Finding Faith in the Dark

How this scientist’s life-altering diagnosis wasn’t the end of the road — but the start of a life-changing faith journey.

When faced with extreme adversity, we repeatedly find ourselves at the crossroads of hope and despair. Each time, we must choose which road to take. For Wayne Marshall, a medical technologist in microbiology; who worked at Sunnybrook and Mount Sinai hospital battling stage 3 stomach cancer and complete blindness, finding faith in the face of existential threat was not easy, but necessary.

At the age of 64, Wayne was forced into early retirement due to the progression of blindness. He admits, “I would still be working today if I could see. I loved the work so much.” But despite his degenerating eyesight and the psychological strain of retirement shock, he was still able to get around on public transportation; he may have lost the work he loved, but he still had his independence – a liberty that he held dear.

When fear becomes reality

But when Wayne’s low visibility spiralled into complete blindness in the summer of 2018, his worst fear became a reality. “Not seeing anything at all triggered debilitating panic attacks about twice daily. I could not think straight when these attacks came.” Wayne expressed that prior to going blind, he did have a certain amount of faith. Yet he now recognizes that it is one thing to have faith when life is going relatively well, and yet another when your deepest fear becomes your reality.

Blindness and self-isolation

“The isolation made adjusting to blindness extremely difficult. At times, I would get panic attacks. When you go through that, your mind does not function properly and plays tricks on you. I can understand how someone can fight suicidal thoughts in that state — especially when isolated. I had to work hard to tell myself to use faith.”

For years leading up to his blindness, Wayne tuned into 100 Huntley Street for spiritual encouragement. Wayne tried reminding himself that God must have somehow played a hand in all of this as He had in the past. Ten years prior, his appendix ruptured. It was life-threatening, but God got him through. Then In 2013, he had been diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer. After more than 15 radiation and chemotherapy treatments, along with major surgery, removing half his stomach, he made it through again. Still, Wayne confesses, in his mind, this time was worse.

“To go blind was my worst fear.”

Feeling the stress of being under threat, Wayne had two choices: He would either give up on life entirely or find a new approach to deal with the emotional and mental toll that was quickly consuming him. It was at this crossroads in Wayne’s life that he chose to pick up the phone and claim the spiritual support that had long been available to him on Crossroads 24/7 prayer lines.

Wayne admits his first experience on the prayer line was not what he had expected. Wayne called the prayer line in the middle of a panic attack. He didn’t want to talk; he just needed to hear that he would get through. The prayer partner hadn’t realized what he was going through and was unable to communicate with him in the way Wayne had needed. Frustrated, Wayne expressed thanks and hung up.

Wayne explained that he has three good friends, who do their best to support him, and he loves them dearly, but he understands that it is difficult for them to find the words to say. They also work and are busy during the day. “My friends are sympathetic, but a lot of people do not always understand how faith plays a role in coping with such a life-altering experience.”

Overcoming fear through prayer care

During a harsh and lonely 2018 winter night, God prompted Wayne to call back the prayer lines. Reluctant but willing, Wayne picked up the phone. This time, the prayer partner was attuned to his needs and kind to him; and it made all the difference. “Sometimes, you just need to hear that someone cares. It means the world.”

From invisible to visible

Wayne admits that when a prayer partner expressed that a member of the pastoral care team would call him back, he didn’t hold his breath that this would happen, as they are a “busy prayer line.” However, when a member of the team contacted him about a week later, he thought the gesture was extraordinary: “I felt like God really was seeing me and listening to me. To put it in simple terms, it strengthened my faith — and  prayer changed my perspective — I didn’t know how I was going to get through this. Looking back, I would have handled this crisis better if I had made faith a priority in my life.”

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free. – Luke 4:18

Wayne says that today his panic attacks have decreased from twice a day to maybe twice a month and have also lessened dramatically in severity. “This may sound a little cliché,” Wayne admits, “but mine is truly, a “blessing in disguise

Blind, But Now I See

For Wayne, it took physical blindness for him to walk more by faith and less by sight. As John Newton, nearly blind and near death, wrote: “T’was blind but now I see.” I realize that God alone gives true sight. I am convinced now more than ever that God still has a purpose for me even though I cannot physically see.”

Today, in his 7th year in remission from cancer, Wayne sees life through his newfound spiritual eyes, with another reason to praise the Lord — he has found peace amidst blindness. Wayne’s story is social proof that in life’s most disparaging moments, we need others to come alongside us to pray for us, to listen to us and to live a life of true vision.