The Mystery of Living Through Cancer


Hello Friends! I hope your Thanksgiving was spectacular! Mine definitely was.

On Thursday, I enjoyed my food a lot because I ran 9 miles before eating it, thus creating enough of a calorie deficit to be able to eat whatever I wanted to. HA!

Then, I spent time with friends, eating, walking, drinking eggnog, talking and singing by the fire and early black Friday shopping.

However, what I wanted to write about for today is a Thanksgiving thing that happened Friday.

Since I didn’t spend Thursday with family, my parents and I decided to catch a movie together on Friday. On my recommendation, we saw 50/50, which is a splendid film that everyone should see (it does have quite a bit of profanity and other inappropriate stuff, so beware). I’ve seen the movie once before, but it had extra meaning this time, because I was watching with my parents who lived something similar to the movie when my dad underwent treatment for Leukemia.

My family has never talked much about the time my dad spent going through chemo, radiation and a bone-marrow transplant. I was just a tiny tike – about three years old, so I didn’t understand much of what was going on. My parents lived in Seattle while my dad was treated, and my sister and I went to stay with the grandparents in North Carolina. When adopted-mom Lisa was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I thought a lot about how best to be there for her and the family, and when I asked my dad what helped him the most, he said that there really was nothing I could do. He said that no matter how well-intentioned people were, all he could remember doing was comforting them while he was the one facing life/death.

The worst story I’ve heard about that time was actually when my dad was getting out of the hospital and I was seeing him for the first time. He was all bloated and hairless, and I was three years old, so I didn’t recognize him and even refused to give him a hug 😦 I can’t think of much that would be worse than going through so much only to have your little girl reject you. I know I was only three, but isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve ever heard?

After watching 50/50, my parents and I talked a little, and it was strange and mysterious to hear about something SO huge that happened SO long ago and impacted my life in ways I can’t even comprehend.

Then, this weekend, I drove up to Phoenix to hear Daddy Dave preach, and he talked a little about Lisa’s fight with Breast Cancer and how difficult it was to get the text message and phone calls informing him that his world was about to be rocked. He talked about the horrible feeling of watching Lisa cry after surgery… because the hardest days were still ahead.

My dad said that the movie did a really good job of showing how isolated you feel no matter how people around you try to help, and it made me think that that’s the worst thing about Cancer – not the isolation, because that seems like a symptom of something else. It seems like a symptom of the mystery. Because Cancer is something that I’ve seen people try to explain to those of us who haven’t experienced it… and they can’t. Mostly, I’ve seen people just give that sympathetic look of, “I appreciate you trying to understand, but you can’t. There aren’t words for what I went through.”

And isn’t that what my dad was saying? He was busy showing others sympathy when he really needed just not to die.

So… this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that God carried my parents (both the James Family and the Johnsons) through Cancer, and as Lisa goes through the next several years of Chemo pills and exams, my prayer is that He’d keep her healthy.

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5 thoughts on “The Mystery of Living Through Cancer

  1. I loved this post. And although I have never been through cancer myself, last year at this time a friend was dealing with breast cancer. Today she is cancer free and healed from the surgeries. I am thankful for health for my friend, but like you say, I don’t know that I will ever really understand the feelings and fears she had during that time. All I could do was listen and pray:)

  2. A beautiful and touching post. I don’t really know what to say.

    In September we lost a friend who suffered from cystic fibrosis. It is a little different, because it’s a disease you were born with and cannot recover from. You can only get treatment to make your life easier and as long as possible. But I did at times experience the same feeling of helplessness and mystery you describe, because the struggle was only her own, and there’s basically nothing anybody can do.

    I’ve been wanting to watch 50/50 since I saw the trailer a while back…

  3. My uncle recently underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor–unfortunately, the steroids he’s been on to keep it from growing made him bloated and hairless as well. He’s not quite the snarky, cynical uncle I remember, and while I’d like to have him live as long as possible and even overcome the cancer, I can’t stand to look at him and pity his condition. I don’t think people understand the phrase “they’re better off now” until they’ve seen a terminal cancer patient…

  4. We all have somebody we love battling cancer and it is so hard to know what will bring them comfort. I appreciate your insight. It helps to avoid selfish motives when comforting a loved one in battling cancer, saying the “right” thing so we feel better about our loved one hurting. They are the one hurting. They don’t need to pacifying others.

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