So I debated about whether or not to write about this. A) It's a morbid topic and I'm tired of hearing that yet another adult or child has cancer. And B) I don't have any first-hand experience with cancer because I've never had it. But as I was thinking about all my second-hand experiences with cancer, as a bystander watching life slow down and change drastically for so many people, minimally involved or not at all, I thought I'd give it a little thought or two.
My first experience with cancer (that I can remember) is when my best friend growing up told me her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the summer after 8th grade and as a naive 14 year old, I didn't really think too much about it. Back then, breast cancer wasn't as rampant as it is now. I didn't know anyone who had it. I remember her being sick and not feeling well on our beach trip that year and not knowing why. I think she hadn't found out yet at that time. I remember the following summer when we went camping and her newly-bald head from chemo treatments was sad and beautiful at the same time. She didn't want pictures taken. She said this was a time in her life she'd rather forget.
When I was twenty, a good friend from work talked to me about her journey with breast cancer. I don't remember how recent it had been for her and I didn't know her when she had it, but I remember her telling me how it had changed her family life, her marriage, her whole world. I gained new understanding of this thing called cancer and I wanted to support her any way I could as she was still grieving and healing emotionally from it. I remember walking with her at one of those fund-raiser walks and holding her while she cried. It was a moving experience for me.
Another cognizant memory of cancer is more recent. If there have been incidences in between the first one and this one other than my friend at work, I have tucked them so far into a dark corner in my mind, they refuse to stand out in the light of day. When I was newly-married, my mother in law was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was such a shocking bit of news and as a new-comer to the family I was unsure of my place in the whole support system. I quietly supported her by praying for her, wearing a pink ribbon necklace and I even contemplated shaving my head when her hair started to fall out from her treatments. She is a 5+ year survivor.
Then there is little Declan. Declan and his story stole my heart a few summers ago when I found out he was dying of cancer. He died just a few days shy of his first birthday. I've mentioned him several times on this blog. He is the great nephew of a close friend of my family's. His parents, Stan and Sherri started Journey4ACure and work tirelessly to raise funds to help find a cure for pediatric cancer. Sometimes, stories like his just make you sit down and weep with the sudden knowledge that we really have absolutely no control over life and that it does in fact rest in the mighty hands of God. Mysterious are His ways and we lack the power to understand everything this side of heaven.
After Declan, there was my husband's aunt, also diagnosed with breast cancer. She also made it through, after surgery and treatments which we heard only a small amount of information about. But she has shared how horrible it was for her and her desire to be an encouragement to others who face the same walk in life. Her story serves as just one more reminder of how close cancer has come to our family.
Last year, a very close friend of two of my sisters was diagnosed. I have had many interactions with her and always admired her wit, her motherhood, her writing style and her genuine love of the Lord. Her family and friends started a support group on Facebook as she underwent surgeries and treatments, and her journey has been documented in the group, mostly by her, with humor, honesty and humility - all with a very strong focus on God's perfect hand in all of it. It is inspiring to read. From the goriest details she'll allow to grace the Facebook world to the day-to-day aspects of getting back to "normal" life, she relates such thought-provoking and awe-inspiring truths about our Heavenly Father, her journey with Him by her side (and often carrying her), and His love for her as His daughter.
One final one I'd like to mention, and again there may be others that I just can't remember, is our dear friend Art. I met Art's wife, Ruth, almost four years ago in a MOMS group I became part of a year after moving here to PA. We didn't start getting close until the next year and over the last two years, Ruth and I have grown very close, as have Art and my husband Joe. They have sort of adopted us into their family and have been our local parents as we've faced so much in the last few years. Art was diagnosed with prostate cancer I believe before we met or shortly after so we were unaware of the initial diagnosis. But we have seen his struggles and shared in his and the family's pain as he's battled, won, faced other complications stemming from treatments, etc. His humility, strength and trust in the Lord is also awe-inspiring.
A few years ago, I read a really great article that I thought could pertain to not just the people actually diagnosed with cancer but to the family members, friends and even acquaintances of such people. It's called Don't Waste Your Cancer. It is very deep and speaks of how to draw closer to the Lord, and not waste the blessings that even a horrid, painful and challenging thing such as cancer can bring about. The point is that God has designed cancer for the people who are diagnosed with it and for their families. In this fallen world we live in, such tragedies exist where we lose our children and other loved ones to this awful disease, and other such atrocities. But God allows it because even in the midst of such painful circumstances, He is able to bring about good. If we allow Him to. If we will just open our eyes and see. The message of this article, which I really encourage you to read, can also pertain to so many other paths of difficulty in any one of our lives. It is through our suffering that we draw closer to Him and through our suffering we receive more blessings and gifts than we could ever imagine.
For many, cancer is a cross that is borne in many ways that don't always coincide with how the person originally thinks they'd carry it (some better, some worse), or more importantly, how God desires them to. ALL our sufferings do contain a great purpose and a sure ride to God's divine deliverance. This is a perfect reminder as we face just one more day of the Lenten season where we have been solemnly observing the greatest suffering of all - Christ's death on THE cross, and the promise and blessings God delivered to us when He rose from the dead and gave us all new life.
"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us". ~Romans 5:3-5 NIV