I was talking with a couple of friends this past week who were upset about the turn my cancer has taken, and both of them said that they thought it wasn’t fair that I had cancer. Especially this deadly kind. I have to agree with them. It’s not fair at all. It’s not fair that I got sick at such a relatively young age, 60. It’s not fair that it’s so aggressive, and gives me so little time. It’s not fair that my octogenarian parents will probably outlive their son. And on and on.
But what are we really saying when we say that? Are we saying that no one should get sick or die? Are we saying everyone should just die peacefully of old age? Or are we saying that calamities like terminal illness should only happen to “bad” people? And who decides who the bad people are?
One of my friends actually implied that in our conversation. She said she thought people like me – a direct quote – should be exempt from cancer. People like me? I told her that before I had cancer, I wasn’t the guy she sees now. I wasn’t anyone especially “good.” I wanted people to think I was, but deep down, I wasn’t.
But even if I was the Pope, Ghandi and Oprah all rolled into one, I don’t think that exempts me from getting cancer. Or from what might be considered a premature demise. I almost said dying young, but no one would mistake me for young.
I’ve said before in this blog that I’ve never asked the question, “Why me?” Because if you do, you also have to ask, “Why not me?” What makes me so special that I can expect to avoid something like this? Not a thing.
I know many feel this sense of the unfairness of it all, not necessarily about me, but themselves or someone they love. Something terrible has happened, or did happen, or is happening to them or a loved one. The cancer community is replete with such people. But it isn’t just about cancer. We all have terrible things happen to people we love, or to us, or both. Many times all at once. I have friends for which this is true right now.
I recently read When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Harold Kushner. It’s a very well known book that I had never read until a couple of months ago. It’s pretty much the definitive statement on this subject. If you struggle with this question of why life isn’t fair, I highly recommend it. I won’t try to answer that question in this post. I’ll only agree that there’s nothing fair about any of this, but that includes the bad and the good. And for me, there’s been so much good, it’s really unfair.
Let’s start with the fact that I’m now in my 21st month without pain since my diagnosis. This is an incredible blessing that many of my brothers don’t have. Especially those who are Stage 4 like me. I know that pain is coming, but the fact that I’ve had this much time without it when so many others suffer is really unfair.
My wife and I have had a tremendous amount of financial help, most of which I never talk about in this blog. I have friends with mountains of medical bills and no way to pay them. They get no help at all, while we don’t have to worry about that. It’s so unfair.
I have a loving, supportive wife and family. Many of my prostate cancer brothers have no one. No wife or significant other, and no family. Or their families are estranged, or marked by toxic relationships. In many cases, their spouse left them when they got cancer. So they face this disease alone. It’s just not fair.
I have an incredible group of friends who support me and love on me constantly. It’s in my nature to make friends easily, so I understand that I play a major role in the quality of my friendships. We all do. Good people attract good people. But why should someone suffer alone just because they don’t make friends easily? It’s not fair that it’s so easy for me and so hard for them. They need love, companionship and support as much as I do.
I have a newfound purpose. I’m doing it right now. And I have other new passions that God has given me to replace my old ones. Many of my brothers mourn the loss of the man they used to be, and struggle to find a new purpose. I don’t know why this gift was given to me and not to them, but it doesn’t seem very fair to me.
I could go on, but it’s starting to sound like bragging. In spite of last week’s bad news, it seems like every time I turn around, another incalculable blessing falls into my lap. One of my biggest struggles is feeling like I don’t deserve all of this blessing, and all of this love.
Fairness is a human construct. Nature knows nothing of fairness. A herd of gazelle, if it could think, would probably think it’s unfair that the weakest and most vulnerable among them are the ones most likely to be eaten by a lion.
Like it or not, cancer is part of nature. It’s just cells doing what cells do; trying to reproduce. In a way, cancer is very fair. It doesn’t play favorites. It doesn’t care if you’re good or bad. To cancer we’re all just food. It’s horrible, but it is fair.
Jesus didn’t promote the idea of fairness. Consider the reaction of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32, blog) This young miscreant wastes his whole inheritance, then when he runs out of money, runs home with his tail between his legs, and Dad throws him a huge party. What’s fair about that? But that’s the Gospel. There’s also the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-16, blog) The guys who show up with an hour left in the workday get paid the same as the guys who worked all day. Is that fair?
God isn’t that interested in fairness. What God loves are justice and mercy. And us. More than anything, he loves us. God’s love is not about fairness, it’s about grace. It’s about giving us what we don’t deserve. It’s totally unfair, in the best possible way.
We all experience things in life that seem unfair. Maybe it’s a terminal illness for you or someone you love. Maybe it’s a chronic condition that you’re forced to live with for many years, like my dad has. Maybe it’s a terrible family situation, like one of the friends I had this conversation with. Maybe it’s one of a million other things. But if you look hard – or maybe you don’t have to look that hard – you will see that the blessings in your life outnumber the bad things. Maybe you know someone who, when their life is compared to yours, you have it so good it seems unfair. I hope you can see the reality of that for you, the way I have in my life.
So I have to agree, this whole business is as unfair as unfair can be. Both in horrible ways and wonderful ways. But for me, the wonderful has far outweighed the terrible. That seems more than fair to me. #waroncancer #bearingwitness