In downtown Minneapolis there is a park. Along the street is a large granite sign bearing the name “Cancer Survivors Park.” For years it made me angry, and sometimes still does.
My heart experiences a dichotomy. On one hand, there is the big picture where I’m glad people are still alive and have their parents and kids. I’m going to delve into the other side. It may get dark and cynical.
I see the park and I wonder why they get to celebrate life. I am jealous. I am angry. Are they flaunting their survival in my face?
At church today, the sermon came from a professor who had been diagnosed and treated for cancer. As he narrated his story leading up to the results from the biopsy, I was in. I was grieving with him and his wife. I was making connections to my parents. He had me and he had the authority to teach me about rejoicing in suffering… because he had suffered.
And then the results of the biopsy were non-Hodgkins lymphoma, or, to use his oncologist’s words, “The boring kind.” My initial response was, “What authority do you have to teach me? You had the boring kind of cancer and you’ve recovered.” I tuned out. It took a lot of fight to remember that even “boring” cancer is still cancer and can be fatal. He and his wife still had to grapple with life and death. He still had to do chemo and be told that it was ineffective. He still thinks in terms of remission, not cured.
In college, my good friend’s dad had some serious sudden medical problems. I remember praying for his dad and then preparing for the worst. I’m a pessimist. It’s what I do. I was ready to be there when he got the call that surgery didn’t go well. I was ready to enter into his grief using mine as a guide. Then his dad recovered. I was glad that my friend was spared grief, but I was disappointed.
We are in a club that no one wants to be members of. The cost of membership is high and terrible. But we (or I) want desperately to not be the only members because to be the lone member of this club is a terrifying, confusing, and isolating experience. And trying to find other members can be equally terrifying, confusing, and isolating.
To this day, I am grateful that my friend still has both of his parents. I am glad that our preacher this morning is alive to love his wife and kids well. Truly I am.
But I am jealous. I am lonely. This is the dark side of my heart. This is the dark side of my grief.