TGI Friday (Thank God it’s Friday) is an American restaurant chain operating around the world.
A little while ago I had a Thank God I’m 60! party.
Just over two years ago, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. When it was found, it was already stage four, with secondaries in my bones and brain. The statistics were stark: 50% of people with stage four lung cancer are dead in 5 months, and less than 5% are still alive after two years. The 5thmost-commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, it is still the leading cause of death from cancer. At the time I thought, “I probably won’t see my 60th birthday.” It joined the long list of things I didn’t have to think about any more.
At the time I knew very little about cancer. The learning curve has been steep. Recent statistics estimate that 1 in 2 people in Australia will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. I have learned how much people’s journeys and experience of cancer differs. When younger women and men, especially children, have cancer, there is so much more consciousness of life unlived, promise unfulfilled! Often cancers that occur in younger people can be more aggressive. Some types of primary cancer attract more public awareness, and more funding. Others carry more stigma – typically lung cancer patients are viewed as smokers (although younger female non-smokers are a large sub-group of those diagnosed). People can be told that they brought their cancer on themselves, whether through smoking, eating habits, or other lifestyle choices. And each sort of primary cancer has different likely paths for where the secondaries occur and how they develop. Learning about the probable paths of cancer growth is a fascinating journey, even if a little too close to home for comfort!
Some dimensions are part of more common experience. There is the shock of diagnosis. There is the sense of living with a potential death sentence, whatever type of cancer one has. There is the experience of feeling betrayed by one’s own body growing death instead of life and health: which leads to the tendency to look with suspicion at all new ailments or sensations as symptoms of potential cancer growth.
After all this, it was a surprise to find that I was turning sixty. So I wanted people to join me in celebrating and thanking God.
Thanking God that unexpectedly I’m still alive at this point. More than that, I have enough strength and energy to do the things I love. Research around cancer and treatments is a rapidly growing field, and I’ve been able to benefit from that. My common response when people tell me (with a note of surprise) how well I’m looking, is to thank God for medicine and for make-up.
Thanking God for the community around me. Some people with cancer find that they lose their community. That hasn’t been my experience. I’m grateful to God for my family who have travelled closely with me, bearing the brunt of care alongside their own grief, and have done so unstintingly. My colleagues and friends are a constant source of support and encouragement. Over a few months when my husband and I were both unwell, both friends and strangers wonderfully cared for us by providing meals. People surrounded us with cards and flowers. And I am still constantly surprised (and incredibly heartened) to meet people who tell me they are praying for me, some even committing to pray daily.
Thanking God for cancer.
- For all of us, death is the only absolute certainty in our lives - yet we don't feel it. Rather we tend to live with the sense of immortality, of death being far away. For me, living with cancer in my body, enables me to live out more truly each day who I really am.
- Part of the grace that cancer has given me has been learning to live more vulnerably, more conscious of my dependence on and interdependence with others, living against the illusion of independence. It helps me be gentler, more aware of my own limitations, and of the gifts that others bring.
- I live not knowing at any time if I have six months or some years of life left to me. The immediacy of this uncertainty has not been easy. Yet it has taken me into a journey of learning more and more deeply the depths of God’s great immediate and intimate love for me: a love against which life, death, cancer, become trivial by comparison. While I don’t wish cancer for anyone! my wish for everyone is that through whatever life brings them, they might grow deeper into the close, personal knowledge of God’s love for each one, individually.
Cancer is now part of me – my body, my life. I thank God that cancer also has been a place to meet with Christ.
Moyra is an ethnographer, with a focus on how women’s voices, and how they describe their own realities (her work has included adult literacy, and the women’s mosque movement, both in the Middle East). She is currently based in Melbourne, writing, teaching and training, in cross-cultural understanding and Islam.