Angels Camp, CA…There is something very unique about suffering through a disease like cancer in a small town. There are few places I can go where my health problem is unknown. I am met with compassionate smiles, or awkward glances, and usually kind and encouraging words. Certainly the way I have been compelled to journey through my illness has magnified that lack of anonymity. I wouldn’t change a thing. I couldn’t change a thing. It’s the only way I know how to be as a Christian, and just as Catherine.
To start off on a positive note, I receive so much support. I am regularly encouraged to continue writing. I know a lot of people read what I write here, whether they enjoy it or not. Also, my blog on caringbridge.org gets over a hundred visits each day. I hope through both sites you are able to find encouragement. I hope you are inspired to keep persevering in the face of incredible circumstances that I know we all encounter. I hope you develop an awareness of the awesome love of God. I hope that if someone you know is facing illness, you are better equipped to comfort them or be empathetic. I hope I at least present a valid option for how to handle adversity.
My courage is constantly praised. That one baffles me, I must admit, because of course I didn’t sign up for this disease. I’m just taking what I’ve been gifted. Knowing that God expects me to see every circumstance as an opportunity to get to know Him better, I take advantage of that. If I didn’t need healing, how would I get to see Him as the Healer? If I didn’t need to be delivered, how would I marvel at Him as the Deliverer? If I didn’t need comforting, I would never enjoy Him as the Comforter. My closeness with God is an amazing thing, solely because of this disease. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. If my time here on earth is shorter than I had once anticipated, I will know that I developed a deep love and understanding of Him that many people never experience. After all, it’s not the quantity of your days that matters, but the quality. He makes my every day a series of miracles.
I have also been told that I am the perfect person for this challenge. How crazy is that? I actually think from time to time that He got the wrong girl. I am not tough. I am squeamish. I have made grievous errors in my life. In short, I am flawed. There are countless people out there who have lived a more saintly life than I have. But obviously that is His plan. Perhaps my “normalcy” makes me more relatable to others. Or perhaps the evolution from the sinful life I led to a life with the sole purpose of embracing the will of God is part of the message. If I didn’t need redemption, I wouldn’t know Him as the Redeemer.
Of course my speaking and writing and overall willingness to suffer publicly is integral. Few people choose to handle cancer this way, and it certainly wouldn’t work for everybody. I don’t remember making a conscious decision about it though. It’s just who I am. For me, communication is extremely therapeutic. In addition to that, the Bible tells me of the importance of evangelism. In the book of Mark we are told, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). In Revelation we learn to overcome by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11). So I certainly can’t keep quiet about how God is working in my life. Maybe this is hard for the non-believer to listen to. But it is the truth, and I am a witness to it. If you don’t know Jesus, and you are still reading my columns, you must be at least be curious why/how I am so ridiculously happy in the face of an incurable cancer. It is Him.
So the pubic nature of my journey leads me into the more negative side of the community’s possible opinion of me. I have been criticized for being so verbal. I have a couple of responses to that. If a cancer survivor suffers in silence that is their prerogative. I’m certain that is more comfortable for many people. Not for me. I am replenished each day by the stories I hear in response to my struggle. “I spend more time just staring at my son because of you.” “I don’t look at the clouds in the sky the same anymore.” “I am staying home with my children now because of you.” “My daughter wants to be a dermatologist because of you.” If I didn’t get my story out there, none of these miracles would be happening. I did not cause them, but I was part of Jesus’ conduit and that brings me immense joy. That makes my suffering worthwhile. And these people are just the people one “step” away from me. What about the people who are healed by that little girl when she is a dermatologist? What about the children who are being raised with extra love and purposeful attention? What about other people who see and are affected by how these people are now living?
My son’s involvement with and knowledge of my disease has also been under fire at times. He once asked me early on in the battle if maybe I could die. I told him yes. One of my friends gasped when I told her that. She couldn’t believe I would tell my little boy that. My response to her was , “I would never lie to my son.” I clarified to him that we could also die on the way to school that morning, or in any number of other ways. I want to give my son the gift of living his life to the fullest. If he knows at 9 what I figured out at 36, he’s going to have an extraordinary life. He does not live in fear because of his awareness of my disease. If anything, he has an amazing level of comfort. We have figured out together how to give our worries to the Lord. We praise Him every day that we are together. And we know who is truly taking care of mommy. It is not just the doctors, or our family and friends, and certainly does not need to be this sweet little 9-year-old. It is God.
I must admit, I am amazed how comfortable people are with me. People who solely know me through my writing feel like they truly know me, which is awesome. They share their own beautiful stories or personal struggles with me and I am honored by that. But people also very comfortably share where and how they think I am falling short. I know in any position of leadership, you are holding yourself up to criticism. When I bought my business, the previous owner warned me, “You better thicken up your skin!” She was right. But mostly, it concerns me how quick humans are to pass judgment on one another when Scripture constantly warns us not to judge. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
Not judging does not mean failing to have an opinion nor does it mean being unable to see the error in someone’s ways. Furthermore, I won’t pretend to think that my strategy and the choices I make are right for everyone. I hope this is what you hear from my words in the pieces I write. What I describe is what I encounter in my life. What I write about is how Jesus works in my life. I tell you what parts of cancer are hard and what parts have blessed me. I don’t always get it right. I don’t have it all figured out. But when I’m unsure, what works for me is turning to the Bible for answers. God has made this incredibly frightening time into a time of rejoicing. He has made my moment of peril into a moment of triumph. He has relieved me of asking “Why me?” and allowed me to simply say “Thank you.”
Editors Note…Catherine’s fight with cancer and the manner in which she has fought it publicly has been an inspiration to many. If you would like some context and a more personal look at her battle you can find it on the Caring Bridge Website Here! We would like to welcome Catherine as one of our contributors and we hope her story can help you along your journey in life.