Hope does not disappoint us
There comes a pivotal moment in every marathon when a runner first resolves to finish. It’s a vow that is repeatedly renewed in the face of many obstacles—through waves of fatigue, blazing heat, and screaming self-doubt. Roadblock enough for any marathoner would be severe cramping, such as what seized Mike Moyles’ legs at mile nine of the 2008 Seattle Marathon.
Yet, that excruciating pain was far from the greatest challenge the Air Force colonel was fighting through that day. He was also running a race for his very life—a battle against an aggressive brain cancer called astrocytoma and the terminal diagnosis he received at age twenty-seven.
He hobbled seventeen more miles to complete the marathon that day.
“I’ve never quit a marathon,” said Mike, a three-time cancer survivor who ran the event despite having no forehead bone (awaiting surgery for an acrylic prosthetic). “And I decided at that race, ‘Not today.’ They’ll have to drag me off the course or haul me away in an ambulance. Cancer may one day take my life. But not today.”
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, Mike says he worked through the usual questions and doubt—why me? what did I do?—but it was the continued struggle through multiple rounds of chemo, radiation, and surgeries that caused him to take a deeper look at the testimony God was preparing him for and led him to ponder Romans 5:3, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”
Although the cancer is in remission, his long-distance race against the disease continues. For the rest of the Air Force colonel’s life, because of the cancer’s aggressive reoccurrences—without any symptoms ever indicating its sinister presence—he undergoes a full cancer screening every ninety days.
The OCF Council member’s burgeoning medical charts are comprised of a trio of brain surgeries. Two reconstructive surgeries. A year of five days on/twenty-three days off chemotherapy. A third surgery—a radical lobectomy—and higher dose chemo. But with the cancer still growing despite the chemo, forty-two rounds of simultaneous high-dose chemo and radiation.
“BC, before cancer,” the self-described “hopeless academic” had long-standing and lofty career ambitions: to be a computer scientist, an Air Force officer—a general specifically. “The most important thing to me was being promoted. I was very conceited, cocky. I would go over or around or through anyone or anything to get to that goal,” says Mike, who holds seven engineering and science degrees. He now works as the chief of information technology at NORAD.
That self-centric mentality persisted until the very day he woke up thinking about his promotion to major—another rung on the ladder to the top—and went to bed processing a terminal cancer diagnosis. “That forces you to take a hard look at life, grow up, and completely re-examine your priorities,” says Mike. “I wasn’t just in the fight OF my life, I was in the fight FOR my life. And I had to change my thinking and priorities to prepare myself and my family for a lifelong battle.”
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, Mike says he worked through the usual questions and doubt—why me? what did I do?—but it was the continued struggle through multiple rounds of chemo, radiation, and surgeries that caused him to take a deeper look at the testimony God was preparing him for.
Now, Mike awakens daily thinking of his key priorities. He starts by getting up at 4 a.m. to spend time with God in His Word. Then “anything to serve my family—doing dishes, folding laundry, fixing lunches.” Finally, he’s off for a run—logging forty to fifty miles weekly. Mike believes that beating cancer lies in addressing the priorities of faith, family, and fitness. “Faith is the spiritual element to us. Mental/emotional is family. Fitness is the physical. At age 43, I’m in the best shape of my life because I have to be.”
The road warrior’s fire becomes emotional tears of joy when speaking about his girls—wife, Angie, and their daughter, Ellie. Mike’s terminal cancer diagnosis came ninety days after Angie accepted his marriage proposal. He offered her an out, “It was the last thing I wanted to do: burden this young woman with caring for a vegetable for the rest of her life. But she wouldn’t have anything to do with backing out.”
Why did Angie, whom Mike credits for his return to faith and rebaptism, stand by her acceptance of his proposal? “Because after four years of dating and knowing this is who God wants you to marry, you don’t back out. Nothing would have made me leave him,” she says.
“I would be dead without her,” said Mike. Two of his three brain surgeries occurred on their first and fifth wedding anniversaries.
Although they knew the chemo and radiation treatments meant having no children of their own, Angie did become pregnant. However, their unborn baby tested for severe Down syndrome. A “genetic counselor” tried to discuss termination options with them. They walked out of the clinic and prepared for raising their Down syndrome daughter.
After Ellie was delivered by the same doctor who had diagnosed her previously, he met with Mike, telling him: “She doesn’t have Down syndrome. I saw it a few weeks ago—this baby had it then. I can’t explain it.”
With tears rimming his eyes, Mike recounts his meeting with the doctor, “Ellie is my double miracle.”
The runner’s heart also races with anticipation for future ministry “in Colorado Springs where God has postured me.” Mike has a Master’s degree in theology, with a Christian apologetics emphasis, and deeply desires ministry to young Christians preparing to enter college. Citing Barna research of the nearly eighty percent dropout rate of Christians from their faith after college, Mike wants to drive down that number. “Most are rarely challenged to defend their faith, to articulate what they believe or why. It’s hard for some Christians to hear, but there are actually some well-reasoned objections to the Christian faith.”
And though Mike is “doing the only thing I ever wanted to do as a ‘rocket scientist,’” he also can’t wait to retire, “filling in the blanks of my life—traveling, teaching the Word, getting out the message that walking with God and cancer teaches you.”
“My cancer has made me a better son, husband, father, brother and friend. I’m a better everything because of the cancer. I can’t think of what I would be like now without having gone through it.”
More info and background on Mike Moyles