Cancer. It’s a word we hear every day of our lives. Chances are good that you know at least one person who has faced this dreaded monster. It is the cause of chaos and confusion in so many homes today. According to some statistics, about 3,400 people are diagnosed with cancer each day in the United States.
“For me, the reality of cancer isn’t a kid hooked to chemo or passing through the radiation machine for the last time. The reality is a little boy that once ran through the grass in his bare feet, played dress-up with his friends and made farting noises on purpose became a little boy who had seizures and lost the ability to speak, hear, move and see the last month of his life …”
Today, February 4, World Cancer Day, I’m sharing with you the words of a dear friend who lost her precious son, Johnny, to the dreaded monster of cancer.
“If I reflect on how cancer has impacted my family, I lose the ability to think and my breath catches and my heart stops, remembering all the details of Johnny’s eleven month battle. If I think about the people that have impacted me because of the cancer journey, my heart lightens as if with wings.”
There is so much to learn about cancer… so much we could focus on. But here’s what I want to consider today. Cancer is a friend to no one, but YOU can be.
Relationships with people can ease the burden of cancer. When there is a crisis, when someone is hurting, deep, honest, caring relationships with people ease the pain. In the midst of grief, sorrow, heartache, anguish, angst, pain, misery, woe… be a friend. Don’t numb yourself to their reality. Enter into the suffering, the grief and pain of life. Walk the path together.
“Many have suffered over the course of history. Cancer is a form of suffering for some. It was for me. And cancer, for me, became about relationships. There is always something good to be found in the pain. Search until you find it! When all hope is lost, this becomes the hope.” Knowing that you aren’t walking through the dark valley alone. Living life together in community.
“Cancer is painful for anyone willing to allow it to impact their heart. Many will guard themselves against it. I appreciated something our pastor said at Johnny’s memorial service. Their son, who was ten, was asking hard questions and wrestling with why someone his age would die. His dad allowed the family to wrestle and feel the tension of Johnny’s death. He let the uncomfortable cloud their home.”
You don’t have to have answers. You don’t need to make things appear sunny and bright. Life is hard. Things happen that we don’t understand, that we can’t explain, that we don’t like. The uncomfortable is uncomfortable… but not unbearable when you’re in relationships.
“This last year and a half since Johnny died has been a search for hope as I have pressed into the relationships around me. My first relationship is to Jesus. Richard Foster, in his book Prayer, puts it this way, “Through all of this, paradoxically, God is purifying our faith by threatening to destroy it.” This is undeniably the process that follows the loss of a child.
My marriage has been stretched and bent in every possible direction. Ninety percent of marriages end in divorce at the loss of a child. While the toll on a marriage is intense, my husband and I have used every speck of knowledge about each other and ourselves to keep our marriage full of love and care for each other and our children. Setting aside past hurts and embracing the pain of our present has taken intentional effort. Grief is hard work and harder when you grieve differently than your spouse. Emotional distancing will dissolve a marriage over time, but emotional teamwork with strengthen a family.
Being a friend of a cancer family is a difficult task…Cancer has ultimately changed many relationships – cementing some, destroying others. Grief work is ugly.”
The diagnosis alone is scary and immediately brings the emotion of grief, both to the patient and to those who care for him. No matter the ultimate outcome, whether the patient becomes cancer free or loses the battle with this terrible disease, the process of grief is one that each will go through. And “grief work is ugly.” Ugly, repulsive, hideous work. Unpleasant, horrible, dreadful. Just like the dreaded monster itself.
“I often look for others who have suffered to grasp for hope that one day I will feel less broken.” Maybe that’s supposed to be part of each of our stories… being willing to share in the suffering with others and then to use the suffering we’ve endured to walk with empathy beside someone else in pain. “Cancer is a form of suffering for some. It was for me. And cancer, for me, became about relationships.”
I once read that “you can’t turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again.” The past is past. It cannot be changed. But as you move into today, learn from my friend who has endured suffering of her own and has been willing to share a piece of her heart with us. “Grief is hard work.” “Grief is ugly.” “Grief leaves us grasping for hope.” But “if I think about the people that have impacted me because of the cancer journey, my heart lightens as if with wings.”
Be a friend. Enter into the suffering, the grief and pain of life, and walk the path together.
I love you, Amanda.