Interview With Ryan Arnold
Several months ago I sat down with Ryan Arnold, a friend of mine who is living with terminal illness, to film an interview to share with the youth group at my church. Unfortunately, the video is basically rendered not usable, but here is a transcript of our conversation.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 35 years old, born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut. I am however, a permanent resident of Canada and my wife is Canadian also. Together we have a little girl (Brynn) who is 6 years old. It’s definitely been an interesting journey with immigration and coming to Canada but I love it here and it seems like the people are a lot friendlier [laughs].
When and how did you find out you had cancer?
For about a week I had some really bad headaches and two in particular that were really strong so that Tylenol didn’t do anything, along with nausea and vomiting. I just chalked it up to stress, stress at work and in my life. Finally, being a stubborn guy, it was my wife who told me to go to the doctor. The doctor looked me over and said, “Has anyone ever told you that, in your eyes, one pupil is larger than the other?” I said no, and he said he wanted to send me for a CT scan. I went, thinking it was nothing, and afterwards I was eating lunch at Quiznos and I got a phone call from my doctor—this is when I was living out west in Alberta—he said, “We are going to rush you to Calgary to have emergency brain surgery right now.” I didn’t know it yet, but they had already set up an ambulance to bring me down to Calgary which was about an hour and a half away. When I got to Calgary, everything happened so fast that it’s just really hard to comprehend.
What’s been the hardest part of your journey?
The hardest part as been, as a father, mourning the moments that I may not have, about not being able to raise my daughter, or be there for my wife. Living in a seniors home now is tough. I’ve already been stripped away from my family. The isolation and the loneliness that you feel is as if you’re on death row, just waiting. That’s when faith kicks in, you have hope, and you have to cling to the promises that are in Scripture. That’s going from fear, you feel like someone pulled the rug out from underneath you, to faith, knowing that Jesus promises he’ll never leave me or forsake me. And I have to cling to that. That transition from fear to faith has been the most challenging aspect of my journey.
Can you talk a bit more about how your faith has grown?
Growing up I had a knowledge of Christ and everything that he stood for but I didn’t put my full weight of faith on him until probably my 20’s, my college years. I think I had Jesus in my back pocket and sort-of compartmentalized him. I thought that was enough to sustain me. I was busy with life, school, girls, skateboarding, snowboarding and all the activities I was involved in, and I never really gave him much thought. Then once I got sick it really showed me the complete utter worthlessness of those trivial things, and how important it was to get real about my relationship with Jesus Christ. I had to make him a priority in my life instead of all these other things that slid in and forced me to put Jesus on the back burner. When they say you have 14 months to live (on average), what are you going to do with those 14 months? And thats just the average. You have people dropping off at 7 months or 9 months or who’s to say? So it really just made the promises of my faith significant. I had to get real with myself and say, I have to have this relationship with Jesus now and push everything else aide.
What do you hope other people would learn from what you’ve had to go through?
That my story is not unique. It’s unique in the sense that people my age typically don’t get diagnosed with stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiform (GBM) cancer. That’s the same cancer that Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip recently passed way from . I would hope that they take stock of their own lives and ask, where does Jesus fit into my life right now? What is my relationship with Jesus like? And what if I was the one who got that call? I pray that if they were to get that call, faith would be the leading attribute in their life facing it and not despair.
Lot’s of people struggle with the idea of a God that is powerful and loving but still allows suffering. How have you wrestled with that?
It’s certainly been a struggle. You have your questions, like “Why me?” and “Why did this happen?” I won’t deny it—I had those questions. But I read a book called Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper. He basically said that people are going to be watching you seeing how you handle this, and it may be the best opportunity for you to show off your faith in Christ on a greater level than you’ve ever been able to before. That’s certainly been my case. I would never call cancer a blessing, but through it I have been able to grow my faith and my relationship with Christ to a level that I had never previously had. And through that, people seeing my heart and seeing my love for him, has really been great. I’ve been told I’m an inspiration to other people. For me to be called an inspiration to other people seems odd because I’m just a regular guy who got sick (in my mind at least). But I’ve really tried to reach out and touch other peoples lives, saying, “This could be you—what about this Jesus? You may want to get serious with him because he’s the answer.”
To the teenagers who might be watching this, what would you like to say to them?
You’re going to be going through a rough time, and it’s a confusing time. Theres so many distractions that you are faced with and, believe me, I know there are so many temptations thats come along too. Really fix your eyes on the Lord and make him a priority. I know there are things that will come along and tempt you, and there’s certainly years where you may fall off the path. But fix your eyes on the Lord and believe in him, have faith in him, and walk with him every day regardless of what’s in front of you, or what your friends are doing. Remember that there’s no better person to have as a friend than Jesus Christ.
With the time that you have left on this earth, what do you want to do with it?
I want to serve God to a greater degree than I ever did before. I want to live every day for him. I’ve learned that faith in action doesn’t look like following rules but it looks a lot like love. It looks like love in the sense that you love everyone you come across whether they are lovable or not. You make the choice to love them. Be thankful for each and every day that you have because it’s a gift. Simply find the people that may not know about the love that you have in your heart for Jesus Christ and share that with them. Be brave, be bold—you have nothing to lose. The truth is you’ll find that loving others, regardless of what you get back, will be more fulfilling than being the most popular person in the school, captain of the football team, or anything else. I can tell you with confidence that there’s nothing more fulfilling than leading someone to the Lord or bringing someone back who’s wandered away. When you see that happen it’s the greatest feeling in your heart and it’s truly a miracle.
To learn more about Ryan’s story and read his online journal entries, follow him on Facebook.