I needed to write a letter, to off load the craziness in my head. I don’t want to be strong anymore. I feel like the archetypal swan; looking together on top of the water and paddle like hell underneath. As I sit here, I wonder if I were to spin a coin would it make any difference? This particular hand I have been dealt isn’t the one I planned. I know I have a choice in how I deal with it, but I can’t escape the fog of anger clouding my thoughts. I feel like I’ve been shoved onto the merry go round of all these conflicting feelings and emotions. My life has been paused. How the hell is this fair?
I never outwardly feel sorry for myself. I hate wallowing in self pity but it’s hard when I have so many questions and few answers. Sometimes I’m not even sure I want to hear the answers. After my first diagnosis I started the journey searching for someone or something to tell me it would all be ok. The fear of the treatment, of the unknown, is suffocating. It’s a need for reassurance. I remember I had my angel cards read. I did it for fun but afterwards I felt strangely lighter, almost relieved. It may be psychological but I felt I had tapped into a spiritual mind set that suddenly gave me a sense of calm that really helped me tackle the rest of my treatment but where is it now? After a third diagnosis any faith I have is wavering. I need something to blame and I want to throw the biggest tantrum ever.
It’s frustrating and it’s hard to wrap my head around the medical reasons. I have a family history of two generations before me diagnosed with breast cancer but my genetic tests were negative. None of this makes any sense. If I can’t put it down to genetics, do I simply blame an army of bad cells that continuously declare war on my body or some maddening clinical insensitivity to hormones? Or, do I read the libraries of books advising me on cancer prevention through diet, exercise and no stress and just blame myself? I have been down all these roads: I eat so healthily I may as well be a carrot, I do regular exercise and I haven’t worked since my daughter was born. I can’t bear not having any control over any of this. I want to run and hide.
I have had cancer young. I can’t have anymore kids. I am on medication I hate. This isn’t ok! I’m overwhelmed with all the feelings and emotions that having cancer brings but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel this vulnerable and I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t ask all these hard questions, right? Is this normal? Surely It’s natural we question our mortality when faced with adversity? I feel so fragile. There is a sense of resentment that is hugely unnerving but this is such a huge part of me now and yet, I don’t want it to define me.
But then, why shouldn’t it be me? The idea of anyone I know, love and care for, having to go through any of this, is too much. When I ask myself Why, I feel guilty. I have so much. I am blessed with an incredible husband, daughter, friends and family. I have all my limbs, organs, fingers and toes. I am alive. However, in these darker moments there is a shadow of social isolation. I have the most amazing support around me but it’s like I have some label on me. Why do I have to be the trailblazer?
I’ve grown up to believe that life is what we make it. The only constant is change but I’m struggling to adapt with a smile but when we spin that coin, we can choose to see the good side or the bad side. Whatever life throws at me, I choose to feel stronger because of it. I have a will to fight because I have so much more to lose. This healing process is so long, frustrating and emotional but surely only we as individuals know what is best for us, in terms of coping, healing and moving forwards? Dwelling and processing are all part of this process aren’t they? Why can’t I ask Why?
I can’t apologise for feeling like this. There is no gloss to this catalogue of contradictions and I’m just putting them out there. Even that is daunting, but now I find myself sitting here wondering if these questions don’t have answers after all and perhaps I don’t need to spin a coin to influence my life. Living is scary, there are always risks but, deep down, knowing I have a future, I can find the courage to put one step in front of the other and just do my best to live it anyway? Why? Because, maybe I just can.
I can’t begin to know the depth of your pain and of your anxiety, but I can fully appreciate that after the trauma that you have been through and are still going through, that your faith is wavering because you may feel very much abandoned and left alone.
I can appreciate that you feel let down by God if you have trusted him to look after you and this is the best that he can do. I can’t really know, but I think that I can understand the frustration and the anger that you must feel because life has not dealt you the hand that you had planned.
It’s interesting that you say that you’re looking for something to blame, because I think that that’s a very human thing to do. Our first reaction as humans, when something goes very wrong, when something doesn’t turn out the way we planned is usually to look for something or someone to blame. It’s human nature to look for somebody to blame because we have been hurt and we want to hit out at somebody or something.
We’re not good at accepting that things sometimes just happen. They don’t happen to any plan. They don’t happen for any reason. They don’t happen because of any avoidable action, any defective workmanship or any act of God. Things sometimes just happen.
And it’s the fact that things can sometimes just happen, so randomly, that makes them so difficult to accept, because it reminds us just how powerless we are to really shape our own destinies. Our plans can so easily be knocked off course leaving us floundering in the wake of some totally random event, and we can do little or nothing about it. We didn’t see it coming and we certainly didn’t want it. But it’s here and now we just have to deal with it as best we can.
And that makes us frustrated and that makes us angry. And why shouldn’t it?
When we see those people prosper, who seem to ride roughshod over every value that we hold as decent, then we have a right to feel aggrieved. When we see the fat cats who are happy to profit from the misery inflicted upon others enjoying their ill-got gains, we have a right to feel cheated. When those who pay no heed to health warnings seem to live life happily to the full while we struggle with health issues despite following all the safety and advisory guidelines, we have a right to feel very resentful.
And when all the genetic tests say you should be ok, and the health food diet promises increased immunity, and cancer still finds a way in, then you have every right to be angry and to feel that you have been dealt a really bad hand. And having been dealt such a hand, it’s entirely understandable that you feel so vulnerable, so fragile, and even resentful. Nor is it surprising in the slightest that you want answers to your hard questions, and that you hate the fact that you are simply not in control of your life. It would not be surprising for anyone to react in this way, because we are only human, we are mortal, and when we are faced with these huge questions of life and death, all other matters pale into relative insignificance.
So we cling as never before to the things that we can control, to the constants in our lives that we can rely on, and for many, one of those constants is our faith in God, or in some force or being that is so much greater than ourselves.
But what happens when that faith that we trust in falls short of giving us the assurance and the strength that we need? What happens when prayers are, apparently, not answered and when God seems almost to be untouched by the pain of our adversity? What use then is our faith, however embryonic or simplistic it may be? Where is God when we need him? Where is Jesus?
At times like that, and I say again that I can have no real comprehension of the depth of the pain that you have been through, I am drawn back to the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
It is my absolute belief that, as the father of his dying Son, God was never closer to Jesus than he was at that time in his life. I have no conception at all of this picture of a God who turns away from his son because he cannot bear to look upon the sins of the world. Even in that awful separation of the cross, I believe that God was so close to Jesus in his suffering. Yet Jesus could not feel his presence.
In that awful cry of abandonment, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’, I see the absolute desperation of Jesus, unable to feel God’s presence with him for the first time in his life, that allows me to know that he can share the pain of any suffering we may endure, because he has been there.
But, as a father myself, I also see the God who I believe would gladly have endured that pain rather than watch his dear Son suffering, and who, rather than turning away, shares every second of that suffering as, for whatever reason, he must hold his hand and allow events to unfold as they will.
It is that understanding of Jesus and of God that informs my ministry in the hospital. The Son who, because of his humanity, is able to understand any depth of pain that we might encounter. The Father who, just like you, would prefer to endure that pain himself rather than have to watch his beloved child suffer. As you put it so well, the idea of watching a loved one go through that which you have endured would just be too much.
So I guess that we are then left with that one great question that you have every right to ask. Why? It is, after all, an entirely valid and relevant question. If God is all loving and all powerful, why is this suffering allowed to happen?
The answer is, that I don’t know. I don’t know why life has to be so unfair sometimes. I don’t know why children get sick, or why some die. I don’t know why good people often seem to get the wrong end of the deal, or get dealt bad hands.
I don’t know why, but I do not believe that this is God’s will for us.
Why? Because I have to ask myself, if sickness and illness were part of God’s plan, why did Jesus heal people? I don’t ever see Jesus turning to anybody to say ‘It’s God’s will that you are blind, or that you have leprosy, or that you are lame’. Jesus heals them.
That’s why I don’t believe that physical illness was ever a part of God’s plan in the beginning.
But I do also know that Jesus never promised us that life would be fair on this earth, and that he never promised that we’d get the hand we wanted. For me, it’s one of the constantly held and repeated illusions of the understanding of Christian teaching, that Jesus somehow promises an easy and carefree life to those who choose to believe in him.
That’s just not true.
The lives of those who chose and who choose to follow Jesus are often more marked with suffering and hardship on this earth rather than carefree existence. Jesus himself warned that in this world we would have trouble, but that we should not be afraid because he had overcome this world.
I see that as Jesus saying to us, ‘I can’t get you round theses troubles, but I will get you through them’.
And the strength to overcome those troubles is in the belief, or even the knowledge that God does weep alongside us in the suffering, and that, sometimes despite all appearances, God does care so very very much.
You are right in what you say. Life is scary sometimes and, as I’ve already said, we don’t have all the answers. But I know that you will find the strength and courage that you need to move on and to face whatever life throws at you.
And I know that you will not be alone as you put one step in front of the other, because God will be walking alongside you and he will be there to pick you up if you stumble.