I guess it all began with an inspired question we discussed as a family. We were all sitting around the family room of a little apartment provided by St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“What are your thoughts on forgiving cancer?” I ask.
Katie, age 6, on the floor drawing pictures with Crayons splintering from being held too tightly. Handsome, bald Scott, age 16, sitting on a chair awkwardly with a strange medical contraption holding his arm at a very uncomfortable angle as it recovers from surgery. Beside Scott is Brianna, his twin. Ever since the words “cancer” and “Scott” entered into the same sentence she is never far from his side. Adam age 12 sits more or less upside down on the little sofa with his feet in the air and leaning down to watch Katie draw. I sit comfortably on the hospital bed tucked in the corner of the family room. How strange it looks there, out of place among the normal features of the apartment. Scott is well enough to be out of bed and about but it is an easy spot.
Katie speaks first, crayon poised above paper as everyone turns to look at me.
The same question is reflected on the other kids faces. For the past nine months, we’ve heard and seen a lot of people say “cancer sucks” and “***** cancer”. So the question of forgiving cancer… what could that mean?
I try to help them understand my very strange thought process by sharing a few things I though cancer had taught me, how I had been changed and made better by CANCER.
I trust more deeply. Because I learned that no matter where life challenges take us The Lord goes with us. I began to see the Hand of the Lord touching our lives in very small, yet profound ways. There were little love notes from heaven that reminded me to keep going, keep trusting, keep loving, keep hoping. Cancer might be able to take my son, but it could not take those things from me.
If I were to lose those things it would be because I chose to lay them down and pick up something else. I could lay down love and choose jealousy and anger. I could lay down trust and choose discouragement.
Have you ever gone to carry in the groceries and your arms are so full? You can’t carry anything else. But you could put down the bread and milk and pick up the eggs. I could lay down faith and trust and pick up fear. You can’t hold both at once. Cancer and little messages from the Lord taught me to choose the best gifts, leave the ones that won’t make me better and choose wisely.
Cancer will never be sorry for what it’s done. It will never come to me and quietly ask for forgiveness because my son has endured months of chemo because of it’s presence, it will never say it regrets leaving my son with a scar across his shoulder and down his arm. Cancer will never be sorry for the hundreds of needle sticks and iv poles.
So why forgive something that doesn’t even care?
If I had carried in my arms an overflowing hate for cancer, I don’t think I would’ve been able to hold in my arms the same amount of gratitude, and the ability to see the miracles that were woven into every minute. Would I be better or bitter?
Slowly the conversation in a small apartment living room began to change from forgiving cancer to what has cancer given you, how has it changed you?
Scott was the first to answer. “Compassion.” All eyes turned to him and he shifted in his chair to get as comfortable as possible with the huge metal brace. “Cancer changed me to be more compassionate. Now when I walk down the hall I don’t just see bald kids, wheelchairs, IV Poles. I see kids like me. Outside the hospital people stare at me and they think I’m different. I’m just normal.”
If they knew who you were, Scott— the kind of heart that beats underneath the scars across your chest from the surgeries, the kind of courage it takes, they would stare even more than they do now. They wouldn’t be able to take their eyes off you.
Brianna speaks slowly, but her words are sure. I can tell the thought has been on her mind. “Cancer taught me to see things differently.”
I know what she means. There’s something about hard times that makes us fall to our knees, and when we get up again the world around us has shifted. The little things we never noticed before fill us and heal us. Every moment suddenly could be the last, and if it was…. what am I going to do to make it the best?
That night of sitting in an apartment talking about cancer with new eyes is gone now. The cancer is gone too, and in its place is a lot of scars on Scott’s body and a lot of lessons learned. We still live moment to moment because there isn’t time to look over our shoulders wondering when or if it will be back. These lessons and so much more were learned in the months of treatment and life.
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