April 13th, 2011
09:43 AM ET
Editor's note: Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special report, "Nick Charles: No Regrets, Lessons from the Fight," on May 22 at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.
By Wayne Drash, CNN
(CNN) - Nick Charles’ battle with terminal bladder cancer - and the way his faith is shaping his final days with his family - struck a deep spiritual chord with many of our readers.
Megapastor Joel Osteen, an avid sports fan who had grown up watching the longtime sportscaster, was among those who reached out to Charles after reading about him on CNN.com.
"He had to call me and inspire me to fight this," said Charles, who was CNN’s first sports anchor.
Charles said he watches Osteen "all the time." When Charles underwent chemotherapy at a Texas hospital, his wife, Cory, attended Osteen's church in Houston.
Charles said he was humbled to hear from one of the nation's top preachers. While on the phone, Osteen prayed for Charles’ family, especially his 5-year-old daughter, Giovanna.
"God is going to take care of you and your family," Osteen told Charles.
Charles said, "The thrust [of his message] is God has a plan for me. I'm not ready to go yet."
Sister Benita Coffey taught Charles in 6th grade in Chicago. She'd lost touch with him over the years, but when she read the story she immediately felt the urge to tell the now-grown boy how much she loved him.
"I always saw something good in him," said Coffee, one of many people who’ve called or emailed Charles. "I wanted him to know he has become a man of such integrity and personal strength."
Ravi Zacharias, an evangelical minister and best-selling author who wrote "Can Man Live Without God," said Charles' story touched so many people because he exemplifies "the convergence of faith, family and finitude."
"All three have come together," Zacharias told CNN by phone from Singapore. "His surrender to an ultimate purpose of God has made him handle this journey. I'm sure he's had some dark nights of his soul when he's all alone. It's impossible not to have them.”
Zacharias has known Charles and his wife for the past two decades and officiated their wedding in 1997. “What I've seen in Nick Charles," he said, "is the miracle of a transformed life.
"What people will take away from Nick is not just a lifestyle, but a death-style - that you have to face death. The dark night and the dark valley he's walked through, he's walked through with courage and with fortitude."
In comments posted on the article, one reader simply wrote, "This is a life-changing story."
Another person wrote Charles directly: "My goodness what an inspiration you are, not only to the people who know you, but to those you've never met who, through you, can learn and truly understand the meaning of life and living it to the fullest."
In the Philippines, a group of children who have been helped by a charity Charles supports drew pictures and penned notes to him.
Society is uncomfortable with talking about death, Zacharias said, because we like to "always think our comforts will remain." When somebody speaks so openly about the dying process, it helps strip away our fears.
And that's what resonated. "Nick has gotten along with people of different world views, of different callings, of different professions," Zacharias said. "I think he's a reminder to all of us to do whatever you do well.
"That there are people of so many different beliefs, all of whom admire and respect Nick, shows that to the end he knows how to hold his convictions, with dignity and respect for those of other views. The world would be a better place if we followed his example."
Many readers said they cried when they read his story and struggle. Many offered prayers: "Praying for a miracle for him and all those suffering with cancer."
Zacharias, who is traveling in Asia, spoke by phone with Charles on Monday. "Nick, I have watched you over the last 15 years now and seen your love for God and what God has prepared for you," Zacharias told him.
The evangelist quoted 1 Corinthians 2:9. "Eye has not seen; ear has not heard; neither has entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love him."
Zacharias told Charles that God has a plan "even though what he's taking you through now is so painful and unbearable."
"I can't tell you what that means to me," Charles said through tears.
Charles said the responses have "morphed into something amazing for me."
"I've never had more feedback on anything in my life."
In last week's article, Charles said Jesus once sat with him on his bed and helped him through the night. "It wasn't a dream," he says. "I wasn't hallucinating."
Charles says he grew up Catholic but "fell away" from the church for most of his life. He returned to Christianity in 1992. He was sitting in the balcony of a church in downtown Atlanta when he saw a homeless man in a ragged blue jean jacket approach the altar at the end of the service.
"This guy needed help, and spiritually I did too," he said. "It just really hit me. I said I've really got to dig into this more and see why it applies to my life and try to build on it from here.
"That day turned me around."
To atheists and agnostics, Charles said, "If I'm wrong, I have lived a better life since 1992."
He said cancer will ultimately take his life, "barring a miracle from the Lord, which I'm still holding out for."
Yet his faith has taught him "there's nothing to fear. Eternity is what we're talking about."
"Faith is fastening on to what is unseen."
He then quoted from 2 Corinthians 4:16. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."
If you're inspired by his story, Nick Charles and his family would be honored if you made a donation to help stop child trafficking and abuse, increase access to education and allow children to embrace life. Working with the humanitarian organization World Vision and the TEACH NOW: Preventing Child Labor in the Philippines project, the family welcomes support here: worldvision.org/embracelife.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.