An acquaintance. A high school batch mate. A college friend. A church mate and close friend. And now a family member.
Over the last six years or so, I have witnessed how the big C has ravaged once healthy and vibrant bodies of beautiful women close to my heart. Seeing them wasting away when once they were a picture of vitality brought a sinking, unexplainable feeling of dread over one undeniable truth: Death is inevitable. Sooner or later, it will barge in, taunting, stinging, laying claim to its power amidst tears of resistance, pleading, and bargaining.
Just when we think life sails like a bedecked hot-air balloon on a calm day, it suddenly comes crashing down sans any warning. The reaper shows up, mostly in moments we are utterly unprepared; Yet, death, for all our pretense that it won’t strike, is as firm and certain as the tax deductions in every employee’s payslip. Indeed, each day that we live is a day closer to our death; how ironic could it be?
If we are all destined to cross this great divide—this ultimate leveler of men, why is it that news of death or terminal illness of friends or relatives still shakes us to the core? Why, specifically, does the news of someone having cancer feel like a huge punch in the gut?
Just a week before Christmas last year, we received the news that my sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) had a stage 2 breast cancer. She and her husband and daughter had been living in Dubai since 2014, working their butts out for a living, when this huge blow of a news hit them. Racing against time, they decided to pack their bags and head back to Manila for a second opinion, even as laboratory and biopsy results showed a grim prognosis. On January 1, 2018, my sister in law, accompanied by her husband arrived in Manila and was whisked right away to Asian Hospital for a confirmatory checkup of her medical condition.
After two days of confinement (another tissue extraction for biopsy and other confirmatory tests such as bone radiation were administered), results showed that the cancer cells had already metastasized to the bones and liver. When doctors confirmed the grimness of the situation (even mastectomy was no longer considered an option), family members opted for natural medication or immunotherapy and brought her to a hospital that specializes in this area for a 20 day live-in therapy.
As of this writing, it has already been two weeks since the start of her program. So far, she looks better than the first time we all laid eyes on her after her arrival from Dubai. Save for a pain in her spinal column (aggravated by a fall—an accident that occurred while she was at work), she does not exhibit excruciating pain in her breast nor does she show signs of discomfort normally associated with such a disease. When we talk to her, she is back to her normal, chattering self and is even more in tune with the issues in the hospital and among its staff. We are of course, hoping that she will regain her health and be miraculously healed.
While we know that from a human perspective, the news of cancer spells like a death sentence to anyone who hears it, we, as a family, believe that God holds everything in His hands and he has a purpose for all that happens in the lives of His children. I personally believe that each painful experience is a megaphone from the Most High and conveys important lessons we need to learn. For this particular situation, family members rallied together to give my sis-in-law not only the required medical treatment, but more so the spiritual and moral support she needed.
Cancer is vicious. It takes on many forms—all mercilessly pulling and dragging its victims toward the insatiable, waiting jaw of Hades. What is so sinister with this disease is the fact that oftentimes it is asymptomatic. You’ll never know you have it until it has already taken roots and heavily damaged a good part of your system, and by that time, aggressive and costly treatment may be the only viable alternative.
However there is a cancer that is more vicious than that which attacks the physical body. It is a disease gnawing at the very soul of people who drift through life at loggerheads with everything and everyone around them, literally and figuratively. These are people who have yet to open their hearts to God’s love. They may be in the pink of physical health, at the peak of their careers, swimming in wealth, enjoying a jet setting lifestyle or basking in position or power. Yet, way past these outward measures of success rage untamed tempests. Hatred, anger, bitterness, jealousy, envy, unforgiveness—emotions, which when allowed to take roots and grow, poison the soul, clouding one’s understanding and crippling one’s capacity to love and reach out. This is the type of cancer that requires drastic and immediate attention because failure to address it imperils all other areas of a person’s life—his vertical and horizontal relationships that define who he is and what his life is all about.
Compared to the cancer that attacks the body, the cancer of the soul ravages relationships—important ones at that. Put it simply, more than the physical restoration, it is one’s spiritual health that needs nurturing. Why? Because one’s eternal destiny hangs in the balance.
So, is having cancer the end of it all?
As my husband shared, there may be more cancer-stricken people who go to heaven than those who are not terminally-ill. This is because when one faces his own mortality, he begins to make last-minute preparations to keep his life (and what remains of it) in order. Tears of repentance are shed, relationships mended and priorities are settled. The cancer-stricken have a heightened perception of what truly matters now given the little time left.
On the other hand, how many have suddenly died, albeit without warning, in the pink of their health, yet did not, unfortunately, have the opportunity to repent? Countless, perhaps. Accidents, murders, strokes, heart attacks—these are but few of the ways life is just snuffed out in a blink of an eye. And if one dies without repentance, what would await him?
Hence, the news of a loved one having stricken with cancer may well bring valuable lessons and positive results both for the person afflicted and for his family or close relations. The healing in the offing can be either physical or spiritual, or both. In the case of my sister-in-law, we are all hoping for the latter.
After all, no ailment in any form is beyond the healing touch of our Ultimate Physician who happened to be the one who…
fashioned our bodies inside our mother’s womb; (Psalm 139:13)
ordained our earthly days even before one of them came to be; (Psalm 139:16) and
loved us for eternity. (Jeremiah 31:3)