Friday, February 13, 2015


I thoroughly agree with this hashtag while at the same time, disliking it immensely -- not because I have some sort of respect for cancer, but because I have some respect for myself. The whole "sucks thing," I know has become part of daily vernacular, even for many faithful Christians. It has become nothing more than a strong version of "stinks." However, I still don't like its origins and/ or its implied meaning. So, allow me to propose #cancerisevil, or #ihatecancer, even #cancerneedstobeeradicated. Lengthy, I know, but A) it allows me to express my point without using words I wouldn't want your five year old to repeat, and B) it goes a step further toward saying it is not something we just need to face, something we need to deal with, but something very real that we need to take action against. And I say all of this NOT for myself. Let's face it, when it comes to cancers, I have one of the most treatable; based on my age, affected area and staging, the survival rate is just shy of 100%. You can't even say that about taking a cruise anymore. Outside of the emotional bummer of having my release from oncological care rescinded based on "just one more test" (if the oncologist ever says that DO NOT believe him), everything else is simply medicine. Like taking an antibiotic or setting a broken leg. Sure, no one wants to do it, but it makes you better, so you do.

The reason I am angry with cancer is because of what it has taught me. Things I would never choose to see or never wish to know. I think we all search for knowledge about something; I don't think anyone is perfectly blissful in complete ignorance. We all want to know what's behind curtain #1, or what would my life had been like if I had..., or how does the "other half" live. But when I see someone, someone really young, or really old afflicted by cancer, a lot of questions begin to gnaw at me. Sadly, I got some answers, and I hate what I've learned.

The first time I came face to face with the possibility of cancer, I sat in an all-to-crowded, very warm waiting room with a veritable Heinz variety of folks. An older woman struck me as sort of sad; she was obviously a repeat customer. But who doesn't expect this to be the face of cancer? She appeared to be in her sixties, thin and frail and pale, a scarf wound tightly around her head. I arrogantly, expectantly closed my hand around the clean bill of health the oncologist obligingly dropped into it, and stepped out the door and back into my life. Not until I returned for my routine check did I see the true character of cancer for what it is. As my tears mingled with the freezing rain falling hard outside the oncologist's office, I'd never felt so alone or so betrayed. Long story short, it was a blip, a glitch, and that clean bill of health proved to be stronger than the threat of anything more. But I learned that cancer is NOT -- despite what they tell you -- an exact science. That it is a liar, a conniving, backstabbing, insidious enemy straight from the pit of Hell. That it can take a warm, sunny day and make it cold and bleak within minutes.

Just a few years later, when that clean bill of health had lost its place of reverence and fallen in cue and value somewhere behind too much to do and too many bills to pay, cancer came calling again. This time it was real, and it was a complete surprise. After surgery for a completely unrelated issue, I found myself in a cancer treatment center asking a question which I'd prefaced, "Now, you say that I had cancer--"

"I don't say it, you did have cancer." SLAP! Cancer didn't care about my denial and, quite frankly, neither did my doctor (thank God!). But on that visit, cancer showed me just how ugly and consuming it can be. Not only did it not care what I wanted to think, it didn't care who it hurt -- and trust me, it hurts more than the physical bodies it chooses to commandeer. As I stood waiting to leave, a man clearly not given to blubbering or sharing personal details was confiding to the receptionist about the deteriorating condition of his wife. He seemed to be searching not only for comfort, but for some sort of reason or order, some way to make sense of it all. But I learned that cancer needs no reason; that it disavows any purposes but its own and defies order. That cancer assaults anyone who even remotely cares for those with it. That it lies in wait and wraps itself in deception, biding its time for likely and unlikely host alike, likely and unlikely moment alike. That, like the antagonist of a psychological thriller, it manipulates the minds and health of those nearby, delighting to steal any hope or hope of hope it can, wreaking further havoc on its target.

Months later when the doctor and I agreed we'd retest, looking for some different result, I was rendered with another truth about cancer: it will not go away on its own, and it will wait as long as need be. This time I wound up in a place called "Nuclear Medicine." Being a child of the seventies, it conjured up all sorts of images of Three Mile Island, cloak and dagger-type espionage, sinister cover-ups, and Karen Silkwood receiving the news "Thelma is cooked!" In reality, it was a place no child should ever have to hear of much less be. As I stood at the Registration Desk one morning I noticed a hospital gurney down the hall. Reminiscent of the ubiquitous ad for hospitals everywhere, a child lay on the gurney, sunlight pouring through doors nearby and casting itself across her face; her mother and a nurse stood at her side, concern bleeding through the upturned corners of their mouths. As I stood there, appreciating this vignette come to life and noticing especially the little girl's full, beautiful, wavy brown locks, it was then the tumblers dropped into place; I realized that, unlike the ad, this was very real. I immediately knew that cancer was hateful. That this little child knew terms and procedures no child should ever have to know. That this child was out of place, and that she was not in class or sitting at lunch with her friends or out playing in the snow. That cancer had inserted itself in her life like some vulgar unchecked pedophile at a child's birthday party. That her family and her friends knew what she knew. That by affecting one little girl an entire segment of society could be changed forever. That cancer steals your "normal" and the normal of everyone else around you.

Now, as a Christian, I have faith that my God is bigger, that my God is sovereign, and my God is love. But I can see the brokenness of people and the world in which we live -- lasting consequences of self-worship. Though I can pray and find comfort, though I can read God's Word and find hope (He does win, by the way), I am not absolved of compassion or devoid of hating all that is wrong with this world. On the contrary, it is my faith which makes me more compassionate, and makes me to hate evil even more. And so it is in this spirit that I write:


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