A healthy life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.
I’ve never given much thought to cancer. Not because I’m not aware of the heartache it’s become, but because it’s never truly hit close to home – out of sight out of mind I guess.
I have heard it said that 1 in 6 people have or will have cancer in their life, and given I have 552 friends on Facebook, the chances of me making it through life without it ever hitting close to home was highly unlikely, but it’s here now.
Friend #1: Amber McNeil.
28, wife to Ryan and mom to Kinley & Kyla. She was diagnosed in February with a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit. She has since undergone 2 brain surgeries and is currently recovering at mile 3 of a 26-mile marathon (according to her Doctors).
Friend #2: Kristen Fersovitch.
28, wife to Mike and mom to Beckett, Tayven & Lincoln (all under the age of 4 with Lincoln being barely 4 months old). She, different from Amber, was not diagnosed right away, but rather, was sent for an extra ultrasound during her pregnancy with Lincoln due to a suspicious spot on her kidney. Surgery was performed during her second trimester and suspicions were confirmed that what they thought MIGHT be cancer, could now be deemed conclusive. In August she went back for a post-op check up and was told that the tumor on the small part of her kidney had not only spread to the rest of that kidney, but also to a lung, her bones and her lymphoids. She has been given 1-2 years to live.
(Long pause) It’s still hard to digest.
Here’s what I’ve read about cancer (and I’m sure it’s but a small drop in the bucket compared to the vast amounts of research findings there actually are):
1. Cancer happens when problems in our cells prevent the body’s control from working.
2. Determining what causes cancer is complex and it is often impossible to assign a specific cause for a specific cancer. Many things are known to increase the risk of cancer including a lack of physical activity, poor diet and environmental pollutants.
3. Cancer can be detected in a number of ways, including the presence of certain signs and symptoms. But with more than 200 different types of cancers covering a wide range of different signs and symptoms, it is difficult to produce a definitive list.
4. Cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The chances of surviving the disease vary greatly by the type and location of the cancer and the extent of disease at the start of treatment.
After having pondered these discoveries and understanding cancer’s definition – ‘a foreign substance that grows uncontrollably invading nearby body parts’ – could I not say that in some way or another we all have cancer? I’m not a Dr. I realize, and I most certainly am not writing this to insult or offend those who have been clinically diagnosed, I’m merely putting out there that whether it be emotional, spiritual OR physical, we all struggle with something that is killing us. (Note: Please hear my heart as my intention is so NOT to disrespect anyone associated with this terrible disease. I’m simply writing about this because of how much of an effect my friends have had on me. I applaud both of their journeys and through them; I have learned some hard truths about myself.)
Now try re-reading those discoveries again, only this time, I’ll re-arrange some wording while adding ‘spiritual’ to the mix….
1. Spiritual cancer happens when problems in ones life prevent God’s control from working.
2. Determining what causes spiritual cancer is complex and it is often impossible to assign a specific cause for a specific spiritual cancer. Many things are known to increase the risk of spiritual cancer including a lack of spiritual activity, poor spiritual diet and societal pollutants.
3. Spiritual cancer can be detected in a number of ways, including the presence of certain signs and symptoms. But with more than 200 different types of spiritual cancers covering a wide range of different signs and symptoms, it is difficult to produce a definitive list.
4. Spiritual cancer is usually treated with prayer, forgiveness, repentance, humility, teachability and devotion. The chances of surviving the disease vary greatly by the type and location of the spiritual cancer and the extent of one’s desire, willingess and vulnerability.
See. Not so different. Now back to Amber & Kristen.
Amber has 287 people who have joined her ‘prayers for Amber’ group on Facebook. Kristen has 495. Recently Kristen posted a note updating her group as to how she is doing. Someone responded, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” Combined, those 782 people average about 10 messages on both walls daily. That’s a lot of written support.
It goes further…
On Sept. 17, 2011, Amber’s friends hosted a silent auction for her and Ryan and raised a whole lot of money to meet some pressing financial needs. On Nov. 18th, there will be a silent auction happening for Kristen & Mike. Since February, Amber has had a steady flow of volunteers for babysitting, house cleaning and food preparation. The same is now being done for Kristen. People have really stepped up to the plate and it’s truly remarkable to see. I’ve been fascinated by the display of community support.
I’m curious to know…
If I formed a group called ‘prayers for Mrs. Smith’ (name changed, but it’s someone I know who is going through a very tough spiritual journey), and everyday I wrote updates as to how she is honestly doing spiritually, would 287 people join? Or 495? Would there be comments, prayers and scriptures by the truckloads to encourage her? Would people sign up to be a part of, ‘mail a card of encouragement,’ service? Or what about, ‘take her out for coffee just to see how she’s doing,’ service? The list could go on. I can’t be 100% sure until I actually try the experiment (not saying I will), but I have this gut feeling that it wouldn’t be quite as successful.
Why might that be?
When Corinthians says, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen.” I have to wonder in situations like this if my eyes are really fixed on the right things. When Samuel reminds me that, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I find myself wondering if I personally find physical death scarier because I can actually see it unfolding. But that’s contradictory to scripture. If I have faith to believe that A & K can be healed, and faith is not something I can see, why are my arm hairs affected when I hear “1-2 years to live,” and not when I think “hell for all of eternity?” Has physical cancer become harder to deal with than spiritual cancer because it’s visible?
What I believe God has been showing me through Amber & Kristen’s journey’s is this: who am I to judge whose cancer is worse? Is Amber’s because it’s something as complicated as the brain? Or Kristen’s because she has been given a life sentence? But then there’s Mrs. Smith whose struggle may not be so ‘Facebook,’ but is as equally life threatening. This life is about community and being there for people who are battling tough times. 2 of my dear friends are battling physical cancer, but a lot more of my friends are battling the spiritual kind. So why do I cry and pray more for Kristen than I do for them? I’ve lost perspective. My eyes aren’t fixed. I’m looking at the outward appearance as opposed to the heart.
My own personal challenge is this: in the same way I signed up to be a part of Amber & Kristen’s food rotation, I will now add a card rotation to some non-Christian friends at the same time. My challenge to you is to do the same. Regardless of how vocal we are about our struggles, we could all use a little verbal encouragement every once in a while. That’s what community is.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.