One of my jobs as a medical social worker involved working in a dialysis unit. Patients were there for hours at a time, which meant there were opportunities to share life stories. I’ll never forget an elderly woman who began our first conversation with the statement “I know why I’m on dialysis.” Her comment didn’t seem unusual, because most dialysis patients understand the underlying medical issues that brought on their kidney failure.
As she began her story, I found her explanation startling. She said she was confident that she was on dialysis because God was punishing her for something awful she did in her youth. In the months we shared together, she refused to talk about her terrible misdeed, deserving of dialysis and death. It was obvious her faith was a source of torment rather than comfort.
Years later, I met a man with terminal cancer. His attitude was very different. He was confident he’d be healed of cancer, but not by anyone in the medical profession. He maintained that in his death, he was going to a place where there would be no suffering or disease. He was looking forward to this healing and arriving at his final destination, which he said was heaven, where there would be no suffering, sadness, illness, or disease.
Two terminal patients, and both believed in God. One was in torment, the other living with confidence, comfort, hope, and peace. In a study titled “Religious people cope better with cancer...unless they think God is punishing them” found that the “type of God” that a patient believed in had a positive, or negative affect in the way a patient coped with cancer. According to the study "Believing in a benevolent God that answered their prayers made cancer sufferers more outgoing and able to maintain relationships." Those who believed their illness was punishment from an angry or distant God, or who had doubts over their faith, fared worse.
If you believe God is angry with you, or gave you cancer to punish you, this belief will have a negative impact on the way you cope with cancer. I urge to you challenge your current beliefs. Find someone you can safely share your struggles with, someone who will listen, and at the same time present you with a different point of view.
In my own journey with prostate cancer, the God I’ve come to know is a God who shares my struggles, a God who hears my prayers, who wants to comfort and strengthen me, who gives me victory over death and dying, and is worthy of eternal praise. I’m blessed to know and believe those are the qualities of the God who’s sharing in my journey as a prostate cancer survivor.
I’m not at all sure how comfortable, or helpful, people of faith are in listening to someone whose faith is faltering in the face of cancer, but don't let that stop you from finding someone who's willing to listen to your doubts or struggles without judging you.
I'd like to hear how your faith has impacted your journey with cancer.
Note: This article appeared in Prostate Cancer News Today
Rick Redner and his wife Brenda Redner wrote two award winning books. The first:
provides men and couples with information and support before, during and after prostate surgery.
Their second book was written for couples living with!erectile dysfunction. After living with erectile dysfunction for four years, Rick chose penile implant surgery. The couple share how implant surgery changed their lives and relationship.
The title of their book is: