c. 2002 Religion News Service
Almost 30 years after being diagnosed with cancer, Anne Shaw Turnage sees her own life as living proof that "grace keeps you going." Her personal experience led to a new book with the same title.
"Grace Keeps You Going: Spiritual Wisdom From Cancer Survivors"(Westminster John Knox Press, $12.95) recounts the pain and joy, fearand wisdom, uncertainty and assuredness encountered by survivors ofcancer. The stories, often ironic and funny, are a panacea for the hardmoments when people with cancer and their families struggle with thedisease.
Three decades ago, Turnage and her husband, a Presbyterianclergyman, took a daunting diagnosis and turned it into a life's work.Turnage was a mother with young children when an emergency surgeryrevealed she had advanced colon cancer with metastasis to the liver. She was terrified, but determined.
Residents of Richmond, Virginia, the Turnages promised each other theywould write a book about their experiences if Anne lived a year. It was1973. Medical options for people with cancer were much more limited back then.
But Turnage's physician encouraged her to believe she might getwell. "The first thing he told me was, 'You are serious. But if you areresponsive, I've got some good news for you.' I didn't find out untileight years later that I was in a 5 percent group of people who respondto this treatment," Turnage said.
After surgery, her treatment was 5-FU, a form of chemotherapy. Itwas effective, but Turnage still believes that her physician'swillingness to treat the whole person and her own faith helped hersurvive the disease. She went on to write her first book with herhusband, "More Than You Dare To Ask," about her experiences and to workin Richmond with a nonprofit cancer service organization, CANSURMOUNT.The group, which originated in Colorado, continues today as a program of the American Cancer Society.
In 1980, the Turnages moved to Charlotte, N.C., where Anne Turnagefounded the first CanCare chapter. In 1989, they moved to Houston andfounded CanCare there after a $10,000 gift was presented to MemorialDrive Presbyterian Church where Mac Turnage was then associate pastor of pastoral care. In Houston, CanCare grew to a large and successfulnonprofit with Anne Turnage as its executive director.
She since has retired from that post and now lives with her husband,also retired, in Mount Pleasant, S.C. But CanCare in Houston lives onwith some 40 member congregations and more than 500 volunteers.
Volunteers are trained to work one-on-one with people who have cancer,with cancer survivors and with the families of both.
The Turnages' book dispenses a hearty dose of encouragement toailing people. The couple dream that this book will help make readersaware that people dealing with cancer are members of an enormous club.There are 8 million cancer survivors in the United States and anestimated 1 million join those ranks annually, Anne Turnage said.
"This collection of verbal snapshots, with wise and foolishcomments, is a family album for this massive tribe," Turnage said."Because cancer survivors struggle with emotional and spiritualrealities, maybe this book can provide strength for those moments."
One doesn't have to be religious to appreciate the book's deepwisdom. A poem, titled "Friends" in the book, speaks of the isolation caused by cancer: "The cancer hides me, but it hasn't blotted me out. I want them to touch me without cringing. I want them to look at me without showing pity for me," the author says, asking for divine help in reaching out to friends who have forsaken a person with cancer.
Another prayer comes from someone who doesn't have cancer, but hasseen the devastation it can cause: "YOU know too that I want this disease conquered and removed from people I love. I want it conquered and banished from the world YOU love. Let me have a hand in destroying this destroyer. Please."
The book contains many tales of amazing hope, courage and peace.Telling stories "with fellow citizens in the cancer world is aliberating experience," the Turnages said.