Tag Archives: Cancer

Celebrating Lauren’s Life

I just recently became aware of Lauren after posting a series of articles exploring the purpose, effects and condition of cancer.  Though I didn’t know her personally, I was inspired by her story of fortitude and courage in the face of adversity.

On November 1, Lauren left cancer behind.  My prayers and thoughts are with her family, friends and loved-ones who are undoubtedly missing an angel whose halo sparked awareness and action.   I do believe that wounds become wins when we place them in God’s hands.  Lauren is in good hands indeed.

Rest in peace Lauren. While I regret we never met, I truly do celebrate your amazing journey.

View Lauren’s memorial guestbook or share a thought on her Facebook page.

Lauren Skillman had a message for cancer that lives on.

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Why Does A Good God Allow Bad Cancer?

A few days ago I shared a blog post, What Is The Purpose of Cancer?, inspired by my participation in the LIVESTRONG Challenge bike race.  The courage, compassion and unity I witnessed there led me to a second self-inflicted inquiry: why does a good God allow bad cancer?  This, quite frankly, sent me down a mental rabbit trail pondering if my simplistic definitions of good and bad were long overdue for a system reboot.

Is it possible that genuinely good outcomes can be birthed from ostensibly bad circumstances?

The notion of cancer can also be applied to connote “something evil that spreads destructively“.  Seems like a fitting description for other aspects of life beyond the purely physiological.  Cancer comes in all shapes, sizes and situations.  Its physical form is visible via MRI. Economic cancer is revealed in finance reports.  Relational cancer is often detected far too late in divorce proceedings while societal cancer circles the globe in wars, uprisings, unrest and revolution.  Within this larger definition – cancer as anything that spreads destructively and causes disease, decay and death – I’d like to reframe how I personally view cancer.

The 4 D’s of Cancer

No matter what your spiritual conviction, most us can agree that disease, death, destruction and decay are bad.  When I look at each of these through my weak, short-sighted eyes, I too see situations that are too bad to be good.  Yet, when I put on corrective lenses I begin to understand that what I see isn’t always what I get.  In fact, what we see is often less about us and more about a bigger plan that isn’t for our understanding in the first place.  I believe good can come from bad in my life and the effects of cancer (the 4 D’s) can be reversed.

Death
The death of a close friend, relative or even a co-worker is hard to digest.  This mental and emotional journey can take years to process, or even a lifetime.  How can we look beyond the lifeless and celebrate a life complete?

Coach Tony Dungy and son, James (right)

A story that still touches me is that of James Dungy, the son of former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who committed suicide in 2005 at the age of 18.  In an address at a 2006 Super Bowl event, Dungy shared how his son’s story has inspired struggling youth and his donated corneas have gifted sight to 2 people.

“I’m not totally recovered, I don’t know if I ever will be, it’s still ever-painful.  But some good things have come out of it,” he said in room full of players, coaches and media.

“If God had talked to me before James’ death and said his death would have helped all these people, it would have saved them and healed their sins, but I would have to take your son, I would have said no, I can’t do that.”

Dark mourning clouds become morning sunshine when we realize we each have a specific, unique purpose during our brief time here.

Destruction
The aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 left a city in ruin and an entire country’s peace of mind entangled in the rubble.  I visited Ground Zero in New York City 6 months after the attack and found the impact indescribable.  Bad cancer had transformed tall buildings into deep craters.  The fence of a neighboring church became a makeshift memorial.  The bustle of business was hushed to reverent, pensive silence.

I remember thinking, this place will never be the same.  And it wasn’t.

9/11 Church Memorial (image by Shannon Hurst Lane)

Lower Manhattan has become a monument to courage in the face of life-changing adversity.  Acts of violence acted as catalysts for unity across all 50 states and beyond.  As we mourn the heroes and the victims we also remember the victory over terrorism.  Cancer inflected injury but failed to infect our liberty.

“The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.”Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Disease
One in 4 deaths in the United States is due to cancer.  In 2011 alone, an estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed.  The stats paint a not-so-pretty picture of a seemingly insurmountable foe.

I received a very poignant response to my original post, What Is The Purpose of Cancer?, from a former co-worker who shared how cancer shaped her life, and ultimately the lens through which she viewed bad things.  Sarah knows the bad side of cancer all too well and her struggles are not uncommon.

“For me, a good God allows bad cancer to guide refocus in those who’ve been directly or indirectly touched by the bad cancer. For me, that’s what He has done,”  she said.

Sarah was also kind enough to share the story of Lauren Skillman, a 20-year-old Fort Worth woman who is battling cancer for the third time in 2 years.  Lauren’s Facebook page has become a social pep rally in support of her testimony and ongoing treatments.

In a May 2011 interview with NBC, Lauren’s doctor Kenneth Heym shared his thoughts:

“I’ve always wondered whether the most amazing people get these challenging diseases or if something happens to them once they get it, that they become the most amazing people.  But with Lauren, since I’ve known her from the beginning,  just facing everything with bravery, and courage and laughter.”

Lauren Skillman, 20, has a message for cancer.

If bad cancer is a reminder of our finite & fragile lives, could it also present an opportunity to trust in power outside our own?  Perhaps the opportunity to be weak, dependent and confused creates the capacity to be stronger than we would ever be individually.

Decay
Life and loss go hand in hand.  From small things (like my hair) to substantial items, most of what we have today will be gone at some point.  My father always said, “Don’t hold on to stuff too tight.  Sooner or later it’s gone or we’re gone.”

Cancer causes decay, the act of declining or decreasing, and often challenges our assumptions and shifts our focus.  The very public moral decay of pro quarterback Michael Vick in 2007 was met with much scrutiny, media coverage and condemnation.  Vick, pleaded guilty to illegal dog fighting and faced severe federal charges, ultimately serving 21 months in prison, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and losing “it all.”

His physical talents afforded him a life of means yet a cancerous environment and destructive decision-making wiped it all away.  Or did it?

Since then, Vick has served his time, been reinstated into the NFL and is progressing positively at a pace few would have guessed.  What struck me about Vick’s story was not his rise or fall, but the lessons he learned during this journey.  In the process of losing fame and fortune, Vick found salvation.  I’ll never forget watching his public apology on TV and grinning ear-to-ear while witnessing good from bad.  Check the video out for yourself:

I’ve been asking myself why a good God allows bad cancer.  What I’ve learned is that lessons preserved by pain are never lost.  Yes, even if that pain happens to be cancer of any type.  More valuable than a pain-free life, is a pleasing life that serves, honors and creates meaning that lasts well beyond a lifetime.

Do you have stories of good that has come from bad? 

In your own life, have you found that the painful times have served a bigger purpose?

As always, please leave your feedback, comments or send me a Tweet shout-out @adriandparker with thoughts.

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What Is The Purpose of Cancer?

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?

@adriandparker

My wife Alisha and I at the LIVESTRONG Challenge

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