After spending years trying to fight Follicular Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, Cory Schibler, the worship pastor at Beacon Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas, is now facing a deadly mutation of the cancer as his wife, Crystal, now grapples with a grave cancer diagnosis of her own.
“My wife has told me multiple times that she would have peace about it if this is the end for her. Me and her closest friends, we don't have peace about that,” Schibler, who is also director of the Association of Baptist Students, a Baptist missionary association located just off of the campus of Texas A&M University, told The Christian Post Monday.
Still, the 37-year-old husband and father of a 10-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son says, “we really do have faith that God is bigger than our circumstances and so just trust that whatever happens, we're going to continue to praise Him.”
In a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $50,000, Schibler recounts how two weeks after he and his wife got engaged in 2012, he discovered he had Follicular Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma “only by divine intervention.” Non-Hodgkin lymphoma “is a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system,” according to the American Cancer Society. Follicular Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is a slow-growing form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“The day we got engaged, we had a car accident, and in the course of receiving treatment in the emergency room, the doctors found what they thought was cancer,” he recalled.
“My treatment plan was officially ‘watchful waiting’ which is medical speak for ‘we won't do anything until it starts trying to kill you.’ I remained in that care plan until December of 2020. Over the prior few months, I had begun having difficulty swallowing,” he said.
In December 2020, Schibler said doctors found that his cancer, “which had been localized to my abdomen, had spread to my throat.”
“My doctor did not expect this, and after a series of other tests, it was found that my cancer had gone through a Richter transformation. My cancer was no Diffuse Large B Cell lymphoma, a much more aggressive but much more treatable cancer,” he wrote.
According to the Leukemia Foundation, “Richter’s syndrome (or Richter transformation) is a serious complication of CLL/SLL and unfortunately is often fatal. If Richter’s syndrome is diagnosed, it is advised that the person should seek recommended treatments, but also to get their lives in order to prepare for any outcome.”
Schibler would do chemotherapy for six months starting in 2021 and he was “declared cancer free” that June. For the last two years however, the worship pastor says he “struggled with the after-effects of chemotherapy.”
Crystal, 43, had also been struggling with her health as well and just two weeks ago, on Nov. 11, they both learned from their doctors that they were both struck by different cancers.
“This morning, Saturday November 11, 2023, my wife, and I received the news from our scans that we had yesterday, with the news that we dreaded we would hear. I have multiple lymph nodes in my throat and upper abdomen that are consistent with recurrence of my cancer. Obviously, not great news, but it is at least confined to a small area,” Schibler wrote. “However, my wife's scan showed that she also has cancer, which has metastasized to multiple areas in her body: lungs, abdomen, etc.
“To say that we are gutted would be an understatement. This was about the worst possible news that we could receive this morning. We have faith that God is good, but we would be lying if we said that we understood what He was up to with what we are now going through,” Schibler wrote.
On Monday, the worship pastor told CP that his wife’s cancer is a rare neuroendocrine cancer which is treatable. As for his cancer, he said his doctor is holding off on making any decisions.
“Well, we just don't know yet. My doctor wasn't comfortable making any decisions until he saw the actual pathology report. Most likely, I'm going to be going to a bigger Cancer Center to get an opinion from them. Probably MD Anderson in Houston, because it's the closest to where we are, but he was waiting until he got the full results back before he made a referral to them for me. That's most likely what we're gonna do next,” he told CP.
When asked how his children were coping having to deal with both parents battling cancer, Schibler said it has been more challenging for his 10-year-old daughter.
“Our son is only 4. He knows that we're sick and that we haven't been feeling good. He doesn't really understand what's going on,” the pastor said.
“Our daughter is 10, and she's an extremely smart kid. She was starting to freak out about not knowing stuff and so we've basically had to tell her everything just to keep her from being upset because she felt like we were keeping things from her, which we were, because we didn't want to worry her until we knew more firmly what was going on,” Schibler explained.
“It's been difficult. She still has a lot of residual hurt and stuff from [when] I went through chemo three years ago. She has a lot of anxiety and stuff from going through the first time with me going through treatment. So we're having to talk with her a lot about what's going on because she's very, very upset about it,” the pastor said.
What has been helpful for the family as they go through their fight with cancer, says Schibler, is the support they have been receiving from their church and blood relatives.
“When I was going through treatment the first time, I just saw so much in the way that God was working in the hearts of other people as they watched us go through treatment. And then this time around, I've seen even more of that,” Schibler noted.
“We've had people that we haven't talked to in 20 years reach out to us. They saw our story through something and reached out, sent us stuff. … I had a former student who messaged me just the other day and I haven't talked to him in 10 years, and he messaged me and was telling me about how his family was praying for us. And then he donated money to our GoFundMe,” Schibler said.
“We trust that God is bigger than a single person's circumstances. And even though it sucks. I'm not gonna lie, it sucks that I had to put my family through me going through treatment and now my family's having to go through me and my wife both having cancer,” he added. “We're just seeing God do so much through us experiencing the hardships and these trials because we do trust that God works all things together for good even if our personal circumstance might suck.”