EAST MARLBOROUGH—Daniel Nicewonger, pastor of First Baptist Church of Kennett Square, had all the energy in the world when he presided over a funeral two years ago. But the next day when he awoke, he found it hard to breathe. He thought he was just overworked so tried not to think about it, and he relaxed.
The following day, a Friday, Nicewonger, 48 at the time, was still hurting, but it was the day his daughter, Rayann, would be attending the Kennett prom, and he didn’t want to ruin it. He made it through the night, but barely. His wife, Nancy, took him to the hospital early Saturday morning.
After a battery of tests, his oncologist came in the room and told him to start putting his affairs in order.
He had Stage 4 colon cancer, the most advanced stage of the disease.
Stage 4 colon cancers are those which have traveled beyond the colon, or metastasized, and commonly spreads to the liver, lungs and bones. Only 14 percent of people with Stage 4 colon cancer live beyond five years.
He was told he would not see his 50th birthday, and would likely be dead in two years.
Last year, Nicewonger celebrated his 50th birthday, chronicling his journey along the way. It has culminated recently in a book called “The Journey Continues: Finding Joy Amidst Life’s Struggles,” published by WestBow Press.
“I’ve been a pastor for decades,” Nicewonger said. “I have walked with many individuals through end of life stuff. What I was unprepared for was how it changed when it was me personally. Walking with somebody and walking with yourself are totally different. There were times of real examining and real struggle. So I shared those (feelings) in a book.”
Five years ago, in his mid-40s, Neicewonger discussed having a colonoscopy with his doctor. His doctor said he could get one, but he would recommend waiting until he turned 50.
A couple of years later, the cancer in his colon spread to his liver, and caused his liver to grow in size, pushing against his diaphragm not allowing him to get a full breath of air.
After being diagnosed, his “journey” began, resulting in rounds of chemotherapy treatment. His wife took on a new role – caregiver.
Today, Nicewonger approaches life much differently than before he was diagnosed. Little things don’t bother him. He can see things he has never seen before.
“It granted me clarity,” Nicewonger said. “All of a sudden, I could look at things in life and say, this doesn’t matter to me so much anymore. Or it does matter. I am able to see the things I value.
“We move through life with the thought that nothing will happen, that if it doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow, or next week, or next month or next year. This sharpened my focus.”
Through his struggles and pain, Nicewonger said he always found comfort in God, or Abba Father.
“This wasn’t my plan, and not my vision for life,” he said. “I thought God cannot be in the midst of this. But slowly over time, I began to see here is where God is alive and working to redeem and transform something that is difficult and redeem and transform it for the good. This is not my choice. The reality is God is here in the midst of it.”
“The Journey Continues” is more than a cancer story, it is a story of how cancer affected Nicewonger’s wife.
“Everyone has struggles in life.” Nicewonger said. “I do not believe my stuff to be any different, nor better than anyone else’s. I do believe that sharing has helped me travel the journey better, and I share openly and transparently.”
For now, Nicewonger is taking a break from chemotherapy treatments in favor of quality of life. The chemo zaps his energy and is very painful. “The treatment decreases my quality of life,” he said. “It’s not worth the little bit of quantity it was adding.”
“There is always hope,” Nicewonger said. “In the midst of struggle, God can do amazing things, and it’s how you approach that is what is important.”
From his book:
“The rhythm of my life is very different than it was pre-cancer. I am beginning to believe that as I move through day in a slower, weaker pace, I am more open to see and experience the movement of Jesus. I need the Spirit more than ever before. I am open to seeing the Spirit, where in the past I simply pushed and plowed through. Could it be that Jesus is using my cancer to set this captive free?”
The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble Bookstore.