Before my cousin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer ten years ago, I did not think much about cancer. Since her diagnosis, though, I have thought about it a lot. In the five years following her death, five other important people in my life died from cancer. How could I not think about it? Cancer invaded my life.
When my cousin was diagnosed, I wondered what I would do if it was me. Would I react as my cousin had?
After reflecting on that question for a while, I realized I could not possibly know what I would do. There is just no way to predict how one will react to a cancer diagnosis because so many factors come into play at the time of diagnosis.
Having worked at a cancer support center for the past four years, I understand that truth even more deeply.
While praying this morning for someone who is newly diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer, I realized I no longer think about what I might do if it was me. Instead, I try just to be present, to listen and to accept the decisions the person who has cancer is making.
This particular person was on my mind as I prayed St. Francis’ prayer his morning, and the words that jumped out at me were, “where there is sadness, joy.”
How can I speak joy into the sadness of this person’s life? I hear the anxiety in his wife’s voice and think of the pain he is experiencing; I feel their sadness.
And yet, as I talk with this couple, I notice little sparks of light at the edges of the darkness. A joke about how he is the cook in their relationship so being in the hospital is rescuing them from her cooking. Or how lucky they are to live near a national cancer institute so he can be assured of the most up-to-date treatment. Gratitude and joy creep in, even in the darkest moments
St Ignatius prayed, “Take, Lord, receive, all my liberty…give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.”
It is a prayer of surrender, of letting go.
A cancer diagnosis can be one of those moments in life when leaning into God may be the only thing we can do. Even if we put our bodies at the mercy of medical professionals, our spirits belong to God.
Both St. Francis and St. Ignatius—and others who have come to this place of understanding their complete dependence on God—know that God is truly all we need. Letting go of our desire for control and our illusions that we actually have control is the path to peace.
Cancer comes out of the blue. It can be life-changing and even life-destroying. Like all challenges in life, though, it can be the gift that leads us to true peace, freedom and even joy.
No matter the darkness that might invade my life, I hope I react with trust and hope.