Sherry was my first patient diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, as is often the case, it was already at an advanced stage at the time of discovery.
Sherry always greeted me with a smile, and she was a delight to have as a patient. She approached her chemotherapy with the same positive attitude, expressing a belief that she could beat the cancer. She embraced her treatment, even with all of its adverse effects.
At first, the results were encouraging, and Sherry’s enthusiasm grew. But as time went on, it became apparent that the tumor wasn’t going to go away. Sherry continued to pray and hope for healing. There came a time, however, when she knew it was likely she was going to die.
For a while her mood became, not depressed, but subdued. She mourned the future loss of her husband and children, and of unfulfilled dreams.
After a while, her affect improved, but it had changed. A quiet joy and peace replaced the former enthusiasm and “I can do this” attitude. She accepted her future and began to look forward to life after death.
Sherry’s passing was quiet and peace-filled. Her death was mourned by many. But what you also heard at her funeral was how much she inspired nearly everyone who knew her, even when she was no longer physically with us. Her life and how she handled her illness made us want to be better people.
Ann was an articulate, professional woman who readily shared about her struggles. As it turned out, those trials often became the primary focus of her visits. As she already saw a counselor, I primarily offered support and made minor adjustments to her medication.
Over recent years, several people close to Ann had either passed away or experienced great suffering. Ann, herself, had good physical health, a husband who loved her, and a solid belief in Christ. But rather than seeing God’s love in the midst of adversity, she kept dwelling on one thought: “Why is God doing this to me?” While trying to put a positive spin on the circumstances surrounding her, she could find no solace in her life or her faith.
It was as though she saw the difficulties and deaths surrounding her as orchestrated by God for her benefit or torment. Besides having an excessive self-focus, Ann lacked confidence in God’s providence and love. The result was an intractable melancholy and pessimism.
Which Path Would You Choose?
Romans 8:28-29 has this to say about God, us, and adversity:
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. (RSV)
Ann believed that if someone loved God, God would work out events to protect her from the evils encountered in life. A positive attitude (“faith”) was sufficient to release God’s power. When that failed, Ann struggled with the doubt that God didn’t care.
Sherry initially took a similar approach. While she did not understand why God did not heal her, she never doubted His love or power. Assured that despite the outcome of her illness, she was in the hands of a God of infinite love, she allowed Him to transform her into the image of his Son. For those of us around her, we were dazzled by its beauty.