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Moving Through Anger

by Rachel MihalkoSurvivor, Hodgkin's LymphomaMarch 24, 2022View more posts from Rachel Mihalko

The Summer of 2018 I began grasping at straws, in search of something permanent, unchanging — while my entire world was shifting constantly after my diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. 

I was stuck at home every day on treatment weeks, feeling terrible and lacking energy. My in-between treatment weeks were a reprieve from the pain, but I didn’t know what to do with that time. I put so much pressure on myself to make those days count, but I felt purposeless, like I was just biding time until the next treatment that would knock me out for another week. I was stuck in the mundanity of my eight rounds of treatment, and I needed a distraction. 

My creative endeavors over the years have fluctuated, but photography is something I have always gravitated towards. I appreciate old buildings and how they can tell their own story, and I liked the idea of photographing them, with their character and permanence. 

I decided to photograph as many churches in the area as possible; there is no shortage of church buildings here in the South, so I drove around the Memphis area, capturing as many churches as I could. 

In that time of my life, I felt peace in the church and felt strong in my faith. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had so many people reaching out to me, offering to pray for me. In the beginning, I welcomed their prayers. Friends would send me Bible verses, which I would write on index cards and stick on the wall next to my bed. 

However, slowly, my world fell apart. I was all out of hope, even when I learned the chemo was working. For so long, I was told that there would always be hope in the Lord, but I couldn’t see even a shred of it anymore. 

This whole topic has been very overwhelming for me to reflect on. There are so many directions I could go with this article but there’s just not enough space for all of my thoughts. I could write a book on faith and spirituality during and after cancer. 

Just a few of the things my book would cover are my Christian upbringing that led to a falling-out with the Church after I finished treatment; I didn’t see the support from my church that I would have wanted, and that has left tender wounds. I could tell you how I’m slowly rebuilding that relationship with a new church body. I could tell you how much anger I have felt toward the Lord since I was diagnosed and how that rage has festered and grown, despite reaching NED. I could explain how sometimes it feels easier to deny the presence of a higher power who is aware of and connected to all of humanity. Because if that were the case, I have no way to reconcile the brokenness and pain of this world with the presence of a God who cares for us.

I get angry when I meet people who are secure in their faith, despite having suffered through cancer or some other pain the world has inflicted upon them. Maybe it’s because, more than anything, I want to be them; I want their seemingly unwavering faith and willingness to let go of the desire for complete control over their lives.

I’m still exploring so much of my spiritual and religious pain related to cancer, and I would be doing our readers a disservice if I pretended to have it all figured out.

Cancer taught me that no amount of knowledge will protect you from the harsh realities of the world. I have so much knowledge from a Christian upbringing, but none of that prepared me for the loneliness that came with survivorship. I felt an emptiness like no other when I reached remission.  

I want to have faith. Faith in something. I still go to church, but not the church I was attending when I had cancer. I found a church that seems more understanding, but that doesn’t erase the pain I’ve experienced from the Church in the past. I still have trouble singing during worship, and I haven’t opened my Bible on my own in months. The community is what keeps me coming back to church. I’ve found people there who are hurting as I am, and it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who has been stung by the Church as an institution. 

Church buildings don’t bring me as much comfort as they used to, although I still feel a sense of nostalgia whenever I drive past a church I photographed. I still have much to learn about faith and spirituality, and I know I’ll never have all the answers, no matter how badly I want them. I yearn for answers as to why all this happens to any of us, and sometimes that yearning can be all-consuming. 

I’m trying to let myself feel my anger towards God. I can’t repress these feelings anymore, no matter how appealing it may be. Wish me luck.  

This article was featured in the 2022 March Faith and Spirituality issue of Elephants and Tea Magazine! Click here to read our magazine issues.

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