Thoughts on Living with Cancer – Part 1

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:106)

We sing the verse above at the service of the Artoklasia – five loaves. It is a source of great comfort and strength. Then St. John of Damascus writes in the funeral service of the Holy Orthodox Church, “What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief?” Sometimes the grief is so overwhelming that we can hardly taste the sweetness. Our life on earth can be a constant struggle between faith and fear: faith that God conquers all evil, and fear of buckling under the tyranny of illness, with all the misery it brings. From the depth of our hearts we cry to the Lord to help us through this dark valley, to bring us to a safe port.

Our Lord prayed to the Father on His way to crucifixion that the cup of death might pass from Him, but He added, “Let it be your will.” We find ourselves on the same path when it comes to facing the pain either of enduring cancer or of watching someone we love go through it. The results of the medical exam, the blood work, the CAT scan, the MRI and the biopsy all came back positive: “You have cancer,” the doctor said. After this heavy news comes the rocky road of chemo and radiation.

I don’t know much about chemo, but I know that it’s supposed to kill the cancer cells and some good ones. We could deal with the hair loss, but we pray that we never experience loss of faith, patience or hope, because that is much worse than having cancer. “Hear my cry, O Lord, listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. You have been my refuge, a strong tower against my foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge under the shadow of your wings” (Psalms 61).

Our foe right now is this dreadful disease. Finding the strength to fight it is a miracle by itself, because our inner strength comes from above, from Thee, O Father of lights. “The Lord is near to all those who call on Him in faith” (Psalm 45:18). Our entire life is based on our faith that He will be with us and grant us peace, especially when we need Him in the darkest hours of our lives.

In Matthew 6 we read, “Your father knows what you need before you ask Him. So do not worry…. Seek first His kingdom and righteousness, and all else shall be added unto you.”

What the chemicals do inside the body differs from one person to the next, but we have to prepare for the worst and pray for the best.

Everyone in the church is praying; the name is mentioned at the altar; people send cards and call, giving best wishes. All these are manifestations of love, care and concern. This is one of the ways God tells us that He loves us. When the parish ladies knock at the door bringing many meals, we cannot but look up and say, “Thank you, God, for the love You surround us with.”

Which one of us likes to watch a beloved one endure pain? No one. As God knows what we are praying for before we ask, He gives us and the sick person a source of peace, a trust that things will be OK.

“How do you feel,” we ask. She answers: “Thank God, fine,” even when she is in pain. Her love for those around her gives an atmosphere of comfort and tranquility. She has an ever-present smile on her face, a source of comfort to us.