In a recent article in the Coping with Cancer magazine, 10-year breast cancer survivor Lori Taft Sours writes:
“A cancer diagnosis inevitably raises the question, ‘How long will I live?’ I don’t ask myself that question anymore. Now the question is, ‘How can I live well?’ I strive every day to feel good, laugh, and maybe cry, to connect to others, and to make a difference. I learned this from others who have been on the cancer journey. Cancer is an illness that binds us together, and we can all help each other to live well by sharing our stories.”
I like Lori’s outlook, and certainly resonate with the things she says about stages she’s passed through on her long-term journey of survivorship. At the beginning, in those dreadful days right after diagnosis, fears of suffering and dying loom large. But then, as treatment possibilities present themselves and we settle first into the short-term routines of chemotherapy, and later into a longer view, we survivors come to see that life with cancer is very much worth living. If we’re fortunate, we may even come to discover how hard-earned lessons we’ve learned along the way can be of value to others. We learn, as the patriarch Abraham learned of old, that in the midst of it all we are, in some unaccountable way, “blessed to be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).
One of the most important early learnings for Lori had to do with reclaiming a sense of control over her own life, that she had feared for a time the disease had stolen from her: “The attitude that I was an active participant in my own healthcare gave me a sense of control, which is one of the first things to disappear with the word ‘cancer.’”
To anyone just beginning the cancer journey, I’d want to say something like this:
Right now, your life is understandably in turmoil and fears loom large, but be prepared for this disease to teach you patience, as you discover you’ve embarked on a journey of survivorship that will last the rest of your life. The urgency of this present crisis will dissipate, and you’ll learn new disciplines and rhythms of living. In time, baring your arm for a blood test or stretching yourself out, arms over your head, for a CT-scan will become familiar motions lodged in your body-memory. You’ll find joy in unexpected places: not only, as the culture believes, in days of robust health, but smilingly emerging from the mists of malaise. Surprising companions will greet you along the way, offering you priceless gifts that can never be hoarded, but only grow richer in the sharing. If you are so blessed as to enter remission, you’ll uncover a new meaning of that word: how the greater Power that guides your life has “re-missioned” you, placing you again and again in situations where sharing your story is the greatest gift you can offer another person. Most of all, you’ll learn that life, even a life with cancer, is to be lived – not only wisely and with foresight, but also boldly, with spontaneous generosity and an appetite for divine revelation.
He is the Way.
Follow him into the Land of Unlikeness.
You will meet strange beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety.
You will come to a great City, that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love him in the World of the Flesh,
And at your marriage all its occasions will dance for joy.