I tried to leave the cancer world, at least as much as I could while still seeing an oncologist regularly and being tested for cancer every three months. I tried not to focus on cancer, to go back to my “normal” life, but I learned the hard truth of surviving cancer, we never really go back to our “normal” before-cancer lives.
I’d also had to explore and redefine my faith. I never believed there could be no God. I have a mind that loves science. I can’t believe there is not an intelligent designer of life as we know it. A scientist calculated the odds of life being the result of random chance at 1 in 10 to the 40,000 power…about the odds of “having a tornado tear through a junkyard and form a Boeing 747 jetliner” (Sir Fred Hoyle speaking at the British Academy of Science). I loved the book The Science of God, written by a Jewish physicist with a PhD from MIT.
I was raised Christian, but still explored and compared other religions, I was never good at doing something just because I was told to do it. In the end, many years ago, I became a Christian. My earlier experiences in churches made me uncomfortable, so for many years I did not attend a church. My best place to worship still is not in a church, but amid beautiful trees and wildflowers and lakes, where I am surrounded by the works of my intelligent designer. That’s the first place I went when I received my cancer diagnosis, the place I go before every CT scan, the place I go when I am afraid or feel alone.
Faith puts a twist on a cancer diagnosis, though. Cancer doesn’t mean a potential ending to your life, your life is eternal. You never die, just change locations. And we will all someday cross the death threshold, so we don’t really “beat the odds” by surviving, the odds are a terminal fate for all of us. I wanted only two things after my cancer diagnosis. To raise my kids to adulthood, to not abandon them, and to make whatever time was left in my life meaningful. I wanted my life to make a difference. That’s all. No more retirement plans. No more plans to live to old age.
I recently read a book by Mark Batterson that I loved. He put into words what I think now;
“I am not convinced that the date of your death is the date on your gravestone. Most people die long before that date. We start dying when we have nothing to live for. And we don’t really start living until we find something worth dying for” (Wild Goose Chase).
Lots of people live to an old age long after they’ve died inside. In another book of Batterson’s he cites research presented that indicates “the greatest human fear is having lived a meaningless life”. I believe that’s true.
A few years after my diagnosis, I came into contact with others diagnosed with appendix cancer who were told, as I was, that there was not available treatment. They were told they were terminally ill. People who wanted to live long enough to raise their kids, like I did. People who didn’t know how to find and read medical literature. I felt it was wrong of me, as a medical professional who could locate, read and understand medical literature and who had read almost all of the medical information published about appendix cancer, not to share what I knew. I was a nurse, I had made a career of being the go-between in the medical community. I had a career educating patients about their disease and translating medical information into layman’s terms for the general public. As a medical professional and one of the afflicted, I was perfect for the job of educating and supporting newly diagnosed appendix cancer patients.
I didn’t know how to communicate with all of those diagnosed with a rare cancer who were spread out all over the world. The Internet seemed the only way. I hated the idea of putting my personal information on the Internet. I never gave even friends medical information or direction outside of my work environment. I never let strangers know my medical credentials. I’d always made a point to keep my name and photos off of the Internet. I wasn’t very Internet savvy and had no clue how to design a web site.
But I signed up to take an 8 hour evening class in beginning web site design at a local high school. I couldn’t afford the software for the class, so for the first time ever tried out EBay and found it for $35 (my first financial dealing online with a stranger, something else I’d sworn not to do).
The rest of my life changed forever with that decision.