I’m waiting in the radiology room at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center downing my pre-scan cocktail all the while imaging a much more tasteful drink I plan on having with John later tonight. After this round of appointments we celebrate five years of being cancer free!

My journey with cancer has not been typical, if there is such a thing as typical. After being given my diagnosis I was asked back for another appointment, which was then followed by subsequent calls from the PA. There was concern that I was in denial. I wasn’t having the expected reaction for such grave news.

My struggle wasn’t with the diagnosis as much as I didn’t know how to explain my internal state. I experienced such a rare moment of inexplicable clarity that the only explanation could be God. I saw how cancer, specifically my cancer, fit into the story of grace God was weaving in my life.

Obviously, cancer is a clear example of the results of living in a fallen world. There is no doubt about the devastation and suffering it causes. However, I could sense God was using this as a way of showing me his love. The surreal moment in the Dr.’s office was recognizing that God was in the midst of redeeming aspects of my story. I was getting glimpses of the restoration in the here and now! How could I not be excited about that? But any attempt to explain these thoughts would probably have landed me some place other than the cancer ward. And so I calmly sat, nodded, and asked about next steps.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t experience fearful nights, extended hospital stays, countless x-rays, MRI’s, C scans, insurance nightmares, treatments and the ongoing effects of cancer. I did and I do.

But as I went from one appointment to the next I couldn’t help but compare the difference of this journey with earlier experiences of suffering.

In the past my response to difficulty has been anger, blame and shame. If in anger I pour out contempt, I want what I deserve; a good fight. If I’m wallowing in self-pity I want you to feel sorry with me. What I don’t want is the kindness I desperately need, the kindness of someone meeting my anger with a warm, welcoming embrace. The kindness of showing me the strength and courage my self-pity is masking. And so I run. I run by hiding my shame, my need for love. I run from kindness. I run from the delight others and God take in me.

While I couldn’t name what was happening when I was first diagnosed, I sensed God saying, “Just rest Shari. As a matter of fact, while you’re resting, why don’t you just receive and enjoy.”

Normally I would assume I was inventing these ideas in my wildly imaginative brain. But the idea of rest was so compelling, along with terrifying, that I figured, yes, this is probably God.

So how could cancer be a way of God loving me? I measure my worth by how hard I work and how much I accomplish, not by resting and receiving. I began considering how God had showed kindness in the past through a stranger or friend, even though I snubbed the gift out of the shame of being needy. And so God, in his infinite kindness and wisdom, isn’t going to let me ruin my glory. Instead, he keeps pursuing and inviting me to more goodness and freedom. And cancer has served as that tool.

So I did rest and receive! Each day the technicians laid soothing hands on my head before they left the radiation room. I basked in the touch, receiving it as the hand of God. One x-ray technician would give me a big hug at the end of the process. And I would hug back. Neighbors cheered when they met me on the streets. My friends at the Jewish health club looked for cancer freebies around the city and I took them up on the offers. Friends sent gifts, food, flowers and financial help. And suddenly it began to dawn on me. Maybe gifts like these have been here all along, but the defenses I’ve built up of contempt and shame have kept me blind.

So, my journey over these past five years has not been typical. And I don’t plan on the next five being either.

Shari

For technical readers I had a pleomorphic spindle cell tumor with high grade myxofibrosarcoma in my upper left thigh. My husband thinks it’s sexy when I talk medical. 😉