You will waste your cancer…
Carlos Wilton, Presbyterian pastor and cancer survivor, has an excellent post up where he comments an article by a second ministerial cancer survivor. This time the cancer survivor is John Piper, mega-church pastor and Prostate cancer survivor.
Piper’s article, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, lists 10 ideas for using cancer to affirm and strengthen faith. Wilton comments on the 10 ideas, agreeing with 7 and eviscerating the others.
You might want to go read the original first article and Wilton’s response before moving to my non-theist response which you can find after the fold. I am not as nice as Wilton.
First off, I find the initial premise strange. The idea that once can waste cancer any more than one could waste debilitating allergies, blindness or perhaps the wonderful view of a sunrise each morning is foreign to me.
Cancer happens; allergies happen; sunrises happen. While the diagnosis of cancer forces people to come to terms with issues like mortality, being, time and perhaps their place in the universe, it is arguably no different than any chronic, potentially deadly illness. It can’t be wasted any more than today’s sunrise was wasted.
I daily celebrate the smallest things in my world. (For example, today is a weasel day for me; perhaps the highlight of my week. Why? I was lucky enough to spot one of the little ferret-like, wire chewing varmints on my way to work. He stopped and looked at me, wiggling his nose and with his round ears straining for every sound. Our paths crossed and parted; I carry the quietness of the moment with me for the rest of the day.)
Thus, you can’t waste cancer. You can use it to readjust your thinking. You can use cancer to attempt to find meaning in your life or to reinforce the meaning you knew existed. The choice is individual. But I think “wasting” the opportunity of a life-threatening illness is like wasting the opportunity not to be pushed off a bridge. It is not something I directly understand. While I quote original items, you might consider my comments answering the question not “You will waste your cancer…” but “You miss the opportunity …”
Note: I reordered the points, much like Wilton, simply to put what I consider realistic reactions first.
“You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death”
Cancer reminds individuals of individual mortality. The diagnosis is like the sound of the incoming mortar to a soldier, survival – the near miss. Do you think about death? There is a simple question that can answer that. Do you have a legal will? If yes, you have thought about death. Humans approach risks poorly. Cancer is a reminder that risk can sometimes become a very deadly reality. Remember though, cancer is only one risk of many.
I don’t morbidly ponder death, but I do approach it and spend time thinking of my place in society. I can’t conceive of a life after this one, existence just ends. But I do ask the question of how that life ends. But a life changing event that gets one to examine their life? I would agree with this.
“You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.”
Any setback used to increase solitude as opposed to outreach is poorly used.
Often the reason for this is a false sense of being a burden, an unease with making people, well, uneasy, modern society’s disconnect with death and serious illness. Using each day to reconnect with people or brighten someone’s day is good; using specific events perhaps to reconnect with lost family and friends is also a good thing; retreat unadvisable at best.
“You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.”
Strange thing to say. Once could rephrase this simply to say – “don’t fall into an unending depression” or perhaps “buck up little camper”. Depression and grieving is a part of the process; some overcome it quickly, others have more trouble.
To present hope where hope is still possible is good advice, to despair in the face of unchangeable realities foolish.
“You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.”
Um – No. Sorry.
While I do spend a fair amount of time reading about what other people think about God, I would prefer understanding the process of the cancer; what treatments are available and why one is chosen over another. Especially in an early detected, slowly developing illnesses or a chronic problem. It is better to be able to understand enough to stop one specialist from overturning the months of work done by a prior health professional. It is also important to understand and be able to listen to the person who is treating you.
Should one bury themselves in scripture? If it helps the depression/hope thing that’s fine. But being an informed patient is equally important. Study scripture? Study Sun Tzu!
Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.
“You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.”
Um – No. I can understand Wilton, it’s his job to agree with these things. To me, this sentence is an oxymoron. I just can’t go there. For me “Truth” and “Glory of Christ” just don’t match up.
But to each their own.
“You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God”
Interesting. On the one hand, creationists and intelligent design people, including Piper himself, will use chance as an argument to further their interpretation of the will of God. Here the odds should be ignored in favor of belief.
I would agree that an undue interest in playing the odds isn’t called for. Just like the idea that you might not win the lottery, but someone probably will.
Cancer and cancer treatments are like a lottery with players who are forced to play. Some will win and some will lose. But to focus exclusively on the odds when you can’t change the game isn’t healthy.
On the other hand, judicious use of statistics can help determine what treatments are useful.
“You will waste your cancer if you think that ‘beating’ cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.”
Beating cancer in this case is like thinking you can beat the bus running you over. There is no winner.
As a matter of fact, ultimately the patient always wins even in death. The day the patient dies, so does the cancer.
“You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.”
Wilton attacks this much as I would.
My objection to this one lies in the false dichotomy Dr. Piper sets up, between a curse and a gift. I think my cancer is both. I would never describe it as anything other than a curse – yet, I would also say that the experience of having cancer has been a surprising gift, in many ways. It’s led me to new sources of strength, opened up new relationships, forced me to think more about others, centered my mind on higher things.
I would agree with Dr. Piper if he were saying, “cancer is not only a curse, it can also be a gift.” But, set it up as an either-or, and I have to cry foul.
On one level I agree with Wilton.
On the other hand, why choose to make it an either or question at all? It is not both, it is neither. Any event can be chosen to be wonderful; any event can be chosen to be horrible. Forcing one to think in those terms doesn’t help the situation any; it is better to learn that all things have many different facets and use that knowledge daily.
“You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.”
I’ll just leave the response to Wilton. I think he says enough here.
In the course of my pastoral ministry, I’ve encountered way too many sick people who are laboring under the misapprehension that their illness is a form of divine chastisement visited upon them by God. I try to free them of that particular monkey-on-the-back. I won’t deny that some illnesses have a psychosomatic element, through which, say, unresolved guilt or suppressed anger can manifest itself as physical illness. Such illnesses can, indeed, be seen as a result of human sin – but they’re a causal outcome that grows out of the sin itself, not a divine punishment imposed from above.
“You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.”
Wilton also leaves no stone unturned on this. Read his response.
Does Dr. Piper actually believe his prostate cancer was custom-designed for him by God – that God went down the rows of souls waiting to be born, and said of the one who would be baptized “John Piper,” “this one gets a rotten prostate, it will make him a better person”?
But just for a minute think about what this Piper does. Not only does he feel that he “needed” to get cancer, as a minister he goes into hospital rooms and tells this to shell-shocked patients and families. Think about it for a second. In the morning you hear you have cancer, in the afternoon you learn, from someone you implicitly trust, that by the way it is your fault. I can’t think of anything more despicable. I wonder what he tells veteran’s families?
I think events like cancer or unexpected deaths do force one to re-examine their beliefs and faith if they have one. All experiences have an effect: for some it will increase their belief in God, for some that belief will be destroyed and for some faith revealed.
Piper seems confident that his view is correct and, being the head of a mega-church, his is able to influence thousands of people each week.
For inspiration in fighting cancer, I’d recommend turning not to the pied Piper and the Song of Songs but the song Força by Nelly Furtado to find the will to live:
It is the passion flowing right on through your veins
And it’s the feeling that you’re oh so glad you came
It is the moment you remember you’re alive
It is the air you breathe, the element, the fire
It is that flower that you took the time to smell
It is the power that you know you got as well
It is the fear inside that you can overcome
This is the orchestra, the rhythm and the drum
Remember: John Piper is bad: