Faith in Suffering: Facing Cancer as a Family
- 2006 3 Mar
With nearly 1.5 million people diagnosed with cancer each year and another almost 10 million living with a history of cancer, it’s a rare family that is not somehow touched by this life-threatening disease.
And while this disease can bring sickness, suffering and even death, I also believe a diagnosis of cancer in a parent, grandparent or any close relative also can bring a wonderful real-life lesson of God’s faithfulness…if we allow our children to walk with us along this unwanted journey.
Even though cancer is an unwelcome intruder in any family, like any trial that comes our way, we can as James says “consider it pure joy” because of its potential to make us—and our families--more like Jesus.
When I was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer in 1990 at the age of 36, our daughters were eight, ten, and twelve. My pastor-husband and I desperately wanted to protect them from cancer’s assault on me and at first thought it would be best not to explain my diagnosis. So, we decided we would tell them I was going to have surgery, but we wouldn’t use the word cancer.
That bright idea lasted about twenty-four hours until I realized that somebody in our church or our small community was going to use the word cancer and my girls would hear it. So we sat them down again and using the dreaded Big C word, we tried to give them an idea of what to expect. We were careful not to give them too much information that would scare them, but also not to make promises we couldn’t keep.
Each person’s cancer’s diagnosis has a different prognosis, but in our case we didn’t promise that Mommy was going to be fine because we knew there was no such guarantee. We did, however, assure our girls that “the doctors would do everything possible to make Mommy better” and we hoped and prayed that would happen.
We, of course, did not share with them that the cancer was advanced and that I had about a 40-percent chance of cure.
And with that brief, but emotionally painful conversation we had our children place their hands in ours and together we placed all of our hands in the Lord’s as we began to walk my journey with cancer together.
It was the best decision we could have made because time and again our daughters were able to see what it means to trust God in hard times. They learned better how to pray and wait on God, and as the months and years have gone by, they have seen how God can use even awful things for His glory.
If someone in your extended family has been diagnosed with cancer and you still have children at home—or even grandchildren nearby—you have a great opportunity to show them your faith in action. It’s easy to talk about things like praying, having faith and trusting God, but a diagnosis of cancer in the family gives us a chance to see if our walk matches our talk.
In those first really dark days after my diagnosis, I remember feeling as if I wanted to go to bed, pull the covers up over my head, and have somebody call me to come out when it was all over. But I also remember my head talking some courage into my faint heart.
You’ve always told your children:
That God can be trusted.
Now they can see if you really do trust Him.
That God is faithful.
Now they can see if you will be too.
That knowing Jesus makes all the difference.
Now they can see if it really does.
We were a family, and that “for better or for worse” pledge my husband and I made applied to our children too. Together we would face cancer with the courage that God supernaturally would pour into each of our hearts, no matter what our age or bravery status.
It is a much more powerful lesson for children to walk with you firsthand as deal with cancer in your life or a loved one’s life rather than hear about the journey later after the fact.
They need to see that you sometimes are afraid and when you find courage.
They need to hear that you have worries and where to find hope.
They need to know that you don’t have all the answers and how to talk to the One who does.
They need to believe that when God and cancer meet, God always is more powerful.
Whether He takes the cancer out the person or them out of the cancer, He gives every believer the victory.
Cancer probably was the best real-life lesson to prove to my kids that God can and will meet our deepest needs—that He can give us courage to face things we never thought we could. I’m so glad we decided to allow our family to walk that difficult journey together.
Adapted from Finding the Light in Cancer’s Shadow, copyright Lynn Eib, published February 2006 by Tyndale House Publishers.
Lynn Eib is a cancer survivor, journalist and cancer patient advocate in her oncologist’s office, where she has provided emotional and spiritual support to hundreds of cancer patients and their caregivers. The Cancer Prayer Support Group she founded in 1991 is one of the oldest such groups in the country. She is the author of two books, Finding the Light in Cancer’s Shadow (Tyndale House, 2006) and When God & Cancer Meet (Tyndale House, 2002). Her website is www.CancerPatientAdvocate.com