Evangelists Carl Beech and Steve Legg have been friends for more than 20 years. They have pioneered ministries and travelled the world telling people about Christ. Earlier this year, Carl was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease, while Steve was told the cancer he’s been battling meant he had just five months to live. They discuss chronic illness and terminal diagnoses, their different attitudes to healing and facing the future – whatever it holds – with joy
Carl Beech (pictured, right): During the pandemic, I was on the patio doing kettlebells and I had really bad shoulder pain. Being a bloke, I ignored it. Anyway, fast forward a few years and I started developing strange spasms. I noticed that my arm wasn’t swinging when I walked. Long story short, I went to see a doctor, and [was diagnosed with] young onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD). It is so rare that only 14,000 people out of the 67 million in the country have got it. I’ve lost 80 per cent of the dopamine neurons in my brain, and they’re continuing to die. It is an incurable disease. That’s my story. What about yours, Steve?
Steve Legg (pictured, left): Nearly two years ago, my wife noticed a tiny black mark on my foot, like a little blood blister. I took a photo of it, sent it to the doctor and they referred me for a biopsy. I’ve got a very rare skin cancer called acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM). It’s nothing to do with the sun, it’s just some rogue gene in my body.
I had an operation, but it had spread into my lymphatic system. A second op took out a lymph node in my groin and in January, I had a much bigger op that has only been done a couple of times in the UK. They took out all the lymph nodes in my groin and pelvis area. I’ve been on immunotherapy, but that didn’t really work for me – apart from giving me Type 1 diabetes, which I know you’re struggling with as well, Carl.
My calling in life – whether long or short, easy or hard – is to tell people about Jesus
This April, we had a wonderful week at Spring Harvest and, [when we got back], I went to see the oncologist. I walked in and thought: You do not have to be a body language expert to realise this is not good news. The cancer had spread to my liver, stomach, spine and brain. I said: “How much longer have I got?” She said: “Probably five months.”
I know God can heal me, I believe God will heal me, but I was just really numb. My wife, Bekah, and I were just processing, talking practically about how we were going to tell our daughters. They came over for dinner and I couldn’t tell them. I had to leave it to Bekah while I hid upstairs.
Steve Legg, (left) 56, is a speaker, author and founder of The Breakout Trust. A comedian and evangelist, he is the editor of Sorted magazine and lives in Littlehampton with his wife, Bekah. They have five grown-up daughters and one grandchild. Steve was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, and given just five months to live in April 2023.
Carl Beech (right) 51, is an evangelist, church leader and author. He is president of Christian Vision for Men, leader of Edge Ministries and CEO of Spotlight YOPD. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife, Karen. They have two grown-up daughters and one grandchild. Carl was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease earlier this year.
Carl: For me, two things really stood out. One is that the doctor said: “This is going to be really tough. You could be in a wheelchair in five years. The pills last for eight to twelve hours, you’ve got to take them for the rest of your life, then it’s brain surgery.” I walked out a bit bewildered.
But I’d done this gig in Liverpool, ages before. This guy sat next to me and said: “You must listen to ‘Chain Breaker’ by Zach Williams. It’s from the Lord.” Anyway, two weeks later, I thought: I’ll put that song on. It’s phenomenal! It talks about [God] being a pain-taker, a waymaker. I wasn’t even feeling ill at this point, but the presence of God touched me and I felt God say: “My grace is sufficient for you. What’s coming to you is a gift.”
I burst into tears, which is unusual for me, and phoned [my wife] Karen. I said: “I think I’m going to be really ill, but it’s going to be all right.” I had this sense that God was with me in it, which gave me a strange sense of calm.
Steve: I had four gigs that weekend [after I was first told the cancer had spread]. I thought: There’s no way I can do it. But I spoke to some friends and I thought: This is what God has called me to do. My calling in life – whether long or short, easy or hard – is to tell people about Jesus.
Carl: I remember having that conversation with you, and that inspired me as well. I live in a very deprived community in Derbyshire. Three miles down the road, you live 30 years longer without chronic health problems. When I first got diagnosed, I thought: If I’m going to become completely disabled, I think I’ll go and do that in Provence, or Florida. But the Lord said: “No, live out joy among those who are struggling.” I’ve felt so much peace in that. I mean, you get your dark nights of the soul, but it’s also been a beautiful thing, as much as it totally sucks, if that makes sense.
God feels so much closer now. People say: “Have you felt angry?” You know, asking: Why me? But I’m like: Why not me? I’ve not felt angry with God at all. Maybe I can live this with joy and strength, and be an example. I’m a contented man; that’s the weird gift of chronic illness.
Steve: I would say exactly the same. I found myself clinging to God and spending more time in prayer. Two words really stuck out for me: reprioritising and gratitude.
Carl: We both believe in a God who heals, but I felt from the Lord that I would have joy and strength as I decline. I preached on this at a conference and when I went into the toilets after, this bloke followed me in and said: “You’re wrong! You should be claiming your healing! I’m not moving until you let me pray for you!”
I believe that Jesus has punched Parkinson’s in the face. He dealt with it on the cross. Whether it is this side of eternity or the other side, I know my healing has taken place and I’ll get a new body one day. Theologically, I believe in healing, but pastorally we need to be very careful. People die in shame because they were told they didn’t have enough faith, didn’t pray in a certain way, didn’t rebuke it or make the right declarations. That is spiritual abuse.
I pray that God will heal you, Steve, all the time. But I also pray for myself that God would sustain me. It’s interesting that people still can’t quite bring themselves to pray for that. Sometimes people are wearing glasses, and I want to say: “Why don’t you pray for your short-sightedness to be healed?”
Steve: Sometimes you just don’t want to talk about your illness. You’re at an event and so many people are asking: “How are you? No, really, how are you?” And you’re thinking: I just want to forget about cancer for an hour. It’s such a hard balance.
A few weeks ago, thousands of people were praying for me from all over the world. And that same week, I had a visit to [the] hospice to talk about end-of-life care. So it’s about really reaching out to a miracle-working God – and I know God can do it, I’ve seen him do it – but holding the tension of the medical solution as well. I love the words of Spurgeon: “We are immortal till our work is done.” I really don’t believe my work here on earth is done yet.
Carl: There’s gospel juice to be squeezed out of this, isn’t there? I’m in front of a whole new arena of people in the medical world who are not believers. I’m able to share with them and I believe God is shining a light there. And I’ve got a greater empathy than I had before. You go through life not really noticing things like disability until it hits you. Suddenly you’re looking at access to shops and people’s ability to get around and you appreciate life more.
Steve: It’s a little thing, but I’m watching a lot more comedy and a lot less current affairs. No one on their deathbed ever said: “I wish I watched the ten o’clock news a bit more.”
Carl: I’m developing a book of Parkinson’s jokes [laughs]. Although I was a little bit suspicious when my wife brought home Buckaroo from a charity shop…
Steve: You’d be no good at Operation either…
Carl: Or Jenga!
Steve: It’s hard being thankful to God when you’re up in the middle of the night, but I just try to be grateful. I’m still loving the gigging, the travelling and running Sorted magazine. People must see me at the hospital and think: Well, you’re a bit of a fraud. But praise God, I’m doing well at the moment.
I’ve got five daughters. We’re a blended family. My wife is very medical and her two girls want to know every last detail. My three? I don’t know if the prognosis has really sunk in. But a prognosis is just a prognosis. It hasn’t got to be right. The only thing that is really frustrating is that I’m not allowed to drive anymore.
Carl: I was planning a tour to Australia this morning, so it’s still business as usual in lots of ways in terms of ministry and mission. But I do have to accept that on some days, I cannot do what I used to. I need to build the right rest around my travel. My wife would probably say I’ve not made any adjustments but, mentally and emotionally I have, if not practically.
These things do drag you down if you let them; it’s like death by 1,000 paper cuts. I suffer from catastrophic fatigue, which I’ve never experienced in my life. It’s like my body is so heavy, I cannot move. I can get quite bad apathy, and I can get hit by anxiety because of the lack of dopamine. But the Bible says: “Be joyful always; pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, GNT). When I choose joy and gratitude, the Holy Spirit does something. So I seem to be quite happy a lot of the time, and even when I’ve got bad apathy or anxiety, I can say: “No, that’s not me. That’s my brain not working properly.”
I felt God say: ‘My grace is sufficient for you. What’s coming to you is a gift’
Steve: I’ve learned that, at a time when it’s easy to focus on all that’s wrong, it’s becoming easier to spot what’s right.
Carl: Your filter for rubbish gets very sharp. And my radar for what’s going to bring fruitfulness has definitely increased. Parkinson’s is going to shorten my life. If the Lord doesn’t heal me, I’m on a steady decline. I’ve said to the Lord: “You gave me my life. It’s all yours. But if, by your grace, you could spare my voice and my brain, I can love my family and my friends, and preach the gospel.” That’s my prayer.
Every day is a battle. But God may want me to be a walking discombobulation, that I may confound people by the way I live. I think attitude has a lot to do with that. Choosing joy, optimism and hope is an extremely powerful weapon.
Steve: You’re right. I take steroids now because the immunotherapy gave me colitis. I said: “Well, doc, at least I’ll get me guns back!” My oncologist said: “Only you could see anything positive in this situation!” It speaks volumes.
Carl: There are definitely benefits. Parkinson’s disrupts the serotonin pathways that control sleep and appetite, so while I have terrible insomnia, I don’t feel like eating much, which is fantastic for the six pack! And the synthetic dopamine really lowers your blood pressure, so you have to drink more coffee. So that’s brilliant!
You can choose to wallow, or you can say: “This gift of life is the most beautiful thing.” It hurts when you see people wasting life, bickering, getting wound up. I’m like: “Seize the day, you know? These things don’t matter.”
We’ve been given an amazing gift, to be able to demonstrate the true value of putting our faith, hope and trust in Christ. So now it’s about using this for God’s glory – and having a laugh along the way!
Steve: ‘Gospel’ means good news, and there’s nothing that would stop me from sharing this good news, because people need to hear it. It’s life-changing and I want to do it till my last day.
Carl: One day, we will all die and be with the Lord. So why don’t we live for him for as long as he gives us? One more for Jesus till the day we breathe our last!
Steve Legg and Carl Beech were speaking to Emma Fowle
Listen to Steve and Carl’s conversation in full, coming soon to The Profile podcast premierchristianity.com/theprofile