Cancer, like a number of other fatal diseases, is usually silent until it is too late. Although some people will experience pain and some of physical symptoms, most people do not notice anything during the early stages. Sometimes they may feel something (like a lump) but often it gets dismissed by general practictioners because most of the time, these lumps are benign. Other times, like in my case, there is virtually no external evidence.
After being diagnosed with cancer, the first question people usually ask you is "How do you feel?". That's a difficult question to answer. Physically, you usually feel great. The tumor is small, it hasn't interfered with the function of the body too much and the body does not even appear to be aware that the cancer is there. There is disruption of course but it hasn't caught your attention yet.
Cancer starts out as a single cell. Something causes it to stop acting like a normal cell. Sometimes we have an idea of what caused the problem. More often than not, we don't.
In the case of breast cancer at least, tumors are categorized into three different grades. To put it simply, grade 1 tumors are cells which are sort of toying with the idea of cancer. Something isn't quite right but the cells are still behaving pretty much like normal cells. Grade 2 tumors are sort of like fence-sitters. The cells appear to be making an attempt to function normal but at the same time there is more marked abnormality. Grade 3 is another story. Grade 3 tumors are your aggressive tumors. The cells in a grade 3 tumor no longer resemble the type of cell they are supposed to be. In my case (yes, my tumor was grade 3) the cells in the tumor no longer even looked like breast tissue cells. They were fully mutated.
Left unchecked, cancer will spread to other areas of the body. A common super highway is the lymphatic system. It will also enter the blood or bones. It invades other organs. If left unchecked, it will disrupt the operation of the body to the point that death will eventually occur. Sometimes that can occur quickly (depending on when it is diagnosed) or it can take years. Currently it is estimated that breast cancer has been in the body for 6-8 years before a mammogram can even detect it!
There is no cure for cancer, despite what some people may claim. You can cut it out and if it has not spread you can be told you're cancer-free but that's no guarantee it won't come back. While some people may say you're cured, reputable physicians will not tell you that. Instead, you're told there is "no evidence of disease (NED). That's because we don't fully understand why the cells started mutating in the first place. So, the attitude is more like if it happened once, there's always the possibility of it happening again.
I'm currently NED. The tissue area within a few centimeters of my tumor did not show any cancer cells. The two lymph nodes the cancer would have moved into first (known as sentinel lymph nodes) have been dissected and examined. No cancer cells were found. You would think that would be the end of it all, right? Normally, if you're NED after surgery (clean margins and no lymph node involvement), you would just have radiation treatment and that would be it. However, that will not be true in my case.
My grade 3 status along with having what's known as a Triple Negative tumor (look it up if you're curious), means I automatically must have chemo as well as radiation treatment. Why? Because this type of cancer has a higher than normal rate of recurrence within the next five years and it is very aggressive. That means we have to always be on the lookout for it and pursue it relentlessly. I will be carefully monitored for the rest of my life. I have to have frequent mammograms (every six months) and yearly MRI's. There's a red flag in my file. Nothing should ever be taken lightly. No one should ever say, "Well, that's probably just a cyst. We'll check it out again in six months."
I have a team to help me fight cancer. Everyone says no one should ever try to fight cancer alone. This afternoon I am going to meet with my oncologist for the first time. He's my "cancer expert". He will be following me for the next five years (at least) or until I've been cancer-free for five years. He prescribes and discusses treatment with me. He will monitor everything going on with me.
In addition to my oncologist, I have a nurse who specializes in oncology. She coordinates everything so I don't have to deal with that. She is an incredible source of information. She runs the support groups. She makes time for you when you're having a melt-down moment. She holds us when we cry and while she is always honest with us, she also soothes our unreasonable fears. She's like a mother hen watching over her chicks.
I have a surgeon who specializes in breast surgery, a radiologist and of course, my primary physician. In addition to this, I have a whole network of support and prayer partners, including many people at Christianblog.com
So, now that you've learned more than you ever wanted to know about cancer, I'll write about it's correlation to sin.
Sin is a foreign body to us. Adam and Eve were created sinless. When they fell, they became, as C.S. Lewis would say, "bent". We became altered. This wasn't what we were created to be. An abnormality or cancer formed within us. Merriam-Webster defines cancer as:
a: a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis b: an abnormal bodily state marked by such tumorsThis "cancer" known as sin was passed onto us via Adam. (Romans 5:12) It can only be removed via Jesus Christ (Romans 5:19-21)
The sin is removed, however, all too often we forget that we will be "at-risk" for the rest of our natural lives! We must not become complacent or slothful in continuously pursuing our treatment. Cancer has to be treated aggressively. Early detection is the key. You cannot just merrily go on your way for the rest of your live. "Living With Cancer" recently stated that virtually 100% of all cancer patients fear recurrence. There's a good reason for that. There's a strong possibility it will. Maybe not today, maybe not next year, maybe never but the possibility is ever present in the minds of cancer survivors. If we're that concerned about physical cancer, how much more concerned ought we to be in regards to spiritual cancer recurrence?
I like how The Message phrases 2 Corinthians 13: 5-9:
Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. I hope the test won't show that we have failed. But if it comes to that, we'd rather the test showed our failure than yours. We're rooting for the truth to win out in you. We couldn't possibly do otherwise.We need to have regular (and frequent) spiritual examinations. We need to hold ourselves up to the Word of God. We need to spend time seeking God and asking him reveal any problems to us. After all, he does specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of sin. Don't ever place your confidence in yourself.
Self-diagnosis is never a very good idea, at least it isn't for me! This means we need to gather a support team around us. I've heard people say "I don't need people, it's just God and me." Sorry, that's not God's way of doing things. I'm not saying trying to put God down in anyway. It's just that he wants us help each other. He never meant for us to do it alone. There's lots of reasons why but for now just suffice it to say we are admonished to share (support) each others' burdens:
1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each others' burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:1-3 (NLT)Getting support can be very tough for some of us "strong, independent" people. We love to give it but we don't do so well at receiving it. We prefer to ignore our weaknesses and pretend it's not there.
Guess what, you don't have to be strong all the time. None of us are and God certainly doesn't expect us to be. That's why he desires to surround us with people who will lift us up and carry us if necessary. Ironically, you will discover you are much stronger if you learn how to receive from others and you will become much better at lending support to others. You've been there. You know what it's like to feel broken and weak. You're much more empathetic and I have to say, it makes you much nicer and more approachable. I challenge you to try it and see. Besides, seeking support is just another great reason for visiting Christianblog.Com
*8/18/11--This blog is now part of a series entitled Walking With God In The Midst of Cancer