News that sent Pastor David’s world crashing

David McDonald… “I was given 10 to 13 months to live and was told there was nothing to do.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

ABOUT six years ago Turner’s David McDonald was drawing up a will and power of attorney in hospital after he was told he only had one year to live.

He was 49, two of his four children were still in high school and he had just been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

It was unexpected, he wasn’t a smoker (yes, non-smokers can get lung cancer, too) and he was reasonably healthy.

Or thought he was, until the then-pastor of Crossroads Church became uncomfortable with numbness, as well as pain in his chest and back, while sitting with a group of friends at Tilley’s in Lyneham

“A friend thought I was having a heart attack and it turned out to be lung cancer,” he says.

“I was devastated, it was like I had just been sentenced to death. I was given 10 to 13 months to live and was told there was nothing to do to remove it – it was incurable.”

David says you hear about side effects of cancer such as nausea and hair loss, but what people don’t often talk about is how cancer deprives hopes and joy and steals all expectations.

“I remember thinking I won’t walk my daughter down the aisle, or see my son graduate, or meet my grandchildren,” he says.

Grappling with these “side effects”, David, who is the founder of Crossroads and was in the process of starting something similar in Darwin, was in a position where he could no longer preach.

“I’ve been the pastor of a church so I’ve been a regular communicator orally, and now I couldn’t so someone suggested I start blogging,” he says.

Using his blog titled “macarisms” as an outlet, David started to document his wavering faith.

In many ways David went back to the drawing board and asked himself if there was hope beyond death.

“It’s one thing to hold belief in your head but getting a terminal diagnosis tests the reality of those beliefs,” he says.

As his blog posts tallied up, David decided to write a book on the idea of “hope beyond a cure”.

With this in mind, he hired a cabin at the coast for two weeks and came away with the foundations of the book: “Hope Beyond Cure”.

“The question worth asking is whether life is all there is or whether there’s hope beyond,” he says.

“The book is particularly for people who have a terminal diagnosis but really for all of us asking the big questions about life, death and hope.”

For David, the fact he’s alive today is a miracle, not that he believes anyone really deserves one.

“I don’t think we deserve it, I think it’s the kindness of God,” he says.

An oncologist in Melbourne described him as a super responder to the drugs and said he was “off the charts”.

“I don’t feel I’ve had this particular experience because I’m a better person, I’m just as selfish as anyone,” he says.

“However it’s come about, I certainly thank God for it. I think He can equally work through medicine and the skills of doctors.”

But David says his book isn’t about miracles, as he had clear evidence of cancer while writing it.

“There was no hope given of a cure. It really just felt like a matter of time and I was being told to expect to die,” he says.

“I was told I had a terminal illness but I think we all have a terminal illness, and that’s life itself, we’re born with limited time.”

And now, without any evidence of cancer, David is using his time to raise awareness towards lung cancer, which is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia.

During November, which is Lung Health Awareness Month, David hopes to change the stigma that people only get lung cancer from smoking, and he also wants to see changes to the treatment protocol.

“Australia lags behind some other countries. We’re a global community and we could benefit if we had quick access to drugs being used in other countries,” he says.  

“Hope Beyond Cure”, $12.95, from hopebeyondcure.com

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