Breast Cancer Awareness Month reminds me of a stinging experience I had a few years ago. I once approached someone who schedules a lecture series focused on coping with cancer about speaking in one of her programs. She explained that, because I didn’t have cancer, there was no way my experience with chronic illness would resonate with those whom she served, who were cancer patients. Even when I explained that I had had to take a chemotherapy drug for more than 10 years (with all the accompanying side effects, etc.), had lost all of my hair, faced death, and knew well that many of the issues cancer patients face are also ones that I and others with non-cancer chronic illnesses face (and in fact, many people with lupus and other illnesses have also had cancer) she was unmoved. I wasn’t part of the “club,” so couldn’t participate in her program.
I walked away saddened that there could be such a divide between those of us with incurable, ongoing serious illness and those with the very serious diagnosis of cancer, which also can be an ongoing concern and, in some cases, incurable. Of course, funding, research, and other considerations probably play a role in demarkating who works with whom. But, I also thought, if only we worked more diligently at building bridges, how much more strength we could glean one from another. I know, for example, that Scripture verses and lessons on living with illness are not only for those with one or another disease. I know that Jesus did not offer healing only to people with one particular diagnosis. Love, mercy, understanding, compassion, fellowship, hope, light, and salvation – these are not merely for someone of a certain age and ailment. Suffering is suffering – no “First Class and Coach,” no “Better and Lesser.”
If I only ministered to lupus patients, I would be limiting the scope of what God can do through me. If we only keep to our own disease groups, we exclude other children of God – something Jesus never did.
So, I’ll keep trying to build bridges and find common ground, and I encourage us all to not be disheartened when we are rejected because “we don’t understand.” We must keep praying and working, because sometime, somewhere, those who turn from us will discover that we are stronger together than in boxes that limit compassion, imagination, and caring.
We’re all in this illness thing together!