Prostate and Rectal Cancer Survivor Turns to Faith

You wonder why you get cancer. How is the Lord using me in this situation?

Alan Clingan
headshot of Alan Clingan

When Alan Clingan was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2016, he began searching for meaning. A pastor, he naturally turned to religion.

“You wonder why you get cancer,” said Clingan. “How is the Lord using me in this situation? There is a Bible verse that says, ‘We can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’” To Clingan, that meant counseling and comforting others facing chemotherapy, radiation, and other cancer treatments.

On a mission

This was not Clingan’s first cancer diagnosis. In 1998 at age 56, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Doctors told Clingan his case was serious, and he might not survive. He and his wife talked with specialists, got a second opinion, and did research before deciding on surgery. Clingan underwent a radical prostatectomy, removal of the prostate.

But when Clingan returned to the doctor 3 months later for a follow-up visit, tests showed that signs of his prostate cancer had gotten worse instead of better. His prostate specific antigen (PSA) test result, which had been 9.9 before the surgery, had risen to 12.9. He was devastated.

Two months later, Clingan returned to the doctor to begin receiving more treatment. But when his PSA was retested, the number was 0. And in all the months and years of medical follow-up visits, tests have turned up no more evidence of prostate cancer in his body.

While struggling with the initially disappointing results of the PSA test, Clingan found inspiration in his Bible and in a television interview with evangelical minister Billy Graham. He decided that cancer or no cancer, he had work to do. He began making preparations to go on a mission trip to Southeast Asia.

Over the next 4 to 5 years, Clingan made 4 mission trips to places in Southeast Asia including Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Back in the US, he spoke in many churches about his experience with cancer. He joined the advisory board of the local cancer hospital in Hagerstown, Maryland and eventually became the chaplain there, working with patients undergoing treatment. “The Lord worked in a marvelous way,” said Clingan.

Something else

Clingan had no more trouble with his prostate. But in March 2016, he began to notice changes in his bowel habits. He frequently had an urgent need to visit the bathroom, to the point where it was interfering with his life. A doctor recommended he have a colonoscopy, a procedure for checking for signs of colon or rectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society says most people should have a colonoscopy by age 50, but at age 73, Clingan had not had one. “I kept putting it off,” he says. “I dreaded the prep, and having to drink all those fluids. But when I did have it done it was a piece of cake.”

Unfortunately, Clingan already had stage IV rectal cancer that had spread to his liver. He would go on to have chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. But the hospital treating him was in Baltimore, 70 miles away from Clingan’s house. His health care team told him about the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge program, which provides cancer patients and their caregivers with a free place to stay if their best option for treatment is far from home.

“It was quite a wonderful experience,” said Clingan of the Baltimore Hope Lodge facility. “It was wonderful, professional, and immaculate. We couldn’t have been treated better. The staff provided us with programs, rides to treatment and back, and a place to park our car. The room and accommodations were superb.”

Clingan’s surgery removed the tumor and part of his rectum – so much that surgeons had to create a colostomy, an opening in his torso for waste to leave the body. “I wasn’t devastated,” says Clingan about his reaction to the colostomy. “It’s not something you want, but I’ve been able to adjust to it.”

Clingan is still undergoing radiation treatment for his liver, but he remains grateful for the lessons cancer has taught him. He says it’s given him a greater appreciation for his wife, more compassion for other people, and a closer relationship with God.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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