FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Our Cancer Scare: Dave and Ann Wilson

with Dave and Ann Wilson | November 23, 2022
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Ever known a season where your life hangs in the balance? On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson tell how Ann's recent cancer scare exposed her soul and who God is in the dark.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Ever known a season where your life hangs in the balance? Ann Wilson tells how her recent cancer scare exposed her soul and who God is in the dark.

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Our Cancer Scare: Dave and Ann Wilson

With Dave and Ann Wilson
November 23, 2022
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Dave: So we recently had a cancer scare—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: —is that the word?

Ann: Yes, yes; we did.

Dave: That, honestly, was a few weeks now ago; but it was pretty scary.

Ann: Yes; we were actually here, recording. I got a call from my doctor; and I walked out immediately, because I had had a mole recently removed. She called me to tell me that it was melanoma, and so it was pretty scary.

Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Melanoma is nothing to mess with.

Ann: No.

Dave: I didn’t honestly know that—like we were having lunch with our guest for the FamilyLife Today program that day—and you just took this call out of the room. I’m like, “You don’t take calls in the middle of that”; and you came back, with this look on your face like, “This is serious.”

Ann: I had surgery; and actually, my brother was great; because I couldn’t get into a local hospital until August, and this was in June. My brother pulled some strings and got me into The James [Cancer Hospital] at Ohio State University within two days. They said, “Come down, and we’ll do a consult.”  I said, “Well, is there any way”—because I have to drive four hours—"that we can do surgery in the same day?” And they said, “Yes, we don’t really do that.” I just told you, pretty nonchalant, “Hey, I’m going to drive down to Ohio;”—four-hour drive—"and I’ll be back the same night.”

Dave: Between the phone call, and the weeks leading up to that, I started to study melanoma.

Ann: You never even told me this!

Dave: Well, here we are: I tell you in public, on air. But no; honestly, I didn’t know melanoma was that serious. I just thought, “It's a little mole. They’re going to cut off a little tiny piece of your mole. I’ve probably got a couple of those.”  Anyway, as I just researched a little bit, I was like, “Wow, this is serious/serious.”

Ann: Yes, we’ve had friends pass away from this.

Dave: Just recently, we sat at Gary’s funeral. His was a melanoma that he didn’t deal with for months. The fact that you were right on top of it; and then your brother, Jim—shout out to Jim Baron—getting you into one of the top cancer institutes in the country, down in Columbus, Ohio, which is a four-hour drive from us.

You told me that: “Hey, I’m going down to Columbus this week; and they’re not going to do surgery. I’m just going to have an appointment.”  They’re basically going to look at your tests and decide; right?

Ann: Yes, and I felt a real peace about this. For some reason, I felt like God was really protecting me/equipping me. I wondered, “Will Dave want to go with me?” But I knew you had/we had some interviews that day, which I had to get out of; and so I didn’t expect that you would go with me, because it was just a consult. [Laughter]

Dave: Well, we’re sort of dancing around—what actually happened is—I did not go. We both thought: “You’re just going down to a normal doctor’s appointment; he’s going to say, ‘Yep, we need to do surgery; let’s schedule it for the next week or two.’” 

Long story short, is Ann goes down.

Ann: I have it [surgery] that day; yes. I get there, and they look at it; and they said, “Well, how would you feel about doing the surgery today?” I said, “Awesome; because then, I don’t have to make another trip down here.”

I had the surgery, and I hadn’t looked at the incision.

Dave: It was on your triceps.

Ann: Yes, my right triceps. My brother, who lives in town, said, “Let’s meet for lunch before you drive back to Michigan.” We’re eating lunch; and he goes, “Well, can I see it?” And they taped it—they didn’t put sutures in—they, which is amazing, they just glued it and put this tape over it. So you could—

Dave: Sutures were on the inside.

Ann: —you could see the incision, and it was probably eight inches long.

Dave: It was from the back of your elbow to almost your armpit.

Ann: And my brother’s face was like, “Whoa!” And then, my brother said, “Where is Dave?!”  And I said, “Oh, we had some responsibilities, and he didn’t know that I was going to have this surgery.” And he said, “Where is Dave?!” And I said, “What are you talking—I just told you.”

He said, “Your husband should be with you.”  And then, my brother’s wife came to lunch; and she said, “Where is Dave?!” [Laughter] They were teasing, but they were very serious; and my sister-in-law said, “When the word, ‘cancer,’ is involved, I think your spouse should be with you. Especially now; you have to drive back four hours with this big incision, and you got up early to be here. Where is Dave?!”

Dave: You call, and say, “They’re doing a surgery now.” I’m like, “Oh, my goodness; I should have been there.”

Ann: And then my friend, Michelle, called as I was driving up north, back to Michigan. She said, “What in the world are you doing in the car by yourself?”  And she was so mad at you, because you weren’t with me.

And I’m going to say, when I was talking to you, I was honest when I just said, “I’ll be fine.” And even after the surgery, I thought, “This is no big deal; I’ll just drive back by myself. I do this stuff all the time by myself.”

Dave: All I can say is: “I blew it.” [Laughter] Again, you can look at the thing; and you said, “Oh, you don’t need to come,”—you said that several times. That’s who you are: you used to pile three boys, under the age of seven, in a minivan and drive down to Atlanta, without even blinking. And so that’s just how you roll.

And you kept saying, “It’s just a doctor’s appointment.”  And I kept saying, “Oh, okay.”  I should have just overridden whatever you said—now, looking back—and just said, “I’m going.” Like Jenny said, the word, “cancer” is involved. It doesn’t matter if you’re going down, just to take a picture of it; I need to be with you on that journey—especially, now that it ended up being a major-surgery moment in your life—and I wasn’t there. I mean, I blew it. It’s one of those learnings that I’ll never get back. [Laughter] It’s going to be a family legacy now that I missed out on this moment to be your partner, and I’m sorry.

One of the reasons we’re talking about this on air: I don’t want any other husband or wife to miss a moment in your life, where you need to be there: how/whatever it is. It could be the most trivial thing in the world—even if they didn’t do the surgery that day—I should have been with you: drive down; drive back—canceled the day, which wouldn’t have been any problem—I could have canceled everything. I should have been there.

Ann: Well, it’s interesting: I told—like I defended you—I just said, “Oh, I told Dave: ‘I’m fine; you don’t need to be there.’” And my friend said something to me; she said, “Why is that? Why are you so independent?”

That got me, as I’m driving my four hours home. I started praying, and bringing God into the situation. It’s always interesting, when you bring Him in. I prayed; and it was like, “Lord, why do I not need anyone?  Why am I so independent? Why am I so prone to say: ‘I’m fine; I can do it,’ ‘No big deal’?” Because I’ve done that our whole marriage. I asked God like, “Lord, is there anything/is this a result of something from my past or wounds?”—because we all have baggage that we carry into our marriage.

When I prayed that, this remembrance came into my mind of being ten years old. I was at a baseball tournament with my family. My dad was a coach; and we were in Memphis, Tennessee. We drove there from Ohio. I made this horrible mistake when I shut my finger in the car door—

Dave: How old were you?

Ann: —at this tournament—ten years old.

We were about to go into this restaurant to eat dinner with the baseball team. My dad and I walked in with my hand—I was holding it—because it was bleeding so horribly;  I had shut it really hard in the door. My mom said to my dad, “I need to take Ann to the hospital right away.”  We go into this hospital/huge hospital in Memphis. I’m sitting there; my finger is bleeding horribly. But there’s a man that comes in—I remember this at ten—he was shot in the chest, and he comes in on the gurney; he goes right by me. It took forever to get someone to look at my finger. It was broken; I needed stitches; it was terrible; it was a bad break. My dad comes in; and I’m thinking, “Oh, good; my dad is here to rescue me/to reassure me.” 

And I’m going to say this [emotion in voice]: my dad was a good man; but sometimes, his priorities could get a little whacked. He looked at me and he said, “How stupid can you be?! What kind of dumb mistake could you make?  How could you slam your finger in the car door?” And I said, “Dad, I didn’t mean to; it was an accident. I didn’t mean to.” He said, “Well, this changes everything. Now, what am I going to do?” I said, “I’ll be fine; Mom and I will just go back to the hotel, and I’ll be fine.” And he said, “Well, this is terrible; talk about an inconvenience.” And he said, “You know, I've got a baseball game to play.” 

That night, I was in so much pain, as that little ten-year-old. I don’t think they gave me anything for pain, but I remember not being able to sleep all night. My finger was just throbbing and throbbing. But I couldn’t get out of my head my dad’s words to me, like what I pain I was: “How could I be so dumb to allow this to happen?”

My response is: “I’ll be fine; don’t worry about me. Just go back to your baseball team.” What I remember praying was: “God, is that my response/is that my protective response?” [Emotion in voice] Isn’t it terrible?—I get teary about it—because I’m not worthy enough of someone’s time or attention.

As I was driving back/as I was praying to God: “Does my independence—my pridefulness of saying, ‘I’m fine; I can do this alone,’—is that a self-protecting thing that I’ve gotten into because of that incident?”—as being ten years old, the feeling like I shouldn’t put anyone out of their way. I don’t want to inconvenience someone, because I’m not worthy enough of that kind of love.

I bring all of that up because I think that we carry so much baggage of our past into our present; we don’t always realize why we’re triggered. We’ve had a lot of the same arguments in our marriage; and a lot of it is because of my own past of what I need and want from you, and you’re not meeting those needs. And a lot of those needs are because of things I didn’t get, growing up. I think we’re so busy and consumed with our everyday life that we don’t always look back into our past. Sometimes, that’s a great thing a counselor can do to help us.

Dave: Yes; and when I hear that story about your dad—again, Dick Baron was an amazing guy—I loved him;—

Ann: —and he apologized for that when I was older; like probably, a few years ago, he apologized for that night.

Dave: —I mean, he taught me a lot about how to be a man. But you know, I hear that story; and I get so mad at him, like, “How in the world could you care more about a baseball tournament than your own daughter?” And then, I’m like, “Oh, I did the same thing,”—made you feel the same way.

I know we had a deep conversation about this, weeks ago, when you really voiced what you felt. It’s one of those—you know, we talked about it; and then, I thought it was over—[Laughter]—like I said, “I’m sorry”; and then, you said, “It’s okay.” And then, a couple days later, I think you shared sort of what you felt in that drive home, that God revealed to you that this has been something you’ve felt your whole life: “…not important,” “Nobody cares,” “You’re—

Ann: —"not worthy.”

Dave: —"not worthy enough to ask for somebody’s help.” 

And then, that’s when it hit me—how deep this was, and is, and always has been—and I contributed to that. I said it then, and I want to say it again: “ I am so sorry. I love you. You are worthy—you’re incredibly worthy—not just because you’re in Christ; but because, as a woman. And I am so sorry I missed that moment. I ask your forgiveness, and I want to never miss that moment or any moment again. I want to be the one in your life, who makes you feel worthy, that you never have to doubt that I would drop anything and everything to be there in any moment in your life. And trust me, I will be there.”  [Laughter]

Ann: Thanks hon; I have forgiven you and I do forgive you. I love that I can process that with you.

And I will say, too, the good thing about the gospel/about Jesus is my worthiness comes from Him: His blood, His death for me. And I think that was a good reminder from God to me, is: “Ann, the thing that makes you worthy is My love, My death, My blood that was shed for you,”—so that, I feel, is so healing—that for your words, too, that is incredibly meaningful; and I know you’ll be there. I will try to not put all my needs aside, to let you know that I need you; and that it’s okay to need you.

Dave: So what would you say to a wife, who’s operating at the same beliefs that you had?

Ann: I think a lot of us, as women, we can be self-protective; because it hurts to be neglected, or not seen, or not heard, or not cared about. I think the first step is to ask God. Isn’t it amazing that God brought that remembrance to my mind?—I mean, the Holy Spirit/we call Him the Counselor. I thought He was my Counselor in the car. I remember, even in that moment, giving Jesus all that had happened, and admitting: “Lord, this is/that was so painful. I think what I’ve done is resolved, as an adult, ‘I don't let people in. I don’t want people to get too close, because they might hurt me like that.’” I think that was a really good thing [to discover].

And so to be honest; I think: “It’s great”—this is going to be crazy—"I think it’s great to share our life stories with our spouse—the things that brought us the greatest joy, the things that maybe were so hurtful—I think it really helps us to understand one another.

I wonder if most couples have done that: talk about the real highs but some of the great pain and lows.

Dave: I mean, we didn’t do it, for decades, honestly.

But I/when I hear you say that, I think a lot of wives—it may be flipped in some marriages—but I think a lot of wives feel what you felt about their husband: “His job is more important,” “He’s chasing hard after other things; I’m not as important,” “Even the kids aren’t as important.”

Ann: My dad used to tell my mom that: “You’re not as important as my job, just so you know.

Dave: Well, here’s another truth that you—

Ann: —grew up with.

Dave: —grew up with that might be a lie.

So that’s why I’m bringing it up; because I think what you felt, I think a lot of women feel. And there may be—again, it may be flipped in the marriage—because I think, sometimes, we can feel—[as] the husband—that the kids are more important than I am.


Ann: Oh, yes.

Dave: They’re just—you care more about their welfare and how they’re doing—than how I’m doing. So it can go both ways.

I just know—that moment in our marriage—like it’s one of those: “Ohh, can we just go back and rewind?—I’m in the car; I’m driving down there,”—it’s never going to go away. And yet, it was connected to something deep in your soul; which is, in my mind, not true.

Ann: Well, when I—

Dave: I love you more than anything in the world, but I didn’t show it that day.

Ann: When I shared with you my process and thinking, and how I went back into the past, what did you think when you heard that with my dad?

Dave: —like I’m the biggest idiot in the world. [Laughter]  I mean, it’s like: “How did I miss that moment?”—I mean, I know your history and your past; I know those wounds. Although, yes—I mean, it’s highlighted, even since that day—how often you still do that. I said that to you last week; it’s like, “You don’t have to do everything for everybody.” [Laughter] I never/I don’t think I always connected it to: “You don’t feel worthy of somebody serving you, so you serve everybody.”

Ann: Well, I do love to serve everybody.

Dave: I know; but there’s a deeper thing there too; it’s both/and. I mean, there are times when it’s okay—the kids can manage without you; the grandkids will be fine—they don’t have to have you bending over backwards to have you take care of them. And it’s okay for them to serve you a little bit.

Ann: Oh, yes; I don’t like people to serve me—that’s true—but would I have ever said: “I don’t know feel worthy of being served”? I’m not sure I would have connected that in the past.

Dave: Would you say to a wife: “You need to go ahead and say to your husband, ‘I need you there’?”—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: —even though everything in you doesn’t want to say it?

Ann: If I had said to you, “Can you please come? I need you,” you would have dropped everything and been there for me.

Dave: I should have anyway.

Ann: I should have been able to say that, but I didn’t feel it; I thought I would be fine.  But I think that is a defense mechanism that’s in my life. I think to be aware of those: “Why do we have some of those mechanisms and protections in our lives?”

Dave: Yes; and I think we’ve said it a million times; Jesus said it: “Love is sacrifice.” So you lay down your life for your spouse. And if it means getting in a car and driving four hours down and four hours back, that’s a little tiny sacrifice to be in a valley, which you don’t even know is a valley. Because I thought, “It’s not a valley; next week’s a valley, when she has the surgery. But this week’s just a consult.” 

You just never know; so I think God is saying to us, and every couple: “Be there.”  [Laughter] There’s nothing to add:—

Ann: Well,—

Dave:Be there.”

Ann: —you added one little thing, which I think is significant. I think, as wives and as moms, it’s really easy—at least, for me, as a woman—to put my kids in front of you.

Dave: Yes, let’s talk about that a little bit [Laughter]

Ann: I remember my dad visiting us—I've shared this here before—but at the dinner table, he made this comment as he’s eating with our whole family and my mom. He said, “Wow, your kids really have it good.” And I said to him, “Oh, thanks; that’s nice of you.” And he said, “No; I mean your kids have it really good. They have it way better than Dave. You treat them way better than Dave.”  And I was super defensive.

Dave: You thought I told him to say that.

Ann: I did. But it’s really easy for me to put them in front of you; and maybe, it’s because of little hurts, along the way. I feel like my kids love me, and I can love them unconditionally. But there’s a covenant between the two of us; there’s a vow that we’ve taken. And I don’t think I always live out my vow of putting you before the kids; I don’t do that well. I think that’s true of a lot of us, wives; and why do we do that?—maybe, because we’re hurt—maybe, because we feel like our husbands put other things before us.

I think that may be a little pep talk today, of asking you like, “How are you doing with your priorities of making sure your husband—you’re loving him, and you’re making him a priority—above your kids or grandkids?”

Dave: Yes; and I’m going to say the same thing to the guy—to the husband/to the dad—I know we know this, as men, our job is not the most important thing; our wife and our kids is the most important thing. And yet, I don’t think we often live that way—like we really think, at the end of our life, we’re going to care about our job; we really aren’t—not saying your job’s not important/not saying you’re not making an impact for the kingdom, even at your job—I’m just saying, in the end, all that matters is: love God and love others. Those “others first” are your family: your wife and kids. When that gets out of order, all chaos breaks loose; I would say start there.

Shelby: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today. Ann’s got a scary, but good, question to ask your spouse tonight—that’s coming up in just a minute—but first, let’s talk truth: “Marriage takes work.”  You can ask your parents, ask your pastor, ask any couple you know: great marriages don’t just happen. At FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, you and your spouse really get the time to, intentionally, grow with one another. Weekend to Remember gift cards are now 50 percent off through November 28.

It can sometimes be hard to choose where to go right now; so a gift card can allow you to buy now, and register for your location later; because these things are happening all over the country. When you think about Weekend to Remember, you may even have another couple come to mind; and these gift cards really do make great gifts too. All of them are half off, right now, through November 28. You can visit and find a Weekend to Remember gift card.

Okay; here’s a scary, but good, question you can ask your spouse tonight, if you dare.

Ann: This is a scary question: “Do you feel like I’m a top priority in your life?”—like ask that, as a spouse, to your husband or wife. And then, I would ask this, too: “Tell me about a time in your life when you felt rejected.”

Dave: Ooh, that’s deep.

Ann: That might be a really good question. And “How then,”—here’s the next question/the follow-up question—“How does that still affect you today; or does it?”

Shelby: Tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined by Kevin and Melissa Valentine, who share a story about Kevin, a pro golfer [candidate], who had his dreams shattered when he was severely injured in a car accident. That’s coming up tomorrow.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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