By Jean Bloom
The first recognizable symptom occurs on our wedding anniversary, June 1, 2016. Not a maybe symptom, but a for-sure symptom. Something is wrong.
A biopsy reveals what we suspected: endometrial cancer. The good news is the cancer cells are slow-growing, “grade 1.” The first surgeon I see about a hysterectomy pronounces this fact “awesome,” an adjective I hadn’t expected to describe cancer. Early detection and a hopeful outlook are indicated. If the cells haven’t spread, surgery could eradicate this unwanted disease from my body entirely. If so, I’ll require no further treatment.
As I talk to God about this, I choose gratitude. The bad news is accompanied by so much good news that I don’t ask for his intervention as much as, right or wrong, I assume it one way or another. I tell him, “You are the one who’s awesome. I know you’re there.” I’m not in denial; I’m being positive, trusting, no matter the outcome.
We tell our adult children and some extended family. We tell a very few friends, a pastor or two. But I don’t share this news on social media, and I don’t tell my clients. This is not about secrecy; I am an introverted, private person. And I don’t want to concern people. But should I be asking every Christian I know to pray for us? I don’t seem to be able to grapple with this question, so I stay the course of privacy. I am comfortable there. I can always ask for forgiveness later.
I’m having a hard time thinking about all the others who live with cancer, some of whom I know . . . or knew. I struggle to find what feels like my appropriate place along a road crowded with travelers. It’s highly probable that my surgeon can get rid of this disease with little to no ugly. Like yanking spoiled food from the fridge and grinding it down the garbage disposal, safe as long as it hasn’t already contaminated everything else in cold storage. So far there’s no reason to believe this cancer is not contained. Pre-surgery scans, x-rays, and blood tests all look good.
But not everyone with a cancer diagnosis gets that hopeful outlook. Too many suffer. Too many suffer and then leave us. I have cancer, but who am I to talk about it as though it compares to what others experience? This is another question that feeds my cloak of silence. I don’t want to sound as though I think my cancer compares to others’. Surgery is scheduled. I sign papers that say I’ll be sterilized. My husband and I smile, almost laugh; the mother of three adults, I haven’t really needed these body parts for quite some time. “But this isn’t funny if you’re a younger woman,” I comment. The scheduling clerk nods, my case in point. She has seen all the heartache. I don’t feel heartache. I feel hopeful. Is that okay when I know about all the suffering?
The surgery goes well. The pathologist, who took a look while I was still under, can’t find evidence of spreading cancer. A couple of weeks later, the final pathology report confirms the cancer was stage 1 with no further invasion. As far as we all know, I am cancer-free. Ongoing observation is the only recommendation.
Weeks after this whirlwind, I am so grateful. But I still have questions, forced in a new way by cancer. Among them, was I right to maintain so much privacy, protecting myself from sad faces, keeping others from concern? Or should I have invited more people in, those who would have been glad to walk this road with me, at least in prayer? Did I miss out? Deep down, despite wonderful support from my family and the friends who knew about my diagnosis, was I in need of all a wider community has to offer?
I can’t assume I’ll unravel all the questions about my cancer journey, short as it seems to be. God is patient and kind with us as we ask and ponder and live out our faith, in good times and in bad. But I have come to some conclusions. In the future I hope I’ll more readily accept the concern of friends, their prayers and well wishes and presence. I hope I will see the benefit behind the sad faces.
But most of all I hope I’ll remember that my place along any shared road of need is not in question. Even if a burden I bear seems light compared to those of other travelers, what matters is that God intends that no one should ever walk a road of need without the community he provides. Community is for all of us, and offering community to others is a privilege and a blessing.
Jean Kavich Bloom is a champion coffee drinker and a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries. She doesn’t garden, bake, or knit, but insists playing Scrabble is exactly the same thing. Jean and her husband, Cal, live in central Indiana. They have three children (plus two who married in) and five grandchildren. She blogs at bloominwordstoo.blogspot.com.
Photograph © Matt Duncan, used with permission