When Fighting Cancer’s Really Personal
- Tim Laitinen Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- Updated Dec 01, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of Solo Zone, a monthly series focusing on believers who have taken advantage of serious opportunities God has laid in their faith walks—and whose singleness actually works to their benefit, as well as God’s glory.
Anybody who fights cancer can be considered a hero—no matter how long that fight takes.
Or what it takes away.
And just as most cancer battles become personal struggles, think about how personal cancer gets when you don’t have a spouse to help you fight it.
Granted, believers in Christ are never alone in any illness, whether it’s cancer, dementia, or some other horrible disease. But marital status can’t help but refine the experience, since “in sickness and in health” remains a vital component of, well, healthy marriages.
So, is there a difference in how single folks cope, since cancer is hard enough on married folks? Turns out, the answer may be like cancer itself: defined by the individual patient.
No Shadow of Turning
Take the experience of Charlotte Medley, for example. Office manager for a Dallas, Texas-based nonprofit, Medley was first diagnosed in 2004 with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, a form of breast cancer.
“After conferring with my brother, who is a surgeon, I believed a mastectomy was the correct course of treatment, followed by five years of Tamoxifen,” Medley recounts, describing how she evaluated her options after recovering from the initial shock and numbness upon hearing her diagnosis.
“Now, seven and a half years later, there is 'no evidence of disease', so my treatment seems to have been successful.”
She was in her late 40s then, and teaching English at a private high school—a job which actually helped blunt some of the logistical challenges single cancer patients encounter in their treatment.
“I only missed nine days out of the classroom due to my surgery,” she marvels, adding that since she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation, “I believe that I had the best kind of breast cancer, due to my high probability of ‘cure’ and slight down time. My challenging time was healing from the surgery in the first two weeks. Two months later at the beginning of my summer break, I underwent reconstructive surgery.
“Being single, I had no spouse to drive me, run errands, lift items above my shoulders. A girlfriend and my sister washed my hair during the first two weeks, and made sure I had food. My friends in general rose to the occasion and were available to me,” Medley acknowledges appreciatively.
Her early experience with Tamoxifen, fortunately, went well. “I did not struggle with side effects as some do. However, I was told that although it would decrease my odds of having the same kind of cancer on the opposite side, it also could increase my odds of other types of cancer.”
A scary thought!
“And, at my five year check-up with my surgeon, he informed me that they had learned enough new information about the effects of Tamoxifen that he would not have prescribed it for me had he known them then!”
Medley chuckles. “That was challenging!”
Still, all things considered, she has reason to be upbeat about the effectiveness of her treatment.
“My long-term prognosis is excellent. Yes, I might get cancer again, and that's not a happy thought, but I've faced it once—and my mortality!—so I hope I can be courageous again if required.”
Medley’s biggest concern these days? Health insurance. Especially since she’s single, and can’t rely on the health benefits of a spouse with good employee benefits. Fortunately, the Lord has continuously provided her employment with organizations that offer coverage despite her cancer history.
Strength for Today
God has also helped Medley, a follower of Christ since her teenage years, in developing a healthy attitude regarding this attack on her health.
Although today, she usually wears a wig—or hats—in public to obscure a hairline thinned by years of Tamoxifen, she travels internationally on mission trips and as an amateur artist.
“Many tell me that I am inspirational as a survivor,” Medley allows, almost apologetically. “I try to support others facing a similar diagnosis so that my experience has positive meaning. God uses every aspect of our lives to reach others; this year alone I walked alongside another 50-something-year-old female facing the same diagnosis.”
In fact, Medley has developed a short punchlist of strategies for dealing with the dreaded “C” word.
First, she advises new cancer patients to gather information on their diagnosis from trusted sources. “Do not get ahead of yourself, as fear will grip you,” she warns.
Second, request a second opinion. And “talk to others that have walked the walk.”
Third, remember that it’s up to you to make good decisions about your healthcare. “If you don't like a surgeon, an oncologist, a nurse—find another one.”
Through all of this, trust in God's provision and blessings. “Believers should look for them at this difficult time, rather than fall into despair . . . and pray, pray and pray!”
Another is, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Bright Hope for Tomorrow
God has helped Medley develop a realistic, matter-of-fact perspective on where she's been medically, and what it means for any potential husband whom God may have for her.
“Breast cancer is a very physical cancer,” she explains. “The results are seen by the eye. If I were to be in relationship with a man in the future, he would have to be able to handle the result, and I don't think that is easy for a man.”
Anyway, Medley doesn’t let her marital status stop her from living, just as she’s refused to let cancer slow her down.
“Being a cancer survivor makes me no more lonely than being a smart, independent, fifty-plus-year-old female,” she demurs. “I do not dwell on being single at my age. Being single has allowed me to respond to God in different ways than if I had been married, including being available to do what he has designed me to do, as his instrument of love.”
And then she launches into the core of her testimony.
“I did not choose to get breast cancer, but it did not change my heart, my soul, or my spirit. Cancer, like any other disease or disorder, can be—and often is—debilitating. But you get to choose your response to its impact. I've chosen to define myself not as a survivor, but as a thriver in its midst. . . God’s love and provision for me was, and remains, without measure.
“Cancer is the vehicle by which he has provided me so many blessings I never wanted!
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.