Seeing a bigger picture: Medical diagnosis delays couple's plans for mission work in Bolivia

Posted: June 24, 2013

Two months ago Gary and Eva Cool expected to be in Santa Cruz, Bolivia by this time – not Lethbridge, Alta.

But plans can change. This couple knows that all too well. For three years they had prepared for mission work with Mennonites in Bolivia. But six weeks before their departure, doctors found a tumour on Gary’s brain.

The tumour was discovered when Gary had a seizure.

“One day we were having tutor hour,” The Briercrest alumnus recounted. “We were just sitting in the living room drinking coffee and visiting our friends and I had a full out seizure. Nobody really knew what was going on so they ran to get Eva and asked her if I have these a lot of the time. She said no. So they put me in an ambulance and took me to the hospital where they did a CT scan and found a mass in my brain – a tumour. Talking to the doctors there, they said it was a good idea to have it removed.”

When the Lethbridge couple contacted their insurance, it was decided they should fly from Texas – where they were living for language training school – to Calgary to have the surgery in Canada.

“We flew back April 4 with a flight paramedic,” Eva said. “When you fly back through insurance like that they take you straight to the hospital. So they took Gary right to Foothills Hospital straight from the airport and there he was assessed and then. . . “

“Then I was told to wait,” Gary added.

“That was one of our frustrations,” Eva explained. “We originally had hoped they would do the surgery in the U.S. because there they were going to do the surgery that same week. But when we got here, they didn’t know whether (the tumour) was malignant. They said the pace that it was growing for Canadian standards wasn’t an emergency so they take more serious ones before you, which is understandable.”

After almost a month of waiting, Gary had brain surgery on May 2.

“(The doctors) were very optimistic before they did the surgery,” Eva said. “They figured it had been slow growing. But once they had done the surgery, they just gave us the name of the tumour – olegoastrocytoma. Then they started doing these different tests. It was taking so long to get the results so finally we started researching what sorts of tests they were doing. We found out they were trying to find what sort of treatment would work best so at that point we knew the tumour must be malignant.”

On May 23, three weeks after his surgery, Gary and Eva met with a team of six medical staff from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

“That’s when they revealed all the information – Grade 3 malignant tumour,” Eva said.

The diagnosis calls for seven and a half weeks of daily radiation treatments in Calgary beginning this week. Two months after the radiation treatments are completed, an MRI is conducted to give doctors an idea of how the tumour has responded.

“The doctor told us (with this type of tumour) they never say that you are cured, because there’s always a chance of it coming back,” Eva explained. “We are praying that radiation will slow down the growth and then we will continue to pray that it doesn’t come back – at least for many, many years.”

This diagnosis does not destroy the couple’s future direction. It simply delays their departure date.

“We’ve thought about it a lot and prayed throughout this,” Eva explained. “Actually we’ve become more passionate about serving and living every day to the fullest. It seemed kind of senseless for us to now settle back here and just sit – in that sense, we would just be sitting here and waiting for (the tumour) to come back instead of going on with our life.

“We do believe that God still does miracles and if it is His will, He can totally just heal Gary,” Eva continued. “We’re just going to live as if it’s not going to come back because we have to. Otherwise if we don’t . . .”

“It cripples you,” Gary exclaimed.

Gary insists that the difficult periods of waiting throughout his ordeal have taught him some important lessons in patience and shown him the incredible support of the church body.

“You’re forced to just wait and trust,” he said. “God has been with us this whole time,” he exclaimed. “For me, He has literally carried me in His hands. I’ve felt a real sense of peace about this all. There’s been times of terror and ‘Am I dying? Is this my last breath?’ But you know you keep going on. The sun still shines and people show up at your door. They bring you food and they give you a hug and pray for you. It’s just amazing to see how the church family has really united and pulled together to support us as a family.”

Eva says she has learned some lessons of her own.

“I would have to say God has really shaped and moulded me in what it means to trust Him in absolutely everything,” she explained.

Letting go of their immediate plans to go to Bolivia and trusting God with Gary’s life have pushed Eva to trust God in new ways.

“I fell into God’s arms like I never have before,” she explained. “You realize your utter dependence on Him and just how you need to trust Him with everything in your life. We really can’t do anything else but just believe that God sees a bigger picture and He has to have His hand in this and there’s something going on that we don’t see because otherwise it just makes absolutely no sense.”

Even in this difficult journey, the Cools look for ways God can use them.

“I have cancer. I am young,” Gary stated. “Why has this happened to me? You don’t have to do it as a negative. God has chosen me to draw me into a deeper relationship that I need. He means to chisel away things and mould me and shape me and that is painful.”

“In 2009 we said, ‘God, here we are, use us’” Eva said explaining how their plans for mission work in Bolivia started. “Right now in this phase, He’s using us in this capacity as well. We just have to continue to say (to God) again, ‘We are here. You can use us here as well.’”

More information about the Cool’s ministry and Gary’s journey through cancer treatment can be found on their blog site: