God, prayer, and cancer

So when you are faced with the reminder that life is short, and can be much too short, what do you do when the reality of discovering if there is an afterlife becomes a looming possibility? Obviously, the first concern is keeping the grim reaper at bay for as long as possible, through whatever methods necessary. When tough medical diagnoses are given, though, it is impossible not to think “What if this is it? What happens next?” For many, including myself, that process leads to talking to God. So… how does the Lord respond to pleas from the oncology unit?  

For starters, I should probably lay my religious cards on the table.  A practicing Catholic (Italian Mom, Irish Dad from the greater Philly area – really, what did you expect??) actively involved in the St. Sebastian parish here in Fort Lauderdale, I went to Catholic elementary and high schools, kept my faith going through and after college, and have become more spiritual as life has progressed. Having in-laws that live three houses down from our church doesn’t hurt either. I’m not overly evangelical or a Crusader (hey wait, I went to Eustace…); religion and faith have always been more about my relationship with God than spreading His word. 

This ordeal has, more than anything else, slightly altered the nature of my faith, what I ask from God and what I provide in return. Things like asking and granting forgiveness (there’s a lot of asking), really listening to what is said every Sunday morning for an hour, and how to apply just one small message each week to my life; these have become priorities. That whole “Golden Rule” thing was always something I believed in but didn’t execute with consistent regularity; now, I look for opportunities to be that person and, by example, bring Christ’s peace into the lives of others.  Now that I have a small voice, it is part of that opportunity to help spread the message of God, of believing, of having faith, though I don’t need a pulpit or Scriptures verse to do so. I just need to be me.  Sounds so simple, right? 

Yet when you start asking for big favors, it feels kind of hollow to wish for a large intervention when you feel like your contributions here on Earth might not match the request’s weight. Until you realize that prayer isn’t the same as bartering at the Pennsauken Mart.  Early on, I had a conversation with the Lord that went something like this: "God, please let me handle Your will with strength and courage." I followed that up with several sound arguments as to why keeping me around a good deal longer would serve His benefits as well. He really doesn't want to deal with the questioning of unanswered prayers from this group, I assured him many times. I always came back to the same thing - if this is what my challenge is, you can be damned sure I am not just going quietly, and I will accept what happens with grace and courage, but also with a hell of a lot of fight. We are just going to assume “go peacefully without much impact on others” was not part of that big plan. If it was… sorry, God.

Do I know how much prayer is contributing to my battle against cancer?  No, of course not… although I am sure by now God is a liiiiitle tired of hearing my name.  I do believe God is listening, to me and the MANY people who have been praying on my behalf.  I believe in the (too-many) guardian angels I have and their influence.  I believe in the prayers from all my Italian relatives to Padre Pio and St. Peregrine and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I believe that faith alone doesn’t heal in most cases, but contributes mightily to the healing process, and without it, you truly do fight alone.

I feel God gave me this challenge because I would be able to handle it; I also think this is an opportunity to express Christian beliefs through helping others in similar battles. God doesn’t just randomly select those to be “cured”; nor does He grant Passover to those who are the holiest or most prayerful. We are all part of a greater plan, one I could never explain. My path in this plan could have gone many ways – while I believe God has a plan for each of us, I also think He presents us with choices that give us control over how the story plays out.  Trust in Him and make the right decisions in life, not just when you need some good karma because ya got cancer. That, in my opinion, is how God and religion and prayer beat cancer.

I ask everyone to keep up the prayers, as I and many around me believe that they are a major contributing factor in this grand scheme. My take on doctors and religion is God put those doctors in this place to heal me, and many others.  Like Coach Norman Dale said, “God wants you on the floor.”  He also wanted those doctors to heal, and wants me here, to share my story, so that others may believe. Believe in Him. Believe in themselves. Believe in miracles. Whatever your faith may be, whomever is on the other side of that prayer, just believe They are listening.

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »