My Cancer & My Faith
by jane arie baldwin
Thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. For many years afterward I said in the back of my mind that “some day” I would write about it. One of the first things that bubbled up from the depths of my being was the poem “Cancer Raped Me.” I dropped my pen on the table like a hot potato or a powerful wand that I didn’t yet know how to use after I wrote that poem. I knew that when I did write my story it would be very uncomfortable to do because it weaves the timeless themes of sexuality and spirituality from my perspective.
To inspire my writing I recently visited a few cervical cancer support websites. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “there is so much more awareness and support here than a decade ago.” (thanks internet!) Many sites had sections where women shared their stories about their experiences. I immediately felt a tinge of guilt that I had not written my story on one of these sites and then had to laugh because I’d been so focused on writing A BOOK that I never thought to try to sum up my story in a couple of paragraphs.
I read a few of the women’s stories and almost immediately realized why I had not “joined in the conversation” around the issue of my cancer. Every single one of these women, by the third sentence of their story had acknowledged Jesus Christ as THE source of their strength during their darkest hours.
I love Jesus…but it’s complicated. My experience with cancer played a HUGE role in renewing my faith. I resisted this notion at first, though, because I didn’t want to fit into the cliché – Girl stopped believing. Got cancer. Found her faith.
As a child I was a student of religion. I went to a Catholic Elementary school taught by nuns, my family attended a Methodist church, and we lived across the street from a Baptist church where I attended Sunday school. In Catholic school I learned to fear God, at our Methodist church the sermons preached the patriarchy of God (patriarchy didn’t go over too well in our family where the women always had the last say), and at the Baptist church I learned that judgment was an important part of faith in God, that God was jealous and his wrath strong. I remember the images on the walls of Sunday school with God as an old man in a white robe looking down on the sinners and a peaceful Jesus coming to bring the message that his dad is not as mean as he is portrayed. It felt so good to be able to abandon the mean Dad for the kinder, gentler Son.
As I got older I continued to pray and believe in Jesus. Then I started to ask the BIG questions. No matter how much faith I put into the Son, the Father still haunted me: If God is so benevolent, why are children starving in Africa? If God is PEACE why are the Jews and Palestinians still fighting over the Holy Land? If God is LOVE, why is there murder?
If God loves me: WHY-DO-I-HAVE-CANCER?
To be continued…