If life can be compared to a journey, it is obvious that no one wants to walk down the path called “Cancer.” It is a pathway that you hope you never have to take, not even as just a companion.
I’m no stranger to hardships. Like everyone else, I’ve had my share of hardships that I won’t bore you with. I’ve walked down some difficult places, some by my own bad choices, some by others, and many by the providential hand of God. Through it all, I have learned that I cannot fully grasp the sweetness of God without knowing the bitter taste of suffering.
I haven’t always sailed smoothly through rough waters. I’ve cried the blues, I’ve asked the question why? I’ve lingered in melancholy, I’ve walked hand in hand with fear, and I’ve looked in the eye of disappointment. Yet, I, like many of my companions of old, have experienced the great interruption of turbulent waters that comes by that simple yet profound phrase, “But God!”
I don’t know if anyone is really good at waiting, especially when it’s waiting for news that will determine one’s future. The unknown can be dark, terrorizing, and even immobilizing! But God was with me in the dark, He was with me in my fear, His Word was the food and drink I feasted upon. His Word gave me strength for that day and hope for the next! It was His promises of strength and comfort that kept my mind from the temptation to agonize and worry!
The decisions that needed to be made during this time were much greater than my husband and I could make by ourselves, and we needed Christ to enter into the whirlwind of activity and intercede on our behalf for wisdom, direction, faith, and peace.
Before we could take that step, we had to do the most difficult part and called our parents and siblings. Telling the people you love most in the world that you have cancer is not easy; it’s not news you want to have to share. You know that those people will suffer enormously because they love you! Talking about decisions and plans for an upcoming surgery is not supposed to happen through telephone wires; those conversations should be face to face when you can look into each other’s eyes, embrace, touch, weep, and pray! But because we answered the call of God for our lives many years before, we left the right of proximity to parents, siblings and even children. But God…there is that phrase again, but God was present and working through those wires with comfort and peace.
Cancer has a way of sending us off the path of our normal lives. One day we’re going about our business, doing what we do to live a normal life. Then, through whatever circumstances and events, we learn we have cancer, and our lives take a major detour; totally unplanned, totally not welcomed, and for some, the path of our lives will never be the same. I know when I was diagnosed, my life took a sharp turn to a place away from what was until then my everyday life.
Some people may experience variations of the journey or minor stages not listed (such as denial), but for the most part, these are the major steps most cancer patients experience to some level. Caregivers go through similar stages, though with a different perspective.
This journey can also apply to those dealing with other life-threatening diseases or life-altering events.
1. Innocence – This is the stage where everything is normal in your life, where there isn’t a sense of innocence, of a normal energy level. There is no sign of what is about to happen. You may have something not quite right that may warrant a doctor visit, but there is no hint of cancer at this point. Life is good. For me, there were no symptoms – just a routine blood test for a yearly physical.
2. The Call – This is when you first hear the word “cancer”, perhaps after undergoing some tests. Your life is about to change and you feel it deep inside. You are entering a new world and have no idea what’s ahead. It’s like you are being forced off a cliff edge, out of your control. I almost fell off my chair when my doctor told me I tested positive for cancer. I did feel my like my life was out of control.
3. The Initiation – This is the stage where you are introduced to medical terms, tests, treatment etc. that you aren’t used to and not expecting. Your body seems out of your control. You feel bewildered, lost, physically fatigued from treatment and not sure what’s next. Physically you’re not the same. Talking with doctors, looking at treatment plans, etc. was entirely new and scary to me. I was very healthy pre-cancer.
4. The Pit – The Pit is the low point in the journey. You feel fear, anxiety, negative energy. You don’t know how you’ll get out of this, or if you even will. It is dark and lonely and unpleasant. You feel out of control on all levels – mind, body and spirit. This is also the place of greatest growth, where you need to let go of certain old beliefs or something that no longer serves you. Then allies and hope and something new can be welcomed in. I went into the pit fairly quickly after my diagnosis, as my dad had died of the same cancer years before.
5. Allies – Allies are anything that provides support, help, sense of trust, or a sense of forward direction. They can be people, spirituality, things, etc. Allies are always there, but take hold in your life when you start letting go of old ways and let go of limiting beliefs from the Pit stage. As you rise out of the Pit into this stage, you begin to understand how you have changed from pre-cancer to now. Listening to those who cared about me help me to let go of money and practical concerns and focus on what was important to my healing.
6. Breakthrough – This is a time when you have hope, when you feel like you have more control of your life, when things are moving forward. There is a renewed sense of hope and future here. You are starting to feel unstuck, that you are more in control of your life, and starting to do things that reflect that. When I started to heal from my treatment, and realized that I could come out of this ok, I started to feel more hopeful on beating cancer.
7. Celebration – Imagine being on the medal podium, celebrating your achievement – this is Celebration. It is a place where you celebrate what you’ve been through, who you’ve become, what you can do from here. There is a sense of accomplishment, that the worst is over, and you’re a new person and have learned from and embraced what you’ve been through. You see a new you, a new life. There is hope and possibility from this place. When I got my follow up testing results and was found to be cancer free, I felt a tremendous sense of relief, and a sense that I’ve been given a new lease on life to live more powerfully.
Some of the benefits of understanding this unplanned journey include:
It really is a journey with twists and turns, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually and mentally as well. There will be ups and downs.
Knowing where you are on this map can help you deal with some of the uncertainties and fears that cancer presents, so that you can live more powerfully through this experience
Being in touch with your raw emotions. Feeling and acknowledging (but not being stuck) where you are at deep inside is vital to your recovery.
You are not alone. Others have walked your path, and many more are on the wings ready to help. It can be a wake-up call to whatever you’ve been holding inside, to a new life.
For most cancer patients, you will come out of this unplanned trip okay. You will learn about your authentic self, and perhaps be a changed person for the better.
Healing, dealing with, and overcoming cancer involves more than just getting medical treatment. It also calls into play paying attention to the mind and spirit dimensions as well. While navigating the cancer journey is obviously unpleasant, it can be an opportunity to grow, and for those who survive, to push the re-set button to their life and perhaps be a changed person on a deeper, more authentic level.
My prayer and hope through my suffering was that I would be more emboldened to share Jesus with the lost world around me because when we come face to face with our worst fears, we see Jesus! As I went to appointments, met with doctors, chatted with nurses, waited in waiting rooms, I saw hurting lives, many that were literally suffering and dying and who were broken because of the ravages of sin. God sent me on a mission through cancer, and the message was to tell anyone and everyone who would listen about my journey!