I don’t remember a whole lot of what I was thinking and how I felt when I had cancer and treatment: I think I’ve blotted much of it out. However, there are some thoughts and emotions I do remember having which I now find a little baffling. It wasn’t the being sick part. Pain, long periods in treatment, even death didn’t trouble me as much as others probably assumed. When I was diagnosed, I actually felt elated – some might say smug – probably because I’d been misdiagnosed for months even though I knew in my guts something was terribly wrong. But having what you’d be forgiven for thinking is the scariest disease in the whole world didn’t frighten me as nearly as much as worrying about what on earth I was supposed to be doing as a person with cancer.
What was the higher purpose for me having cancer? What was the special mission I was supposed to be on? And was I doing it right?
For example, so obsessed was I with the idea my having cancer was a kind of existential quest I imagined I was morally obliged to share Jesus with all the other patients in the cancer ward. And when I couldn’t do it (because it was, of course, highly inappropriate) I tortured myself with self-shaming until I made myself even sicker than I already was. As far as I was concerned, if cancer didn’t have a higher purpose or meaning for me, and if I didn’t have a special job to do while I had it, then that meant cancer was actually totally meaningless.
This thought was simply more than I could bear.
As the months went by, I learned to relax – a little. Not because I let go of the idea I needed a special job in Cancer World for it to be validated as a meaningful experience in my life, but because I came to see me needing some kind of a special, unique and very energy consuming job while I had cancer would probably be doing a whole bunch of very nice people out of theirs.
I learned I simply had to stop thinking I had a special job to do, and start realizing as a very sick person, I was someone else’s special job to do. There were people in my life who raced off to their jobs each day burning with a passion to help people with cancer, just like me. There were people in my world who trained for years to learn how to do the exact things that needed to be done to me to help me get rid of cancer. There were people praying for me, some of them whom I hadn’t even met, folks who cried real tears and begged God to intervene as they imagined my kids growing up without their mum. All these folks in my world had a special job to do. My special job for now was to be a sick person who needed these others to help me. Not to save everyone else, but to be saved.
You may feel your having cancer has no purpose for you, in the bigger picture of your life. It may turn out, where you are concerned, to be completely pointless and an utter waste of your time and energy. But your having cancer may well turn out to match up exactly with someone else’s reason for living.
Something to think about.
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