There are many things in life that we prepare for. We study or practice and hope that when the time comes, we are ready for whatever we face. We spend time studying for our driving test and practicing on the road with watchful parents beside us. We spend years and years in school, hoping that we’ll be prepared for the first day of our first job. We spend time memorizing lines in hopes that when we get on stage we’ll be able to deliver an outstanding performance. So, when something extreme happens to us, like being diagnosed with cancer, what preparation from our lives do we fall back on?
After I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 23, a lot of people asked me if my diagnosis made me doubt my faith or made me mad at God. As a Christian, I was raised with the truth that God is actively working in our world. He is orchestrating our steps and has planned out every detail of our lives. He has a reason for everything, even when that’s difficult for us to see or understand. It can be easy for me to forget these things when life is mundane, even though they’re foundational to my life. When life seems only to consist of brushing my teeth, going grocery shopping, or doing the same job day after day, it can be easy to overlook the intricate workings of God in our lives.
But when hit with a massive, life-altering circumstance like cancer, I instantly knew that God was, is, and will continue to be working through this situation in my life and using it for good. I felt that something as big as cancer couldn’t have just been an accident or a coincidence, but that it must have been something God planned for me to go through, and that He must have a really good reason for it. This brought me peace and comfort, even on my most difficult days.
I will admit, when I was first diagnosed and going through treatment, it was occasionally difficult to imagine that anything good could come out of cancer, but I held onto my trust in God, that He knows what’s best for my life and will not let me down.
One of my favorite hymns has always been “It Is Well With My Soul.” The beginning lyrics say,
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Whatever comes my way, whether that be peace or sorrow, success or struggle, I take comfort knowing that God is taking care of me. I adopted the title of that hymn for a blog I wrote to share about my cancer experience, and the name served as a frequent reminder to approach my cancer journey with open hands, accepting whatever came my way.
One saying that I loved during treatment was, “Sometimes the Lord calms the storm; sometimes he lets the storm rage, and calms His child.” I felt this fully during my cancer treatment. With multiple appointments at the cancer center each week, different side effects that would pop up, the subsequent puzzle of figuring out how to manage them, and scans and tests with varying results, life with cancer felt extremely chaotic. But I felt that God had given me a calm and a peace in the midst of all the chaos.
One thing people don’t know if they’re not familiar with cancer is how treatment can affect your digestive system in often painful ways. About halfway through my treatment, I was extremely constipated. If this has happened to you, then you know how absolutely painful and miserable it can be. My aunt, who was going through chemo at the same time as I was, told me the constipation caused by her treatment was worse than childbirth. Well, it was the middle of the night and I was in the worst pain of my life and just praying that I would be able to relieve myself so the pain would go away and I could get some sleep. Maybe it was the solitude of 3 a.m., or maybe it was the soft glow of the moonlight coming in through my bathroom window, or maybe it was in response to my prayers for relief, but as I was sitting on the toilet in pain, it struck me that the pain Jesus suffered on the cross was far, far worse than the pain I was going through. They say that crucifixion was designed to be the most painful form of torture known to man; it’s where we get the word “excruciating.” But it struck me that Jesus suffered all of that, and he did it for my sake. Christ suffered, so he knew exactly what I was going through and was there with me through it.
Whether you believe in Jesus or not, I think it’s easy for anyone to look around our world and see that suffering is universal. Although it may take many different forms, we all suffer. For me, it was a great comfort to know that Christ had suffered too and that I was not alone in my suffering. And if you are suffering now, I hope this brings you some comfort too — that you are not alone in your suffering. In fact, through suffering, you are participating in what it means to be a human being. And there are many of us out here who understand what you’re going through. We can empathize with you, we’re here to support you and bring you comfort, and to tell you that there is relief on the other side.
Even if you’re not a Christian or don’t believe in God, some of these truths may be helpful for you to hold onto during the difficulty of cancer.
I hope some of these things will bring you comfort, as they did for me. But if not, I encourage you to identify some of your own beliefs that you can cling to during your most difficult days, and that by doing so, you will be able to feel calm and at peace in the midst of life’s chaos.