Monday, April 25, 2011
Putting a Face on Cancer
By David Sanford
Special to ASSIST News Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO (ANS) -- Today 28 million people in the world have cancer. So, almost everyone knows someone with cancer. For me, the person who immediately comes to mind is my friend Mike Hamel. In 2008 he was diagnosed with a deadly form of lymphoma. In his new book “Stumbling Toward Heaven,” he writes about what was it like to discover he had a potentially terminal disease.
“Having a number put on the right side of your lifeline gives new meaning to the cliché ‘your days are numbered.’ It reduces life to the essentials, which for me come down to: meaningful relationships, wonderful memories and acquired wisdom.”
Mike has been a Christian for forty years and a pastor and teacher for much of that time. I asked him why he thought an all-loving God allowed cancer and other diseases. “The short answer,” he replies, “is that according to the Bible, sin and suffering entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve and spread to all humanity. But for me, this raises more questions.
“Thinking about human pain and suffering is like trying to ride a bull,” he continues. “Most efforts are short-lived and you can get the faith kicked out of you. I’ve wrestled with the antinomy of a good God and a bad world for most of my life. I’ve had insights that have caused me to reject certain explanations but I still fall far short of understanding why things have to be the way they are, even given free will and human sinfulness.”
But why include spiritual struggles in a book about cancer, I want to know. People facing death need encouragement, not doubt.
“Many people have agonized through the ‘dark night of the soul’ and we draw encouragement from their transparent writings. Not all waited to voice their confusion and concerns until they could do so in the past tense. Neither must we.”
It’s been three years since Mike’s diagnosis and two years since his bone marrow transplant. But he doesn’t feel like he’s beaten cancer.
“Not at all,” he insists. “After my first chemo regimen I had three clear PET scans. I got a cancer survivor certificate from my oncologist, a party from my family, and the obligatory T-shirt. But a few months later the lymphoma returned. Overall Survivability (OS) is measured at five years. I have two years to go to reach that mark.
“Cancer casts a long shadow,” Mike adds. “It puts life in perspective and helps me savor the mundane and be more present in the moment. It makes me more thankful for the gifts bestowed by everyday providence.”
Mike’s book is full of useful information and helpful advice for anyone dealing with cancer or other grave maladies. “The most important thing,” he stresses, “is to take charge of your own care. Adopt the attitude of a client, not a patient. By definition, a patient is ‘one who receives medical attention or treatment.’ A client on the other hand is ‘the party for whom professional services are rendered.’ Here’s the difference:
* A patient is the object of medical care; a client is the subject of medical services. In language as in life, an object is passive, a subject is active.
“Being a client takes a lot more work,” Mike concludes. “The goal is not to become your own oncologist; it is to better understand your cancer so you can be proactive in dealing with it. After all, it’s your life that’s a stake.
“And remember the words of John Diamond, ‘Cancer is a word, not a sentence.’”
Mike Hamel blogs at “OPEN Mike,” http://mikehamel.wordpress.com. His Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/mike.hamel1. His new book, “Stumbling Toward Heaven: Mike Hamel on Cancer, Crashes and Questions,” is available on Amazon, http://ow.ly/4o1zl.
MEDIA ONLY: June 5, 2011 is National Cancer Survivor Day, http://www.ncsdf.org. It is an annual, worldwide Celebration of Life held in hundreds of communities on the first Sunday in June. NCSD Press Release, http://www.ncsdf.org/Pages/PressRelease.html.
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