“Everything happens for a reason,” the well-meaning cashier tells me.
Before October, I would have believed her. I thought that tragedy was all part of God’s bigger picture, and that we were all just pawns in the game of life, and bad events just give someone a stronger testimony.
Then it happened to me. I was twenty-one years old looking at a life-changing diagnosis. People assured me that having cancer would make me a better nurse, and maybe it did, but at what cost? Constant obsession over my clavicles and spiraling when something feels slightly different? Starting mammograms in my 20s after having radiation to my chest to kill off the “gift” God had specially chosen for me? The costs of cancer far outweigh the “reasons” behind the “everything” the cashier had told me about.
On the day of my diagnosis, my dad refused to let me say the word “cancer.” Instead, he made my whole family call it “the affliction.” Looking back, that word was perfect. I was basically cursed by a combination of God and bad statistics. At first, I was optimistic. I felt blessed to be given a good cancer (insert eyeroll here). I was going to kick cancer’s butt and make it look easy. I posted an inspirational Instagram post about how it was all going to be fine. It was not fine. Not only did I get the bad luck of having cancer, I then faced complication after complication. From blood clots to rare drug allergies, I was miserable. The next treatments were hell on earth. I was not kicking cancer’s butt like I had planned. Cancer was kicking my butt, and it was all I could do to stay afloat. All of it was so messed up; I could not make sense of anything that had happened to me.
How could God have picked me out of everyone to give cancer to? Then how did he pick me to survive? Every part of it is unfair in so many ways. It felt like the loving, caring God that I grew up learning about was everything but that. Did he pick a random number and end up picking me as the target? Then did he flip a coin with ten sides to represent the chances of me relapsing? The statistics of it all are so mind-boggling. How did I get a cancer that only occurs in 2.6 people in 100,000 and then expect to beat the relapse odds that are so much worse? Why did he even create cancer and suffering in the first place? I quickly grew tired of being one of his “strongest soldiers” in a war that I did not sign up for. There is no way to make it make sense, and I often nearly drive myself mad trying to figure it out.
During treatment, it hurt even more to see the effects that cancer has on other people. It was brutal going into remission as I watched my young friends die from cancer. A friend I made on Twitter who had testicular cancer has not tweeted since last summer. An influencer in the nursing community had his life taken because his insurance company could not get themselves together in time to save his life with a transplant. I see the black screens to honor other patients’ passing on @thecancerpatient’s Instagram. They all had so much life left to live, and they all did so much good in the world. So what did my friends dying have to do with everything happening for a reason? And why wasn’t I the one who died instead? This has nothing to do with God’s plan and everything to do with shitty luck. People who have never been there are naïve to the realities of cancer, whether it kills you or just permanently maims you.
I have not updated my CaringBridge in a while, but if I were to do so, I would tell everyone the harsh truth. I would stop saying “but” to people who told me to look at the bright side. Instead, I would just tell them how it actually is, leaving out the things that I forced myself to be thankful for while forcing myself to stay alive. I don’t think people can completely understand how truly soul-crushing it is unless they see the unfiltered version of my mom watching me turn purple during my reaction or my dad crying beside my hospital bed about not taking me fishing the summer before.
That’s not beautiful. It is tragic. It is not part of God’s plan for parents to be traumatized by the near-death experiences of their 21-year-old. God’s plan has absolutely nothing to do with my husband of one year and four months picking up my fragile body from the bathtub while I felt like my bones were full of electricity and my skin was made of bruises from a Neulasta injection. “In sickness and in health” is not supposed to be tested so early on. And God surely never meant for me to question my worth to the being that is supposed to love me and protect me from harm. Why did He allow this to happen to anyone, and why did he choose not to protect us? There are no suitable answers.
I finished chemotherapy the month the pandemic hit, and suddenly, no one wanted to offer anything more than thoughts and prayers, which were much easier for them to contribute. However, when it came time to actually help me stay alive, they wouldn’t wear masks or socially distance. Instead, they shared posts claiming that only the elderly and immunocompromised will die. I was the immunocompromised person that they were willing to sacrifice.
I fought so hard to be alive just to be threatened by a once-in-lifetime pandemic, and my Christian friends could not love their neighbors enough to put my safety before their selfishness. Is that what God’s love looks like: giving kids cancer, then a pandemic to deal the final blow? That’s pretty messed up, and it hurt to see these people be so willing to let me die. Their actions mimicked “Lord of the Flies” more than a single parable from Jesus Christ. It felt like God and the members of His church had turned their backs on me altogether. Others bragged that they trusted the immune system God gave them, while my immune system actively plotted my death.
Since finishing treatment in May of 2020, my physical health has recovered most of the way, and I have tried to find my own relationship with God. I’ve spent time with friends who care about me, know my trauma, and know God in a very different way. We’ve dug deep into the Bible just to find that the cashier’s words are not biblically based. Instead, they’re a coping mechanism for people who have not experienced trauma to explain why bad things happen in the world.
The real reason that bad things happen to random people is completely unknown. It wasn’t because of something that I had done, and it’s not so that God can make something beautiful out of my trauma. I know these things because my cancer friends were good people, and their deaths did not trigger anything beautiful, only heartbreaks. Bad things just happen for no reason. That’s it. So stop telling cancer patients that our suffering is all a part of some grand plan; it’s harmful to our relationships with spirituality during a time when we could really use a connection with something outside of ourselves. Many things happen for no reason at all, and we must come to terms with that one way or another.