Stone Soup for Five: How Tony Dungy taught me the right thing to say to cancer patients

How Tony Dungy taught me the right thing to say to cancer patients

I want to tell how Tony Dungy inadvertently taught me the right thing to say to cancer patients.  Particularly people who have a tough fight ahead of them and who aren't guaranteed a winning outcome.

First, a real quick background of the couple I'm talking about.  Jim was a faithful AWANA leader with my husband and I for many years.  He would come to serve the children straight after a long day of work.  He always wanted to do the most he could for the children and help the ministry thrive, and he did.  In every way.  We were absolutely blessed to serve along with him.

Virginia is his wife and she also served in the ministry with us, helping out wherever she was needed, also coming after long work days.  (As a side note, Virginia, though tiny, was and is the only friend of mine who has ever sat on top of me during a women's self-defense class and mock punched my face while I tried to shove her off... which I was never able to do.  She's tough, in a bubbly, positive, look-at-the-bright-side-as-I-punch-your-face kind of way.  In fact, if I remember correctly in my sweaty, frustrated stupor, I'm pretty sure she was singing a song as she was swinging her fists at my head.)

But, in 2012 Jim was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.  Not being sure how far or fast it would advance left a lot up in the air, but Jim continued to serve with passion and energy. When he started to have some new symptoms in 2014, an MRI revealed two aggressive cancerous brain tumors, identified as Grade 4 Glioblastoma, which leaves a tough and pretty grim diagnosis.

Currently Jim and Virginia and their children are doing the best they can day by day.  God has blessed both Jim and Virginia with an amazing sense of humor which leads to some pretty funny stories, such as meeting friends for a dinner, and Jim with a huge scar across his head, healing from the surgery, asking their friends to guess which one of them had recent brain surgery.

I love this couple and pray for them often, but, like most people, I am afraid of saying the wrong stupid thing, or not knowing what to say at all.  In a tough situation like this, I either stick my foot in my mouth, or avoid seeing them, and both options suck.

But then, through the crazy connections that are social media, word actually got to one of Jim's heroes, Tony Dungy, that Jim would love to meet with him and watch a football game.  (If you don't know who Tony is, I recommend finding one of his books and reading about this amazing Christian man.) Word got through to Tony and he ended up recording a message directly to Jim.



Here's what I learned from Tony:


  • Despite his busy schedule and celebrity-like status, he took the time to record and respond directly to someone he doesn't know.  He did not let his schedule overwhelm or dictate his priorities.  He took the time to make a difference in someones life.

  • He does not see himself as famous.  He is humble despite his wikipedia page, his success, his books, and his job.  His communication with Jim through email is humble, friendly, and full of love for his brother.

  • He did not once say that he would pray Jim would be healed, cured, or delivered from this affliction, only that God would bless him through it.

  • He knows that God works through all circumstances, despite how ugly they are.  Praying for blessing is an amazing way to acknowledge God's sovereignty and our hope in Him.

  • He said he is praying for Jim.  Not that he WILL pray, but IS praying.  Action.  Promise.

  • He said he is counting on God to be with them.  He knows through this hard time, God will never leave them. In fact, he is counting on it.

  • He knows God will bless them through this.  Unshakable faith and trust.
In that short video, Tony truly taught me the right thing to say and do when you have no idea what to say.

Thank you Tony Dungy for taking the time to bless my friends, and to teach me, and hundreds of others how to say the right thing in hard times.

Thank you Jim and Virginia for allowing me to share a small part of your story.  May all glory go to our Lord as both of you continue to make an impact through your lives.

Do you have any advice on how to talk to someone with serious health issues?  I'd love to hear in the comments below.  Don't be afraid to talk about your mess ups too!

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