At the age 12, I did not fully understand what it meant when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I regularly attended church, read my Bible and prayed daily, but I put other things in my life — school, work, entertainment — before Jesus.

But that all changed in 1978, the year I learned to put God first.

When Headaches Mean Cancer

I was a partner in a local CPA firm when I first started experiencing headaches at work. Sometimes, as I looked out of my office windows, the buildings seemed to sway. The headaches and dizzy spells got worse, so I went to see my doctor at the end of May. He hospitalized me to run tests. One week later, we had an answer.

I had brain cancer.

My wife, Donna, and I were devastated. A friend came by to visit and recommended that I go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a second opinion. Two weeks later, Donna and I and Susan Billions, a good friend of ours, flew to Minnesota.

At Mayo Clinic, specialists from multiple diagnostics clinics worked as a team to reach a diagnosis. After an intense week of testing, we received the same answer — I definitely had brain cancer. They explained the tumor was large and could not all be removed, and even with surgery, doctors explained they expected me to live no more than six months.

They allowed me to check out of the clinic for the weekend, with my promise to return on Sunday night for surgery Monday morning. Susan’s husband, Gary, had joined us by then, and the four of us spent a couple of days driving around the land of 10,000 lakes. We prayed a lot and tried to keep our conversation focused on anything but my terminal cancer.

We called friends and family members, requesting prayer. Many fasted and prayed that entire weekend asking God to heal me.

The Power in Prayer 

Prayer is our means of connecting our needs and those of our loved ones to the power source of God. James teaches us, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). It is God’s promise to us. Our prayers are powerful and effective, and we embraced that promise.

Jesus started His ministry preaching, teaching and healing throughout Galilee. He taught His disciples to do likewise and later empowered 72 of them to go preach, teach and heal as He did. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to Heaven, He sent the promised Holy Spirit to live in us, to lead us into all truth, and empower us to be like Jesus and be His witnesses on Earth — and that includes preaching, teaching and healing.

Healing was commonplace when Jesus ministered on Earth. Usually the request was clearly accompanied by faith, and Jesus acted on that demonstration of faith. He does the same for us today. We can ask for His divine healing through prayer.

Prayer is our asking God to do something that is important to us. But He, in turn, wants us to do some things that are important to Him. This partnership with Jesus is what makes prayer so powerful and effective in our sin-stained, darkened world. It’s part of His covenant relationship with His people.

I knew all of these truths about prayer, but — I had terminal brain cancer!

Thoughts on Facing Death

During those dark days in the hospital, I suffered from horrible times of anger, despair and hopelessness. I thought about my new and wonderful marriage to Donna and the children I would never have with her. Believe me, the darkness of facing death is overpowering.

I thought about suicide, but the Lord convinced me I did not have that right. I knew the only way to escape the fear and despair was to turn everything over to the Lord. I was scared to death the entire weekend as we traveled in Minnesota.

We returned to Mayo Clinic on Sunday afternoon. After I got settled in my room, they shaved my head and gave me some instructions about Monday morning’s surgery. I tossed, turned and prayed in my bed until midnight. Early Monday morning, they moved me to the operating area and put me to sleep.

Sometimes Great Things Happen

The head of neurosurgery came to my room late Monday afternoon with words that stunned Donna and me.

“Sometimes here at Mayo Clinic, medical events happen that we cannot explain,” he said. “Your surgery is one of these. When we opened your head for the surgery, there was no cancer on your brain. A higher power has intervened in your case.”

We were overjoyed! Our friends, Gary and Susan, were just as excited as they called family and friends to share the wonderful news of what God had done.

Donna and I came home, and in a month I slowly returned back to work. And those children I thought I’d never have with Donna? Our first son was born in 1979, our second in 1982 and our third in 1989. Today we also have a daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

Through the years we have provided a home for several boys and a mother with two children. We are overwhelmed with the Lord’s blessings in allowing us to provide a home for people. We believe one of the reasons Jesus healed me of brain cancer was for us to help other people in their time of need. We want to live our lives in such a way that people can see His impact.

I still have daily challenges in my life. We may not understand why things are not happening the way we want them to, but we know He has a plan and that His plan is the best for us. “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)  We all need to turn everything over to the Lord. He is interested in every area of our lives.

I stay in touch with the Lord every day now, but nothing — other than asking Jesus to save me in 1966 — has impacted my life like that experience with terminal brain cancer.

Editor’s Note:

Sometimes I spend way too much time thinking about the what-ifs of the stories we tell, and this one is no exception. What if the doctors had been right?

Russell would be long gone.

He and Donna would have never had three sons together or known their daughter-in-law. Their grandchildren would not have been born. Youth he taught in church when he was a young married man and the little children he later taught in Sunday school would have been educated by someone else, or perhaps not at all. 

If the doctors had been right, things might have been so different for the boys they so willingly provided a home for, and for the mother and her two young children who lived with the Chunns for over a year. They are still close to this day. 

If the doctors had been right, well … we can’t begin to imagine. 

Sure, the doctors said he was dying, but — clearly — God had plans for Russell Chunn. 

Laurie Pallotta, Editor-in-Chief