Yesterday I was hanging out in a lobby at MD Anderson, waiting for my friend who was doing an interview for a potential chaplaincy internship. As she nervously made her way to the interview, I claimed a seat in the lobby to wait. This was not my first time in a hospital lobby – I’ve become acquainted with them over the years as family and friends have gone through surgeries, procedures, and emergencies. I settled in, knowing there is no definite time frame of when things will be finished in a hospital.
This lobby was familiar in a way: the furniture was slightly uncomfortable but bearable and there were sparsely read magazines and books on tables. People were coming and going – some knowing where to go, others bewildered at the enormity of the space. There were medical professionals nonchalantly talking about their work while commiserating about cases and patients. And there were nervous family members sparking awkward conversations with strangers to ease the tension.
While I sat there watching people come and go I felt sadness as I saw little kids as patients and the memories of children I have known who have had cancer flooded my mind. Kids who didn’t make it after years of fighting; kids who are now in remission but must live a guarded life to stay healthy. These little bodies that streamed past me were in different stages of that battle, and I couldn’t help but feel sad that their lives would be forever changed.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was mad – mad that my loving God allows little kids to get cancer. This wasn’t my first time being mad at God and this disease. I’ve been mad when my mom was diagnosed. I’ve been mad when I witnessed a student in my church’s youth group find no respite from the disease. I’ve been mad when my friends’ family members are diagnosed. I’m mad at this stupid disease that doesn’t have a pattern or rhythm and has no boundaries, developing in anyone at any time.
And I’m mad that God allows this stupid disease to continue to be an issue in our lives. While I don’t believe that God gives people cancer, I wrestle with the thoughts that God allows it to happen. If one thing were to bring me to atheism, it would be this disease. I just don’t understand it, and I don’t understand God’s work in it. Why allow it? Why doesn’t God just give us a cure? Why create bodies where this is an issue? Why did that little kid who just walked past me have to get it? Why did my grandmother have to die from it?
My brain took a turn toward being afraid (as it tends to do) as I realized that I have every potential to be the next one diagnosed. While the randomness of the disease alone makes me a target, my family’s medical history places me firmly in the ‘will develop cancer’ category. My grandmother was a patient in this very hospital in the early 1970’s, and a good plot twist would place me here at some point. My mind started racing: I need to eat more vegetables! I need to exercise more! I need to see a doctor regularly! I need to… that’s where it stopped because I don’t know what else I could do to make sure I don’t develop cancer. Part of me has been resigned to the fact that I’ll have to deal with it some day, but part of me is scared out of my mind that I’ll have to deal with it some day.
I overheard a couple nearby talking about their friend who had been under care at the hospital, and their voices were filled with so much hope, “You know Catherine from church? She had been through the wringer and no one could give her any help, but she came here – they couldn’t cure her cancer, but they extended her life and gave her eight years more than she thought she’d have!” They had hope that their own family member who was a patient at this hospital would receive the same benefits, if not more, than their friend had.
In the middle of my anger and fear I found a spark of joy in all of this messiness of cancer. Before me were people wrestling with the same emotions I had (if not more so), and they were choosing to remain on the side of gladness and hope. And I need to do the same. Cancer sucks – no doubt about it. But I need to find the goodness that comes from it. I need to bear witness to the strength of the human body which can go through countless surgeries, be flooded with debilitating chemicals and radiation, and can sometimes come out cancer-free. I need to shout for joy when small steps are made in cures, remission techniques, and research, and I need to shout even louder when people I know come through the messiness of it all cured and whole. I need to be glad that while my grandmother was in MD Anderson, she was part of research which led to better remission medications and procedures which are now helping countless others.
The truth is, I need to take all of this to God. I need to share all of my sadness, all of my anger, all of my fear, all my gladness with God. I need to lay it before my Creator and admit that I don’t know what to do with all of this. I need to voice my frustrations, my failures, my fears. I need to rejoice before God in the successes, in the design of the body, in the small steps we’ve made. I need to argue with the faults we have in our bodies, in its design, and how we need to be better.
I hope and pray for an end to this stupid disease. I hope there comes a time when MD Anderson has to permanently close its doors because there is no longer a need for its work. I hope that this can end and be a mere moment in history.
I pray that God is with each and every person who has cancer, and I pray that God will give them hope, give them a cure, give them just one more day. And I pray that we can continue to stare God in the face and ask why this has to be this way.
much love. sheth.