Many folks wrestle through cancer decisions, weighing the hope for cure against the rigors of side effects. None are easy and although the right decision is sometimes available, most of the time there is no right or wrong.
A good friend and patient in my medical practice received a diagnosis of lung cancer 10 months ago. His story is an encouraging one. He is cancer-free now, though only after months of battle. He endured chemo-induced nausea, which he says he kicked using lemon drops from WalMart. After taking radiation to help debulk the tumor, the surgeons resected what was left.
What blew me away about this guy is that each time we talked during his treatment he would always ask me how I was doing. In particular, and often through weakened voice, he asked how a close family member of mine, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, was doing. He would give me pointers on how my loved one could “cope with chemo,” and would ask me to pass on messages of love and encouragement. He didn’t perseverate on his sullen situation; he focused on me and my family.
Now here is where the story really finds depth. This close family member and his wife and my patient and his wife have become good friends. They cook for each other and bring the food over. Both are deeply spiritual and pray for one another and their families. Both of these guys have a quick smile, an engaging laugh and a sense of humor that each other understands. They are brothers-in-arms, banded in battle.
Now I know both couples very well and I’m not surprised they get along. They are from the same generation, the same religious culture. They both have a cheery disposition, an instilled positivity placed there by the One who stretched and molded them over decades. How beautiful.
One more aspect of their relationship needs mentioning. They from different races who in eras past would not associate amicably or on equal terms. But the Creator has pushed all that nonsense aside, and what has been His instrument of joining these two? Their mutual battles against cancer.
Isn’t it just like God to turn something awful into so much beauty. He turns our mourning into dancing and our weeping into joy.
If you have personally experienced the rigors of cancer or worked through the treatment of a loved one, you know what kind of joy can erupt out of know-where. It is a surprising joy. It is the prostate cancer sufferer describing through laughing words what a hot flash feels like (only men get prostate cancer and the treatment brings about effeminate traits), or the same person joking that he feels like going shopping for the first time in his life.
In cancer sufferers who are past curative options, hospice changes pain into peace. Probably any one of our nurses has seen the smiles that erupt in a house when a person gains pain relief for the first time in days or weeks. What is very human about the experience is that humor naturally expresses itself in those situations. Families joke about opioids and narcotics, once viewed as agents of the criminal world, now a gift. We find ourselves thankful for much that was previously taken for granted- listening to a grandchild describe his heroic 7-year old soccer exploits, or walking without a painful surge on each step.
So how does joy and reconciliation enter our lives through dire situations? Why? What power propels it? The naturalist would argue for an evolutionary trek, a process of scientific discovery and a the entrance of opioid molecules into neural receptors. I think there is much more going on.
There is, in my opinion, an unmistakable spiritual component to this paradox. What we humans value more than anything else- that being loved, experiencing strong and healthy familial relationship and friendship, communication and communion- cannot be measured by science. What is the specific gravity of love? Impossible to measure. Can we prove its existence using science? No, but there is no doubting that love is there, that it magnifies itself during hardship, and that it can expand indefinitely.
Perhaps the greatest love example occurred when the Nazarene, claiming to be God Himself, lowered Himself into the human situation, and allowed a process that would bring about His suffering and agonal death. If it was done in an attempt for His power, it is awful. But since through His unusual glory He rescued the entire race of human beings, He demonstrated, refined, and perfected love.
I am a struggling Jesus-follower, occasionally loving as He did and does, but often thinking, speaking and acting opposite to His example. Yet, I can’t get over what He did, and attempting to walk toward Him feels very human. Even more so, beauty that arises out of our cancer echoes the wonderfulness that followed His death. I see him when I think of my friend and my family member.
Mysterious, beyond the natural world, spiritual, God.