It’s late at night, but I feel like writing. Throughout my day I’ve scrolled through The Cancer Patient Instagram stories. The topic has been primarily centered around religious people, and the stupid things they’ve said and the myriad of ways we’ve been hurt by them. There were even a few priests and pastors offering their experiences and soliciting what to say.
The topic of faith and spirituality and cancer has been mulling in my mind for a while, but nothing seemed appropriate to say. I’m deeply committed to my faith and consider myself to have a close relationship with God. That being said, the people that have hurt me the worst in my life have shared my faith, and most of them even shared the denomination I grew up in. I’m remembering the stinging pain of a classmate and “friend” in college who (in chronological order), deserted me when I had to drop out of college, texted me only to get a referral for a lab to work in, rudely outed a fellow classmate, and then proceeded to cuss me out in a lab. Such a great Christian guy. Or the church lady who insistently called and contacted me with the stupid platitudes of “God chooses his strongest warriors for the hardest battles” and way more sayings I know y’all have heard before. My parents actually had the hospital block her calls. There was also the church meal ministry coordinator who asked my mother (who had no family locally and whose daughter was dying) to make a meal for a mom who had a new baby, and was surrounded by family. Coupled with a generous side of judgment for pulling out of serving in the nursery (with all the snotty germ factories, so I wouldn’t get sick). I could go on.
A cancer plus is that it revealed to me that the church I considered home and had grown up in, was just a bunch of selfish, legalistic, hypocritical jerks; luckily, that realization caused me to find an amazing Bible study group in college, and then the church I attended before moving away. Quick disclaimer: not all the Christians I met were terrible humans. I have a fabulous group of friends (from college, the rude church, the new church, and many other places) that truly are amazing, and I’m so grateful for them. But this isn’t about them.
It’s about God. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter the church or organized religion. Because both of them are made up of humans who can be terrible and are sinners. It’s about me and God. Am I doing what I’ve been directed to do? Am I living my life to the best of His leading? I strive to answer each day with “yes.”
Why did He allow cancer into my life? Why did I live and so many others die? Why do I have all these long-term side effects? I have questions for God a mile long. I don’t have any answers, and I don’t expect that I will. But that’s trust. I trust that gravity will keep me from floating away from the sidewalk. I trust that the hot water tap will provide me with hot water. Heck, I trust that the dishwasher will clean the dishes if I actually remember to start it. And I trust that God knows what he is doing. And that doesn’t mean it’s easy, or I’m gullible. It just means there’s some things I won’t know the answers to. And some days I’m ok with that, and some days I’m not.
I found this draft from mid-2020, and it felt appropriate to include here: My midweek community group phone chat, where I’m the youngest, by at least 25 years. The older members declare how they will refuse ventilators, as they have lived a long and full life. My church cancer support group (also the youngest member there) share ideas to continue to stay extra isolated. Watching a funeral mass for my brother’s friend, who died at 22, my heart breaking for his brothers and friends. Death has been on my mind a lot this week, and recently with the events of COVID-19. If I get it, there is a very good chance that I will die from it. But I’m not afraid to die. I haven’t been afraid since August, 2011 — five months since my first cancer diagnosis. That August day, my family and I were visiting the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo. They have some small indoor amusement park-style rides, and my youngest brothers begged me to ride with them. I absolutely hated amusement park rides (still don’t love em) and was terrified of something breaking and plunging to my death (not totally unfounded fears, as proven by other events). However, that summer I had my first job, and my first separation from my siblings, and I couldn’t bear to refuse their request. So I acquiesced, closed my eyes tight, and sat on the hot air balloon ride. And as we sailed through the sky, I had an epiphany. Why was I scared of dying? I knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, where I was going when I died. And then I opened my eyes, and felt this wave of immense peace rush over me. And since that moment, despite two cancer diagnoses, car crashes, multiple medical items, and so much more, I have never for a moment feared death.
I don’t feel like I’m being very articulate at all. But I think faith is hard to articulate. It’s a feeling, a hope, a belief. It’s mine. I’m not writing to convince you of God or ask you to begin reading the Bible, or to join a religious group. I’m sharing my experiences. I’ve been hurt and helped by religious people. But spirituality isn’t about the people, it’s about the divine. And I know that God is love. And I firmly believe he loves all creatures, great and small, without consideration for any of their characteristics. But I know that we as humans often poorly reflect his love.
As always, I’m never sure how to end my writing. Perhaps with an ask to you, my reader. Open your heart to see the good in the world around you. Even when the world seems like it’s imploding, there is some hope. I read once that a person can live forty days without food, four days without water, four minutes without air, but only four seconds without hope.