior citizens in your neighborhood who may not be able to go to the store. Or you can give a donation to help with coronavirus relief here in the U.S. and around the world.

We may not understand the answers to all the “whys” of this crisis. But God does. And maybe He wants you to use this opportunity to share His love with a hurting world.

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