Often cancer – or any terminal illness I suppose – is said to be a gift. A gift because what was once unconscious, unexamined, taken for granted is now in the open, conscious, and taken in deep gratitude, knowing that nothing is forever, that nothing is certain. I have this attitude myself because I found healing and great friendships, deep learning and understanding that I never would have bothered to plumb if my illness hadn’t forced it – I didn’t do the hard work before I was forced to. Ah, I’ve got plenty of time I always thought. But doing the hard work made a great difference in my life. Still, most people don’t think of it as a gift. Not exactly.
Neither did Deanna Thompson who wrote Hoping For More (http://deannaathompson.com); she is a professor of religion who was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Her book takes you on her journey of treatment, sickness, emotional pain, family pain, support of friends. The entry below was written after a year of treatment, when her “numbers were good”, and she was becoming embarrassed by all the continuing help and prayers that people were giving her. In secret, her family and friends spent most of that year making a quilt for her and this excerpt from her book was written after she was surprised with the quilt. She realized at that point that what she’d always pictured as heaven was not her perfect “before” life, but “…instead the feasting came right amid the crying and the grieving, my life mapped the movement of the Christian gospel story in a way I never imagined it could. I have experienced first hand a death and a resurrection. I have witnessed new life growing out of the ashes of death and destruction…Such conclusions on my part may lead some to think that I’ve changed my mind about seeing cancer as a gift. For the experiences of grace I’ve been privileged to have would not have happened had I not had cancer. But my mind hasn’t changed on the “cancer as gift” idea. Accepting this new life doesn’t mean we need to be thankful for the suffering, the pain, the grief, the death. I still don’t believe my cancer happened for a reason. It just happened. My life is still fractured.
And yet there’s more. My friends commitment to walk on in the face of death, the creation of a quilt by so many loved ones; these gifts of grace tilted the scales in my life from grief to gratitude.
I’m so fortunate
I’m so blessed.
Even in the midst of a devastating cancer diagnosis and lousy prognosis, grace abounds.”
I think it would be easier on us all if we could remember that many things, contradictory things, can exist at the same time. From my perspective, you don’t have to love the suffering to honor the gift. They both exist, and you live through them both, grateful that grace is there for you in the midst of your fear, suffering, grief.