The first time I learned about cancer I was in middle school. A childhood friend’s dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He passed away when we were freshmen in high school. I remember not understanding how someone like him could get sick. He was a handsome, healthy man in his early 40s — a heart surgeon and former quarterback for Ohio State.
A few years later cancer hit closer to home when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. At 16, I became personally familiar with words like biopsy, malignant, lymph nodes, mastectomy, and chemotherapy. I got to see firsthand how the disease took a toll on my extremely healthy 43-year-old mother. It was the first time I saw my father cry and the first time I was ever truly scared. I remember looking at my then 5-year-old sister and thinking “what if?” The good news is there was no what if — my mom beat cancer and is alive and well and probably on the back nine of the golf course in Vero Beach as you read this.
As I got older, it seemed I just couldn’t escape the disease and I am sure everyone reading this post feels the same way. We all have relatives, friends, or spouses who battled cancer, or maybe even you yourself faced this horrible disease. And no doubt we have all known cancer’s toll. For me, first it was grandparents lost, and a few years back Brad’s mom ended her bout with breast cancer. As I get older now, however, the people diagnosed seem to be getting younger. Now it’s not just our grandparents and parents who get sick, it is us.
In 2011, the husband of one of my college roommates and closest friends was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer at age 38. In 2013, the unimaginable happened in my most intimate group. One of my best friends in Alexandria’s three-year-old son was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. What that little boy had to endure in the way of spinal taps and chemotherapy and pure fear is truly horrifying.
The good news is that two weeks ago, that little boy had what we hope is his last chemo ever. And in January I am headed to Key West with my college roommates and our spouses to celebrate Todd’s final scan and his victory over testicular cancer.
Through all of this you can’t help but ask “why?” — especially of God. When my mom was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time being mad at God. I was 16 so I spent a lot of time being mad at everyone, to be honest.
Some of you reading you might know this, but I am a Christian — no doubt a few of my friends are rolling their eyes as they read that statement. I know many people who are Christians but don’t have a local church they call home. I, however, am lucky to have a church I love and I go as often as I can. My participation in a congregation is not because I think I am a “good Christian” — more like the opposite. I am usually a pretty bad Christian and I figure with all the other personal up-keep I do — you know, the manicures, the facials, the highlights, the exercise classes, and we can’t forget the fake eyelashes — how can I not think that my faith doesn’t need maintaining as well?
A few years back we joined Aldersgate Methodist Church, primarily because of the Associate Pastor, Jason Micheli. He was one of the few people I had ever met that I considered to be as smart and funny as my husband. During many conversations with both of them, I often times have had to look to my best friend, Mr. Google, to understand what they were talking about. Jason’s humor is also a bit off color and juvenile at times, which I completely appreciate. His sermons are serious and comedic and his edge keeps the pews packed and the bishop on notice. His ministry is having an impact on a lot of people.
At age 37, Jason was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Don’t go look it up — it will only depress you. At the time of Jason’s diagnosis he was literally one of the fittest people I knew. I am pretty sure he ran a marathon at a 7-minutes-per-mile pace a few months prior to his diagnosis. I had spent part of the prior summer in the Highlands of Guatemala with him, slinging cement piping. He just was not the guy you thought would get sick.
I found myself often thinking about the irony that Jason had probably spent countless hours in his office helping people reconcile their own faith with their diagnoses. But what happens when it happens to the minister himself?
Luckily for us, Jason wrote a book to talk about just that.
Tomorrow marks the release of Cancer Is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo. Whether you are religious or not, this book is sure to be a very honest journey of life with cancer and how to, somehow, make sense of it all. You might not only enjoy it but find something you can use. I guarantee he will even make you laugh when talking about something we all wish we never had to address.
I hope you will buy Jason’s book. You’ll be glad you did.