By Jake Wandel
Jake Wandel is a follower of Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners. Jake graduated from The University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with an emphasis in Identity and Culture. Over the years, God has mercifully brought Jake’s own identity, community, family, and friendships front and center in his life. He lives in Columbia, MO, as a divorced, queer, Christian man trying to pursue what he sees as a biblically faithful way of living, fathering two beautiful sons, and hoping one day that he can grasp how wide and high and long and deep God’s love really is.
In the span of a decade, I have experienced a lot of life. Almost too much, to be honest. At the age of twenty-one, I graduated college, started my first full-time job and got married all within two weeks of each other. A couple of years later, I had my first child, and two years after that, my second. Within that year, my wife decided she wanted a divorce and by the time I was twenty-seven years old, I was officially a divorced single dad of two in the midst of a career change so that I could accommodate my new custody schedule.
In that time, I learned a lot about myself and even kept my faith in a God who revealed himself to be faithful and good despite my world crumbling around me. I even got physically healthier during my recovery from the separation. Thanks in large part to my new employer, I quit smoking, found yoga, started going to the gym, and I discovered new self-care practices that eventually led to me having the courage to come out of the closet to myself and to the public. I was experiencing a new life and finding my rhythm as a single dad, and I had even discovered a whole community around my new identity as a queer Christian trying to follow Jesus faithfully. It appeared as if the wounds of my recent afflictions were beginning to heal.
Fast forward to my Thirtieth birthday and, like many others in 2020, I had to celebrate this grand milestone with a simple dinner instead of the festivities I had been planning months in advance. The year 2020 affected everyone in some way, but I was boasting to myself and praising God for getting me to the end of the year without anything more significant than a disappointing alternative to a birthday celebration.
All of that boasting and praising paused, however, after this past Christmas when I was wheeled in for emergency surgery to remove one of my testicles. The Urology Oncologist determined after several tests and clinic visits that I had developed testicular cancer and recommended surgery right away to remove the growth. After the surgery and a thorough biopsy, the doctor diagnosed me with not just one type of cancer, but four. And because of the presence of the teratoma (one of the types of cancer), two cycles of chemotherapy were recommended with a year-long remission period to follow so that the doctors could monitor whether or not the cancer will require additional, more intense surgery. It turned out for me that the year 2020 was like a nightmarish fireworks display gone horribly wrong at the very end. There I was watching explosions that felt distant, and yet the finale set fire to my world in ways that I wasn’t prepared for.
At the time I found out about the cancer, I tried to keep it together while slowly revealing to friends, family and coworkers the news. For the most part, it worked, I remained composed and as hopeful as I could be. Yet uncontrollably, as different variables of the diagnosis and treatment plan began to come together, some really deep insecurities surfaced when I confronted my own mortality. “Who will take care of me?” I cried over a Zoom call with my small group at work. Through tears, I revealed the anxiety that had been welling inside of me. I wasn’t prepared to have cancer at age thirty, not really sure if I caught the lump in time, or if the growth had spread on a microscopic level. When something like cancer invades your body it’s hard not to feel helpless at times.
So, now to the present moment and some concluding thoughts about this strange journey that I’ve been on. First, I still believe that God is good. Six months prior to my diagnosis, God answered the question my insecurities raised by prompting both a good friend and my newly retired mother to move to Columbia and live near me. It still amazes me. My friend became my roommate and my mom found a place five minutes from my house. Both of them took care of me and my kids in ways I couldn’t have imagined needing until going through chemotherapy.
I’m amazed at the astounding reaction of my community offering support, food, gift cards, letters, encouragement and more. I’m grateful for a successful surgery and the staff at the hospital who worked to keep me as comfortable as possible during my infusions. I can’t explain how patient and flexible my work has been. Through all of these little things, I have seen the ways that God has abundantly provided for my every need, just like Jesus taught at the end of Matthew 6: Which of us by being anxious can add a single hour to our life?
I am just two weeks past my final chemotherapy infusion. One of my nurses said this is the phase he calls, “climbing out of the hole.” I feel that. I have several new aversions to things that remind me of chemo, like the ChapStick I used or the scent of a certain candle a friend got me. I still sometimes get nauseous, and I’ve lost a good bit of my muscle mass. I haven’t yet adjusted to my bald head and missing facial hair, but at least I got to keep my eyebrows! Climbing out of the hole, for me, looks like getting my strength back. It looks like remembering where I’ve been this last decade and deciding to look forward to what lies ahead with hope, despite the hardship. It means being generous to others, just like my community was generous to me. This next season might be me “climbing out of the hole,” but this entire time—I realize now—I was never alone down there.