The Shock of Diagnosis

No matter what comes next, life will never be the same.

BY: Karen Leigh Stroup

 
This article was excerpted with permission from "Speak the Language of Healing," published by Conari Press.

I have always been the responsible type, with a superego big enough to make any psychoanalyst salivate. I like to believe I am in charge of my life. I like to believe I get out of life what I put into it. If I eat well--say no more than 25 grams of fat a day--I assume I will stay well and will never have cancer. If I exercise right--say minimally 20 minutes 3 times a week--I assume I will not get sick, and certainly will never have cancer.

But there is a flaw in that line of thought. What does it have to say about the 24-year-old aerobics instructor in my support group who has breast cancer? How about my brother-in-law, the health nut? He has, since his youth, eaten only the best foods and exercised like a madman. And yet he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He is well now, thank God, but he wears a T-shirt that says, "Eat right. Exercise. Die anyway."

Death is perhaps the ultimate evidence that I am not in control of my own life. Given reasonable mental and physical health and freedom from pain, I do not know anyone who would want to die. And yet it happens to each of us.

What kind of God allows women to get breast cancer? What kind of God creates a world in which every living thing eventually dies?

I do not believe, as some of my friends do, that God caused my cancer. I do not believe that God works like the Gary Larsen "Far Side" cartoon that shows God punching the "Smite" key at a computer, while the monitor shows an unsuspecting man about to meet his death by a falling piano.

On the other hand, if I believe in a God who is all-good and all-powerful (and I do), I must also believe that if God did not cause my cancer, she certainly permitted it. This is where things get scary. I would rather blame myself for my cancer than face these questions about God. What kind of God allows women to get breast cancer? What kind of God creates a world in which every living thing eventually dies?

It is hard for me not to picture God as a huge, all-powerful Karen, stripped of sin and psychopathology. It is tempting for me to say, "If I were God, I would never let women get breast cancer. I would never let anyone die." I cannot imagine how it can be that I am more compassionate than God.

Continued on page 2: »

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