Coping with Cancer
by Michael King
I was thirty-five, married with three little girls at home, and the doctor was telling me I had colon cancer. He didn’t know how far advanced it was, more testing would show that. I had no idea what the future held, how deep the valley would become. I went home and that evening my wife and I argued. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t more upset; I didn’t understand why she was so upset.
Over the next year I learned what it was to suffer, what it was to watch my body waste away, to battle depression, nausea, weakness, more depression, what it was like to feel abandoned and stranded on an island of uncertainty and fear. But I also learned to know God on a whole different level. I learned to rely on Him like I never had before.
Cancer can teach you a lot of lessons if you’re prepared to pay attention. Here are five ways I learned to make it through the valley:
Keep a proper perspective. Being an alien has its benefits. This world is not our home; it’s not where we belong. Any suffering we endure here, no matter how difficult it gets, is temporary. A much better place awaits us and there we will find freedom from trials, an end of suffering. Cancer does not exist in Heaven. I had to remind myself of these truths on a daily basis. They were the rope I held onto when I’d all but lost my way.
Accept help from others. I was young and healthy, strong and independent. I was sure I’d be able to handle things even after surgery and beginning chemo. But a friend told me before any of the real trials started that to refuse help was to rob someone of a blessing. The giver is as blessed as the receiver. When others offer help, graciously accept it. You won’t be the only one blessed by their charity and show of love.
Be honest with God (and with others). I found out pretty quickly that I needed to tell God exactly how I was feeling. I cried out to Him regularly, told Him how I was struggling, how those thoughts of death haunted and tormented me. God is a big enough God to handle our honesty. Often in the psalms David is blatantly transparent before God. He keeps no secrets. God wants us to tell Him exactly how we’re feeling, what we’re afraid of, what we doubt and question. He wants us to go to him with our weaknesses. And be honest with others too. Don’t hide behind a mask of “everything’s wonderful” when it’s not. Invite the prayers of others by sharing with them what you’re dealing with.
Look for blessings. The beautiful thing about this life is that God has blessed us beyond imagination. Blessings are all around us, even in the valley. Sometimes we have to look hard for them, but they’re there, I promise they are. Find those blessings, those rays of light, and focus on them rather than on the shadows.
Dig into God’s Word. When I was in my deepest, darkest days I clung to God’s Word, especially the psalms. It was a light on my path, showing the way around every obstacle. The truth I found there was sometimes the only thing that got me through a day. God gave us His Word for times such as cancer, when our own strength is depleted and hope is hard to find.
In my novel, A Thousand Sleepless Nights, Nena Hutching is diagnosed with cancer and faces a future of uncertainty and regrets. Through the undying love of a faithful husband and the wisdom of an old friend she learns to navigate her way through that valley and find the Light that pushes back every dark place.
Cancer is a deep valley full of rocky places and ominous shadows, but it doesn’t have to be a wilderness of hopelessness. Remember this: When God is on the throne and we are at His feet, there is always hope.