I didn’t cry but I sure did want to.
My wife’s eyes weren’t so prideful and I rested a hand of comfort on her shoulder as she took in what was happening. We were in Austin for the LIVESTRONG Challenge, an annual running and cycling event that raises awareness and funds for the fight against cancer. The organization’s CEO, Doug Ulman, Lance Armstrong and several supporters hosted a dinner the night before the bike race and the grand finale was a moving video of LIVESTRONG‘s mission:
We kick in the moment you’re diagnosed.
We help you accept the tears. Acknowledge the rage.
We believe in your right to live without pain.
And then somewhere in the middle of the video it goes on to say:
We’re about preventing cancer. Finding it early. Getting smart about clinical trials.
And if it comes to it, being in control of how your life ends.
It’s your life. You will have it your way.
At the table beside us sat a middle-aged gentleman covering his face. I don’t know his name or what he looked like but I could hear that behind his hands streamed a symphony of sadness. Perhaps he was mourning a heart no longer here, an uncertain tomorrow or a present pain with no end in sight. Whatever the case, I sensed that he was in a place far too close to bad to see any good. As we walked away that night to continue – what we believe to be – cancer-free lives, I began to wonder three things:
1) What is the purpose of cancer?
2) Why does a good God allow bad cancer?
3) Can good come from bad?
I’ve pondered these questions so much in recent days that I felt compelled to share what I believe to be responses to each. Notice I didn’t say I had answers. That would be far too assumptive and I’m not nearly intelligent or patient enough to have answers.
What Is The Purpose of Cancer?
It’s not news that cancer sucks. It’s often inexplicably swift to strike and glacially slow to disappear. Cancer is nature’s universal invitation to suffer, with no regard to status, gender, credit score, geography or religion. Cancer is bad and health is good, right?
I’ve seen the bad in cancer. I’ve also seen cancer galvanize people from all different walks of life into action, unity, focus, creativity and ultimately friendship. That night at the LIVESTRONG dinner we celebrated the resolve and determination borne from cancer. Malignant cells became the thread by which people were brought together in courage and genuine camaraderie.
This begs an obvious question. Would this group of people have connected without cancer?
If Lance Armstrong’s diagnosis came back clear on October 2, 1996, would he have ever reached out to others affected by cancer and set in motion the formation of one of the world’s premier cancer support organizations? I don’t know. I do know the word “cancer” has a way of eliminating distractions and sparking immediate re-prioritization of life’s truest treasures. The dawning of death is the clearest reminder of how finite and fragile we are.
For the sake of cancer I’ve seen hard-working fathers leave the office to have dinner with their family. I’ve seen estranged family members hug for the first time in years. I’ve seen funerals become family reunions and chemotherapy become community gatherings.
I believe this is what Steve Jobs alluded to in his now famous 2005 Stanford University commencement address:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
My intent is not to marginalize or understand cancer. It’s hard to see the silver-lining when you’re in the middle of a storm and I’ve had my portion. Cancer is undeserved and tragic. More than 28 million people globally are fighting through it every day. Some will win the physical battle and others will run out of time here on earth. For every miraculous tale of recovery there are countless sagas of loss.
I also know that wounds become wins when we put them in God’s hands. The victory over cancer has nothing to do with the final biopsy or autopsy and everything to do with the final condition of our hearts. If the ROI of pain is power then cancer is an atomic bomb with the potential to change the face of humanity. Human unity.
What do you think?
Can good come from bad? Is it fair to look for purpose in someone’s suffering? In our own?
Leave a comment and let me know what you think. I also want to discuss the other question later this week, Why Does A Good God Allow Bad Cancer?