A cancer diagnosis in April 2017 has jerked my world. Just hearing the words “You have cancer” changed my whole perception of life. There are no other three words I have ever heard that have impacted me so greatly, in a negative way. My initial reaction was all about How do I tell the kids? Then it moved to I am not ready to die. I want to see Simone graduate. I want to grow old. I want to see my grandchildren. I became very sad and scared. I was mourning the loss of my future. I found myself not only turning to loved ones in my life, but God.
My gut instinct was telling me to go to church. I saw the priest and he performed an “Anointing of the sick.” I cried as he did this. I also attended a “Spirit Room” where they pray for people’s healing. I went to Sunday mass. I went to Novena. Most times I had loved ones with me. I bought a Catholic prayer book. I wore (and still wear) a rosary bracelet, gifted to me by a dear friend. I prayed to God. I prayed for strength and courage to get me through. I asked the priest how I will get through this. He said, “Let God carry you.”
As I went through tests, and found out my treatment plan (chemotherapy and radiation), I continued to pray. I found myself questioning why this happened to me. I was a good person. I lived a healthy lifestyle. I read a book called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” I read all kinds of books and articles on the internet. Articles written by people of faith. People who had cancer. I tried to understand why this happens in God’s world.
I started to question natural disasters. The year of 2017 has been the most tragic I can ever remember in terms of hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and mass shootings. I questioned why God would allow this to happen. Many people pray for those who are suffering, grieving, ill and forlorn. We pray to God who we expect to make things better.
I have learned throughout my cancer treatment for anal cancer (which was torturous) that God has a plan. He has given us human will. He has not taken this away from us. There are tragic events that will happen due to human will whether it be from mental illness or a criminal mind. As examples, the mass shootings or terrorist massacres are due to human will. In addition, tragic events happen due to human error. God does not “will” these things to happen. But He gives us the strength and courage to come together to aid and comfort one another. He gives us the capacity to love and support one another.
When God creates such a magnificent world in which we live in, we have to learn how to live with the natural events that occur. Severe weather patterns, the earth’s shifts, and other disasters such as widespread fires happen which I believe is beyond God’s control. We take the beauty of a rainbow, or a sunset, or in the tiny petals of a flower as signs of God’s creation and love for us. We seek God’s good as He is an all-powerful, loving God.
When illness or suffering strikes, I witness many people praying for God to heal. There are faiths based on the Bible that believe God can heal. In the Bible it says Jesus healed those who were ill.
I believe that God gives the healers in our lives the ability to learn and use their God-given talents to help when one is sick. For example, when I went through radiation, I believe it was God working through the doctor who determined where to aim the life-zapping beams. I trust that the specialist did her best and that God helped guide her. I also believe that God was working with all the support staff, such as the radiation therapists, who ensured the proper administration of my treatment. This is an example of my faith.
The way my body responds to the treatment is all part of the bigger plan set out by God. I believe the plan is already designed. Praying for “health and healing’ won’t matter because the determination of my fate has already be set. Instead I HOPE for these things, but accept what is meant to be. This belief helps me cope with the unknown. I focus on my day-to-day life and avoid thinking about my unknown future. I think about that line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done”, and find comfort knowing that my future is in God’s hands.
God helped me through my darkest, most traumatic times during my treatment. I pray for strength, courage and patience. At times I called out for God to help me. The pain was so severe that one time I asked Jesus to help and I actually saw him standing by my side in his white robe. This was very comforting in the most painful time in my life.
When people pray for God to heal someone or themselves, some will be disappointed. Some people will not be healed, and they will succumb to their ailments. So if someone does not make it, does that mean God did not answer his or her prayers? Does it mean s/he did not pray hard enough? Maybe his or her faith wasn’t strong enough? This is where it gets difficult to keep the faith. It may leave people wondering why God did not answer their prayers.
I think the better way to go about praying for healing is to pray that the person has the courage, strength and patience to get through whatever is happening and s/he doesn’t have to suffer too long. If it is God’s will that s/he suffers, we must remember that the reason for suffering may have an answer, or it may not. A priest I talked to even said sometimes we don’t know why some things happen. It’s a test of our faith, to know that God has a plan, and we need to accept it.
Encouraging people with cancer to “fight the fight” can also create the same kind of outcomes. If they did not “fight” hard enough, if they decide to “give up the fight” does that mean they were bad or weak? We want to believe we have control over our health and our outcomes. We only have so much control. The rest is in God’s hands.
Hoping for a speedy recovery, hoping for the end of suffering, hoping for a positive outcome is what we all wish for. No one wants to see suffering. No one wants to lose a loved one. But if it is God’s plan that the outcome is other than what we hoped for, we need to accept it. How many times have we heard, “Now she won’t be suffering anymore.” “His pain is gone.”
Faith and hope are two concepts which are very closely related. I now understand the difference. Faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful God with a master plan helps me cope with my circumstances and what is happening to others who are facing adversity. He knows best. We can learn from these adversities. It usually helps us become more compassionate, and loving if we look for the positive in these situations. I actually admitted that having cancer and going through treatment was a gift. It has helped me become more understanding and compassionate towards those suffering or diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I understand what “torture” is. I understand what depression feels like.
Hope is what we need to keep us going. Hope helps us sort out what is important to us and what we want and need in life. Hope is the belief in positive outcomes. It helps us cope and cling on to what we value and love. Hope is a way to show others that we care.
My faith is strong and will continue to be strong throughout my healing journey. I put my trust in God and will accept whatever His plan is for me. I will continue to hope for the end of suffering and many more years of health and happiness. I hope that I can see my daughter graduate from university, start a career (like my son Lorenzo has) and see my children get married and have children of their own. I hope that I can grow old with my husband, Agapito. God-willing.
Peace, love and hugs,
Angela G. Gentile
Update: This article inspired me to start a Facebook page, God, Cancer and Me. Please join us so we can build a community of support, hope, encouragement, love and faith.
Angela G. Gentile MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is passionate about all things related to Aging Well. For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com