Last year, two of my college friends were diagnosed with cancer. One survived, and the other died in June. In October, another friend who had been diagnosed with cancer committed suicide. This week another friend received a cancer diagnosis. My mom and both my mothers-in-law are cancer survivors. Everywhere I look, I see people confronted with this disease. What is God trying to teach us?
Before I go any further, I need to acknowledge that even that question is unexpected, and possibly offensive to many. I understand that some people see any type of disease as a spiritual attack. Others don’t see disease as spiritual at all. I’m not a cancer survivor or an oncologist, but please allow me to share a perspective. Test it, and know that you are free to disagree with it.
- Cancer is us . One of the problems that I have with our societal attitude of “fighting” cancer is that it puts the patient at war with their own body. Unlike a viral, bacterial, or fungal disease, cancer is composed of our own cells. Cancerous growth is fed by our own blood supply. I’ve heard cancer patients express feelings that their body has betrayed them. This is one reason that I think we’d be better off seeing disease as a warning, or in some cases even an opportunity, rather than a battle.
- Cancer is growth. We live in a society that worships growth and productivity. We push ourselves to perform and produce at an ever increasing pace. And then we are shocked when cancer strikes some of our best and brightest performers and producers. Growth is good. Growth is natural. But the truth is, periods of stagnation, and even loss are also natural and essential to health. Cancer is so dangerous because it is growth that goes unchecked. What would happen if we supported each other through the whole cycle of growth, including the phases that involve stagnation and loss? I’m preaching to myself here. I confess that I love being fruitful, but I’m am not so fond of being pruned. Could we as a society reduce our cancer rates if we adopted a more balanced approach? I can’t say for sure, but I’m confident that we will all be healthier to the extent that we do.
- Cancer is a symptom. In our society, we treat symptoms. In other times and places, the whole person was treated. I believe that health is wholeness. Disease is a signal your body sends to alert you that something is out of balance, or something is missing. Rather than encouraging people to fight the body that God gave them, we could ask them “What’s missing? What hurts? What’s off balance? We could join them in that process and proactively examine our own lives. Cancerous growth isn’t something that naturally occurs in some people and doesn’t in others. Our bodies are equipped to deal with cancer, unless something has been compromised by trauma, fear, or stress. If you’ve had cancer, I’m not saying it’s your fault. If you’ve lost someone to cancer, I’m not blaming them. But if you’re reading this, you’re still here. It isn’t too later for you to bring all the broken parts of your life to God and experience healing. Your sadness, or fear, or anger, or _________, doesn’t have to take root and poison you. I’m blessed to have a spouse who confronts me about this stuff. He came to me a couple of months ago and said, “I know you’re sad about______, but it’s killing you. And I don’t like it”. And he was right. He has seen how connected my mind and body are, and how physically debilitated I can be when I don’t deal with what’s really going on. For some people the connections might not be as obvious, but I know I’m not the only one.
So by all means fight. Fight your fears. Fight the lies you believe. But don’t fight your body or its warning system. If you know someone who is struggling with cancer, you can give them a great gift by asking them what needs healing. And listening. And standing with them,asking God for healing. You can make the world a less cancerous place.