Cancer, Human Brokenness, and a Year in Reflection: An Update on My Health
Although this website is predominately academic in orientation, I would be fooling others and myself by thinking that my life as an academic is in anyway separated from my experiences as a person. This week marks the year anniversary from a surgery that my body is still recovering.
A quick update on health-related concerns: 20 Months ago, someone related to me (purposeful anonymity*) was diagnosed with two forms of cancer. One of them happened to be genetic in nature – thus leaving open the high possibility that others in the family would currently possess it. Come to find out, two others would currently have some physical manifestation of the cancer. My daughter and I were the only two that would test positive for the genetic make-up of the cancer and, after a long nine months, we were finally informed that we are both cancer free. This aggressive form of cancer, when fully grown, would result in a six-month window for the death of an individual. As a result, all five of us would undergo invasive surgeries to remove glands and tissue where this aggressive, genetic cancer would grow.
The reason I mention this previous background is to accentuate what this week means to me. This week marks one full year after my surgery. This week marks one full year of still recovering. This week marks one full year of life when I was living in the fear of death. This week marks one full year of life spent with my wife and children, and doing the things I love.
Although my primary vocation is an academic, it is a good reminder to reflect upon the lives of people that comprise my bookshelves. In other words, people reside behind all the books you read with a real possibility of sickness, fears, and their own sets of human struggles.
This week is a time of joy for me as I remember how the Triune Lord was both kind and generous to me. At my local church, we are currently finishing a series on Revelation and I was able to reflect deeply on Rev 21 and the New Heaven and New Earth. During my sermon this morning, I was able to reflect more deeply upon the psychological effects of the New Heaven and New Earth, and join it to some experiences from my recovery.
Rev 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Here is a snippet of my sermon notes as I reflected upon Rev 21:4:
I often end with theological considerations or explorations as summary statements, but I’m pressed to consider different kinds of questions this morning. I want to offer more pastoral or counseling related questions and considerations regarding this first section in Rev 21.
(1) The longing and consideration of heaven will help alleviate fears of death, depression over long bouts of sicknesses, or satisfy fears. I want to speak tenderly here and understand that fears plague our soul – they plague each one of us in different areas. And a longing of heaven does not fix these features, but they help alleviate these fears.
Jeff Mooney is both friend and mentor to me and has encouraged me this current to year to embrace more public brokenness. I often hide “my person” in public setting and refrain from inviting people into my own brokenness.
This year has been a tough year for my psychological well-being and I have undergone massive bouts of anxiety that are brought about by fears of death, fears of losing my children, fears of losing my wife, fears of dying alone, and more. These fears were sparked by two intensive surgeries with one leaving me concerned about losing my daughter and another leaving me concerned about an aggressive cancer in my own body – gratefully both are no longer true.
What makes anxiety so difficult to cope with is how illogical it is. Anxiety cannot be fixed through mathematical rational statements of “trust God more,” as if trusting God is antithetical to anxiety. The anxiousness left me with electricity running through my legs, my arms, my face and a sense of reality caving in upon itself.
Consider with me Rev 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Get this image. Heaven will only know of the imminence of God and His close proximity to you. His nearness and covenantal renewal in the heavens will result in the ultimate renewal from sadness and tears, and His finger will graze across your cheek as he cleanses your final tear.
If your life is plagued with sickness, it will be renewed. If your life is plagued with cancer and decay, your body will be renewed. If your life is plagued with psychological elements that deter from what seems like normal life, your body will be renewed.
If you personally struggle with deep bouts of depression or anxiety, I want to invite you to embrace this life of brokenness. I want to talk with you, especially if you feel alone, help you make sense of it, and explain my story of living in it. If you are the spouse of one who struggles deeply with these items, Brothers and Sisters, it is hard and you are not alone. I will gladly invite you into our lives of brokenness and how we have sought to make sense of it as a couple.
Picture: Bamberg Apocalypse, eleventh-century MS richly illuminating Revelation