Leon Freitag thought he had a stubborn case of bronchitis, but when he couldn’t make it up a staircase without stopping to catch his breath, he knew something wasn’t right.
‘My wife Diane said to go to a doctor and he discovered I had mesothelioma,’ says the superintendent of the North Dakota district of the Assemblies of God Church.
Mesothelioma – always considered malignant – is a rare cancer usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Sufferers face a grim prognosis and cures are extremely rare. Apparently, construction work as a carpenter in the 1970s exposed him to the deadly fibrous crystals that embedded in his lungs.
Eighteen months to live!
Leon Freitag sought out the top mesothelioma doctor in the US, affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. ‘He let me know there is no cure and all they can do is to manage it the best they can.’
Another oncologist told him the cancer was advanced – stage four – and he had a year to a year and a half to live. ‘I had a large tumour on top of my left lung, laying over the aorta. I had another tumour in the lower part of the lung and lesions all along the left side.’
They thought the larger tumour might be growing into his aorta, which is why they ordered four chemo treatments over three months.
After the oncologist delivered the grim prognosis, Leon told him, ‘I feel in my heart I’m going to say to you in a few months, “But God…”’
‘I know, I know,’ the doctor said curtly – and quickly left the room.
Leon and Diane Freitag
Pastor Freitag met with a gathering of ministers and district council delegates and told them: ‘I don’t know if God will choose to heal me or not. I know he is sovereign. I am prepared to live it out, one way or another.’
As the disease progressed, the tumours began to produce fluid in the pleura, the lining of his lungs. ‘They drew off two litres at a time, but told me they couldn’t keep doing this,’ apparently because of the danger of collapsing a lung.
Sure enough, on their third attempt to draw fluid, his lung collapsed. ‘They tried to inflate it, but couldn’t get it to stay up,’ he notes. They finally got his left lung partially inflated, only two weeks before he was scheduled for surgery in Boston.
‘All along the pastors and laity were praying and interceding for me,’ Leon recounts. ‘Diane and I felt like a cloud was carrying us along. We had miraculous peace in our hearts.’
The night before his surgery he had to sign releases, because they thought they would have to remove one of his lungs. They also put a cardiologist on standby in case the tumour had grown into his aorta.
As they wheeled Leon into surgery, Diane turned to the doctors, nurses and anesthesiologist and said, ‘We are a praying people and I believe when you open my husband up you’ll find out God was already there before you got there.’
And – glory to God – that’s exactly what happened!
Doctors had hoped the chemotherapy might have produced 40 percent shrinkage in his tumours. But the tumours had not shrunk 40 percent; they had shrunk 80 percent and the remaining 20 percent of the cancer was dead!
‘For some reason, it had not shown up on the CT scans or MRI,’ Leon notes. ‘God must have done it the night before the surgery.’
Incredible power of God
The surgeon could not believe what he was seeing. ‘Reverend, you are a lucky, lucky man,’ he muttered aloud as he wheeled the minister out of surgery.
Leon Freitag could hear the comment but couldn’t speak. Inside, he screamed aloud: ‘No luck, no luck; faith, faith!’
When the same doctor first saw Diane, he told her the good news, ‘Your husband is cancer-free and he’ll live to be an old, old man.’
Later, when he met with his surgeon and they reviewed a CT scan taken after the surgery, the doctor said, ‘Reverend, if I had not done the surgery on you, looking at this I couldn’t tell you ever had cancer or ever had surgery.’
Leon Freitag gives all the glory to God. ‘I am humbled. For some reason God’s grace and mercy came to me,’ he says. ‘It’s really not about me. It’s about the power of God.’
He adds, ‘I hope it inspires people to believe.’