Have you ever asked yourself this? Prof. Robert Thomas of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge tells me that ‘Why me?’ is the question most often asked at diagnosis.
Are there any answers to this question? The Rev. David Williams, Lead Chaplain at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool, explains that sometimes things happen for no reason:
‘Most people look for something to blame – that’s a very human thing to do. Our first reaction as humans, when something goes very wrong, or when something doesn’t turn out the way we planned, is usually to look for something or someone to blame. 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 people prosper, those 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 and are enjoying their ill-gotten 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.
‘Life is scary sometimes and, we don’t have all the answers. But I know that you will find the strength and the courage that you need to move on and to face whatever life throws at you.’
- Rev. David Williams
‘When cancer 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 vulnerable, so fragile, and even resentful. Nor is it surprising in the slightest that you want answers to your hard questions, and 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.’
Spirituality helps cancer patients through their treatment and is associated with an improved outcome. Patients with what the research terms ‘spirituality well-being’ are found to have a more positive experience as they go through treatment – they have better coping strategies, feel more positive and are less likely to suffer depression and anxiety.
What then if you feel abandoned by your God or the higher forces in which once you had faith? Rev. David Williams gives us his thoughts, based on his experiences as a Christian minister working with the families of very sick children:
‘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, 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 the will of my God or of the other forces in which you believe.
‘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, one of the constantly held and repeated illusions of the understanding of Christian teaching is 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 these 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.
‘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 the 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.’
David tells me that the response he hears most often when he offers support is ‘But we don’t go to church’ – a response which to him is entirely irrelevant.
Religion or Faith?
There is a difference between being religious and having a faith or a spiritual belief. Research helps us out.
Religion involves structured worship, theological beliefs, practices and rituals. Spirituality may or may not include religion. Spirituality is a search for meaning and purpose. I am no expert but it seems to me, if you ask ‘Why me?’, you are searching for meaning and purpose. You may find it helpful to recognise your spiritual needs.
Your spiritual needs can be met in any number of ways, organised religion being but one. Research into spirituality and cancer treatment describes spirituality as ‘connections to self, others and the world’.
Another study found that patients mentioned spirituality, meaning and purpose in a number of ways, including connecting with family and friends, nature, art, and music. Some created a relationship with God. Others accessed spirituality by enhancing connections in their own lives – with a higher power, people, their work or themselves. These enhanced connections gave a greater meaning and purpose in life, and substantially helped some patients to adjust to their diagnosis and life beyond it.
Something as unlikely as going to a yoga class may help you to connect.
‘There are many benefits to yoga –it’s a safe and calming place to reconnect with your changing body whilst supported by fantastic people.’
- Barbara Gallani, specialist yoga teacher