“The problem is that living through the good times as though adversity did not exist makes for a traumatic wake-up call when it’s our turn to face it” — P.M. Forni, The Thinking Life
“No moment is exempt: in the midst of pleasures there are found the springs of suffering” — Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
“While we can do little to choose whether we get cancer, we can do a lot to choose whether we are its victims. I don’t just mean whether we live or die. I mean how cancer affects us in the deepest parts of who we are. I believe cancer cannot conquer our spirit unless we choose to become victims. [What’s more], whether you live or die from [cancer] is up to [God], but how you live is up to you” — Lynn Eib, When God & Cancer Meet
For about a month I have been attending a six-week series men’s support group called, “Just for the Guys.” It is sponsored by the Inova Schar Cancer Institute’s “Life with Cancer” program, which provides wellness and educational programs to cancer patients and their families during and after cancer treatment. The group is made up of men who have been either diagnosed with cancer or just completed treatment.
During a recent session, I presented to the men a lingering hypothesis of mine that I’ve been brooding over for some time. “I have come to the realization that life doesn’t care if you have cancer or not,” I said. “It still demands your time: in work and in daily responsibilities, such as meeting the requirements for your boss and making sure bills are paid on time. In short, life gives no amnesty from the bonds of living, especially for a cancer patient.”
The entire group nodded their heads in agreement. Not one of the men disagreed. And I have to admit, I was hoping at least one of them would challenge my thought. But as a cancer patient—and advanced Stage IV to boot—I’ve learned that life doesn’t stop and turn around and say, “Come on Alex, I know you can keep up … you can do it!” No, life doesn’t wait. Truly, if it did turn its head back to you while speeding forward, it would most likely holler back, “Like it or not Alex, I am not going to wait for you!”
So, it seems that my assumption is correct; well, at least among these men, who are fighting their own type of cancer. Life doesn’t give a cancer patient a reprieve from living: we still have to work … we still continue paying bills … we still do home chores … we still have to fix things when they break … and for some cancer patients, just getting out of bed is a struggle. And as life demands our time with work and daily obligations, we dare not say, “Please, give me a little break here, I have all these oncology appointments and chemotherapy treatments!” We would get no sympathy nor remorse as a response.
If life then still continues to be difficult for cancer patients, how does a cancer patient face it when they’re facing a much worse enemy within themselves?
First, accept life’s pleasures and difficulties equally. M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled wrote, “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth” he adds, “we transcend it.” And not just accepting that life is difficult, Peck emphasizes that when we truly accept life’s difficulties, once “we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” As a cancer patient, I can honestly say that I’m not there yet. But I am learning to accept cancer as a permanent bedfellow in my life. And with that acceptance, God is teaching me through cancer that there are some lessons that I need to learn yet, especially when it comes to leaning and depending on Him more. However, despite the fact that God may allow cancer to end my life, I can determine how I live today; moreover, to accept both of life’s pleasures and difficulties. I know that you may not be there yet, but you can find peace in this difficult life and with your cancer, both juxtaposed together to help you transcend to a higher level of acceptance.
Second, realize that you’re tougher than most, even tougher. When I look at a cancer patient, especially who is battling Stage IV cancer, I think of one of my favorite scenes in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. In episode seven, “The Breaking Point,” 1st Lt. Clifford Lipton (1920-2001), portrayed by Donnie Wahlberg, said to his men during the Battle of the Bulge:
“I wouldn't wanna be a replacement officer coming in here [Bastogne, Germany], getting thrown in with a group of guys, who've known each other for what? Two years? That have been in combat together since Normandy. You're supposed to just show up and lead them? How's a guy do that? How could anyone really hope to gain the respect of the toughest, most professional, most dedicated sons of @!%@$&# in the entire [European Theater of Operations]? Huh? So, if you ask me, a guy'd have to...march off to Berlin and come back with Hitler's moustache or something.”
Despite that life shows no mercy to a cancer patient, please know this: you’re tougher than most, even tougher. There are not many who are called to live a life with cancer. Be proud of that! You get to have the opportunity to “show that [you] know how to live wisely, which means deploying [your] best internal resources…to face [cancer]1. And as you face cancer bravely, others will be inspired to live their lives better, especially if you decide to help others directly.
Lastly, your experience with cancer can help and inspire others. I can imagine that the last thing you’re thinking about is helping or inspiring others as you go through cancer treatment. However, what you are going through can be used to help others in their life’s challenges, even now! What’s more, the way you fight against cancer can inspire others, such as your family, friends, loved-ones, coworkers, church members, and even your medical team. And how you fight against cancer—or have fought against it—can show others that regardless of life’s challenges, such as being diagnosed with cancer, they have a choice of how to face it. For instance, cancer survivor and author Lynn Eib uses her experience battling colon cancer to provide emotional and spiritual support to others who are undergoing cancer treatment. Through her books (e.g., When God & Cancer Meet) and seminars, she has touched tens of thousands of cancer patients and caregivers around the word. You could be the next Lynn! Helping individuals and families who have been affected by cancer.
So, as you continue to fight against cancer, especially for those who are facing long-term treatments, developing these new perspectives and coping skills will help you face the other difficulties of life. And in the end, when people are talking about how you faced cancer, they will see you as that toughsonofagun who made cancer fight for every inch of you.
Prayer Request for Others: Dear Heavenly Father, I come before you with a solemn and compassionate heart to intercede in the lives of other cancer fighters and caregivers. I pray that the cancer that has come into their lives will soon fade into a quick remission. Please give them comfort and strength and grace. I ask this in Yeshua's name, Amen.
Clinical Notes: Since August 11, I’ve been tolerating the two-pronged chemotherapy/immunotherapy well. So far, my life/work has not been impacted like the previous two treatments (2014 & 2016). This Friday, Aug. 20, I will undergo another four-hour infusion.
Photo journal here.
- M. Forni, The Thinking Life. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, pg. 141.