Working at a cancer support center offers many opportunities to hear people talk about hope. Most often, people hope for a cure—or at least remission—of the cancer that has taken up residence in their bodies.
It takes courage to endure chemotherapy and radiation, which disrupt daily life and can be painful (sometimes very painful). Often the treatments work and the cancer is cured or goes into remission. But sometimes the treatments don’t work. What happens to hope then?Recently, a woman came in after her oncologist had informed her that the treatment had not worked. Months of painful radiation and chemotherapy had failed to stop the growth of the tumors in various parts of her body. The doctor recommended a different type of treatment—something experimental—and this woman had made an appointment to discuss this new treatment.
Before that appointment, though, she wanted to talk about her situation. “Even if I take another round of treatment,” she said, “I know I will be right back here at some point, maybe in three months or six months, but this is where I am going to end up.”
I remained silent, but inwardly agreed with her that it seemed unlikely that the cancer was going to go away.
“My question is,” she continued, “how do I talk to myself about this? How do I wrap my head around the fact that I am going to die?”
I applauded her courage for even facing this reality.In the three years I have been in this job, I have only met a few other people who were willing to admit they were going to die and who wanted to try to figure out how they could best live until they died. Mostly, people seem to deny the reality; they keep hoping for a cure or remission until the moment they die.
And sometimes, even when the person who is dying accepts it, their families and friends refuse to admit it, depriving the person of expressing what they need to at the end of life.We then talked about hope.
What is she left with, she wondered, when her hopes for remission have been dashed? I suggested hope for something else—for inner peace, for gratitude for the life she has left, for the ability to see goodness in the midst of struggle.One thing I have learned is that if we allow our fears of dying to shape our lives, we can never really live.
God invites us to live every day trusting in the kindness of the people around us and in the goodness of God. That looks different for each of us every day. Some days, it is easier to be full of hope and joy and gratitude; other days, even finding one small gift or grace can be a challenge.
My father used to say, “No one gets out of this life alive.” I hope I always remember that and live in the freedom it brings.