I never wanted pictures taken when I was really sick during my cancer treatment. Oh, when I had makeup on and my wig firmly in place, I would allow photos. In fact, one of them still follows me around on the internet. It’s odd looking at it because I know what’s under the wig. I know the suffering behind the smiling face. But when I was really sick, I made sure there no photos were taken. So there aren’t many pictures in my cancer story.
And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
When I was very little, my mother would bring my three siblings and me together to sit with her in our big living room chair. She would open the Moody Bible Story Book and read to us about the lives of the heroes of both the Old and New Testaments. There were always pictures with the stories. I loved the Moody Bible Story Book. It was my very first Bible.
Not all the stories were pretty. Some stories were of awful sin, terrible brokenness, unimaginable suffering. And the pictures that accompanied the stories showed the sin, the brokenness, the suffering. David leering with lust from his rooftop at a bathing Bathsheba below. The Widow of Nain weeping uncontrollably over her dead son’s body lying on a bier. The Hebrew people in hard, horrible slave labor in Egypt. I remember the pictures as well as what my mother read to us. The pictures were part of the story.
What I didn’t know, couldn’t understand during my cancer storm, is that pictures should have been a part of my story. No one is obligated to take a selfie in their time of greatest suffering. Including me. But looking back, I wish I had one or two of me during my time of greatest suffering. I wish I’d had enough courage to ask Philip to take a picture of me when I wasn’t smiling, when I didn’t have my makeup on, when my head was bald and my eyes were dark and sunken. Why? Because that was part of my story.
I have just read The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts, the young wife and mother who with her husband planted a church in Colorado Springs in the same six months she was diagnosed with 4th stage breast cancer. Kara’s book is a hard but beautiful read. She was a valiant cancer sufferer always aware that her life “wasn’t about cancer; it was about Jesus.” Kara died a noble death in March of 2015.
When I Googled Kara, I found not only pictures of her smiling into the camera, but I also saw pictures of her when she was bald, suffering, sick from chemo. You see, that was part of Kara’s story. It was part of mine also, but I have no pictures to prove it. I wish now that I did. Not to focus on the pain but to give witness to the truth.
With cancer there is suffering. We can’t avoid it; we can’t side-step the reality. Suffering is an intrinsic part of the cancer story. And isn’t that where I found Christ the closest? Weren’t the times of greatest suffering also the times of greatest beauty because He was with me? Yes and yes and yes again.
Those pictures I don’t have would have reminded me, yes, of my suffering but more, they would have reminded me how much God loves the sufferer.
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.