It has now been two years, eight months and 24 days since my diagnosis of advanced breast cancer. It’s been a long, hard journey and one that doesn’t really have an end.
First, as most cancer sufferers will tell you, when you hear the words “you have cancer”, your life is forever changed. The experts agree: cancer isn’t like most sicknesses — it’s different in that cancer marks not only your body, but your soul. Even when you are “over it”, you are not really over it. People ask me, “are you cancer-free now?” or sometimes it’s a statement, “you’re a survivor” and I find it hard to know how to respond. You see, I’ll never be free of cancer any more than I’ll be free of that concussion I had when I was six, the heart episode in my 30’s or the infertility that meant I wouldn’t have children of my own. Those unwelcome episodes made me who I am. So has cancer, even more so. Cancer will always be with me.
Second, for me, cancer has become my way of life, my calling, my vocation. Cancer has introduced me to the most amazing people who are suffering with this dread disease and who bless me by sharing their lives with me. And cancer sufferers are all around me — in the grocery store as we meet in the yogurt aisle, on the phone because of a recommendation of a friend, sitting in my dining room on a Saturday in tears and in prayer, falling into my arms at my surgeon’s office, and of course in my living room twice each month sharing our lives as my cancer support group members live out what we call “Cancer with Christ”. Cancer gave me my people group and I can’t imagine life without them.
Finally, cancer forced me to face the question, “What is life all about?” When the diagnosis of cancer is made, you look death in the face or at least the possibility of it. Although you do all you can to beat this disease, if you have cancer, death is knocking at your door. With the sound of that knock becoming like an unwelcome background noise, life takes on a whole new meaning. Each new day becomes more precious. And most of us cancer sufferers re-think and re-order our lives according to what is really important to us.
We face the question, “What is life all about?” And it’s a good question — sorry it is was cancer that made us engage with it!
In answer to the question, “What is life all about?” some cancer sufferers will unequivocally answer “family” and they will re-order their lives with an intense commitment to being with family and making sure every one knows that they are loved. Time with family becomes what is most important. It was just a week ago I asked a cancer sufferer what she wanted me to pray for her. “More time on this earth so I can be with my family longer,” was her answer.
Others will answer the question “What is life all about?” with a re-commitment to their personal health and wholeness. Some will adopt new eating habits and exercise will become a high priority. Others will explore new learning, new hobbies, new experiences in a sort of “bucket-list” approach to the question. Some will become activists in the campaign against cancer, wearing ribbons and taking part in cancer awareness events. Still others will find a new and deepened faith in God and prayer will become the center of their lives.
I’m not offering opinions or a critique on any of these responses. Each cancer sufferer must answer that question, “What is life all about?” in their own way. I’d like to think that I honor each response.
But for Prince Philip and me, the answer to the question came quickly in my cancer storm. What is life all about for us? It is about being a Christ-follower. I love family. I am eating better and exercising. I am open to learning new things and engaging with new experiences. I certainly support the fight against cancer. And prayer is the center of my life.
Yet it is offering myself as a living sacrifice to God each day of my life which compels me now — no doubt about it. It is following Jesus and doing what He asks that leads my decisions, forms my value and dictates my time. What life is all about for me is being wholly and completely sold out to God and His purpose for my life. And I am grateful beyond words that my husband not only supports me but joins me in this. This is our answer. This is our decision. This is where we will stand .. every time.
When cancer came and death knocked on my door, we became more keenly aware that heaven is closer than we can know. Each moment on this earth is our rehearsal for that heavenly home. And life this side of heaven is about surrendering our lives to Him, offering ourselves as a gift, and going where He wants us to go, speaking to whomever He wants us to speak with and at the end of the day, hearing His voice say, “Rest, children, for tomorrow is a new day and I have plans for you.” Ah, that’s what life is all about.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.