I can’t say that cancer has profoundly changed me. I’m not hopping onto any causes about this recent challenge in my life; I’m not pressed to write a book about this journey. But neither can I say that cancer hasn’t changed me. The changes have been inner. In quiet ways, I’ve been gently awakened in my spirit.
Mine was caught very early, so my treatment was minimal. I don’t feel that I can even step into the circle of those hailed as a “cancer survivor,” though technically I would be tagged as one. I simply don’t feel worthy of that exceptional, courageous title. My journey through cancer was far simpler than many others’, and while I’m thankful for the blessed ease by comparison, I know my diagnosis could have been far, far worse. My heart goes out to the many women, men, and children I’ve seen in the glory of their shiny bald heads, some donned with knitted hats and others with a sheath of fuzzy new growth. I didn’t suffer the plight that finds many hugging a toilet bowl, “throwing your guts up”— as my sister so eloquently put it. Her firstborn, my nephew, died at age 25 from colon cancer, and he suffered greatly—as did my sister as his mother. She watched him slowly ease from her grasp into eternity as she nursed him at his bedside throughout his final year on this present earth. PRAISE TO GOD that they will be reunited one day, with new bodies, on a new earth encased in a new heaven.
The namesake of my own firstborn was his uncle who had lain in bed in our home as he died from cancer. I sat at his bedside, doing whatever I could for his comfort and care in his final weeks and days—though I felt explicitly helpless, except for the day he asked me to help him plan his funeral service. While that ‘help’ may sound tragic and even morbid, it was actually a beautiful time with him, a cherished memory that’s permanently inked in my thoughts and brings a soft smile to my lips.
So, no, I don’t feel I’ve earned a place in the circle of the cancer courageous—those who have truly suffered and survived and suffered and died from this present earth.
The other blessed fact of my cancer months was that I never—not even once—felt an inkling of fear. Strange. For all my life prior to hearing the words, “You have cancer,” I had been terrified of the word and its real-life implications. I had seen cancer up close and personal. It hit those around me like random bullets. But when my day came, and those words were directed at me, there was absolutely no spark of fear. How can that be? I’ve often wondered since my diagnosis.
Prior, I’d been so afraid of cancer. I had always believed that if its stray bullet ever hit me, I’d be utterly consumed and debilitated with fear. Quite the opposite, which is so otherworldly to me. I try to reason through my lack of fear, to pinpoint why my diagnosis barely bleeped in my psyche. It’s a given that God’s grace was over me and His presence with me, as He’s always been in every fiery furnace, and I’m not at all diminishing these truths, but there’s a lifetime of trials I had to consider as well. My earthly conclusion is that when one has experienced raw, debilitating terror again and again from different sources, other circumstances, like child abuse and adult abuse, a diagnosis of cancer could, possibly seem less daunting by comparison.
How thankful I am to not have carried the additional weight of fear as I took the steps through cancer treatments. Fear itself had for so long been my closest innermost companion, it was a relief, an amazing relief, to face something as overwhelming and challenging as cancer and feel buffeted—miraculously—from fear. I’m very grateful for God’s grace.
For many years, when sharing with women the bits and pieces of my childhood and early-adulthood realities of intensive terror and perpetual fight or flight, I too often saw in those women the many ways I could relate to their pain. I had often shared in sympathy, “There are only two things I haven’t experienced as a women: cancer and prison.” In reality, I realized it was only cancer I had not experienced, until recently. While I’ve not served any time in a civil-government-type prison, I have certainly lived long as a hostage in other real-life prisons, guarded by cruel men from the day of my birth and into my late twenties. When I was at last free, it was in the physical sense. Emotionally, the prisons constructed and fortified within me by cruel men, and by my own doing, over many decades, are not as easily torn down and left behind. But as I’ve pushed forward, toward learning who God created me to be, Jesus who died to make me free, and learning to take hold of my true identity and heritage in Him, and keeping my eyes on the prize, those earthly prisons have begun to fade. They’re not gone, but I’m learning to see them through different lenses.
I began to realize that I’m more than a fragile flower; I’m a deeply-rooted-in flower, in a messy wildflower garden, and I’ve weathered many storms with the One who is always with me. Looking at the dust settling behind us on life’s rugged road, I’ve had to ask myself honestly: in what and in whom shall I fear?
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” —Psalm 27:1 (ESV)
What about the fear of death? Death is a given for us all; and, honestly, death holds an exciting “new life” anticipation for me: answers, eternal life, in a new body, in a very active heaven with Jesus, with those I love, and eventually a new earth and new heaven where there will be . . .
This world has not been my true home. As a firmly rooted-in believer in Jesus Christ and in the promises and faithfulness of God, my Abba, I can genuinely say that my final exhale here will be to then inhale in heaven, eyes wide open. I don’t believe heaven will be boring but perfectly busy, using our gifts to the unimaginable fullness. That will be a blessing, a joy, a welcome when that time comes. But it’s not that time; God is not yet done with me here; so I choose to continue to practice the art of blooming where I’m planted: in my beautifully messy wildflower garden of this life, with you.
If you want to delve into the biblical details and inspiring considerations and possibilities about Heaven, I recommend the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn.