Cancer

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Last week, another person from my church and I attended a two-day training session at the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Newnan. The training was called, “Our Journey of Hope” and 26 churches from six different states were represented.

The goal of the workshop was to equip people to go back into their local churches and begin a cancer care ministry. My own personal goal was a bit more self-serving. I went to learn more about cancer.

When I was growing up, it seemed that the word “cancer” was tantamount to a death sentence. When people my parents knew were diagnosed with cancer, it was spoken about in hushed terms and was referred to as “The Cancer,” much like people in the Middle Ages may have referred to “The Plague” or “The Black Death.”

When I was in the Marine Corps, my maternal grandfather contracted cancer. He was one of most important people in my life and he was the first person I ever knew to have cancer. When I was on leave, I would visit him in the hospital. Just before I was discharged, he died and I attended his funeral. It was the last time I wore my Marine uniform.

In September 1996, after a two- or more year battle, my father died of cancer that began in the lung and spread to his brain. A couple of years ago, I conducted the funeral of one of my father’s brothers, who also died of cancer. Add to the list the numerous people in my churches over the years who have died of cancer and the list becomes lengthy.

I must confess that when it comes to cancer, I have been ill-equipped to deal with it. I served for a few years on the local board of the cancer society and have given to fund-raisers, but mostly I have tried not to think about it unless I am ministering to someone who has the disease.

To me, cancer is like ISIS. It’s dangerous and can strike anywhere at any time, indiscriminately and without warning. Both are enemies. But ISIS is not usually on my mind and neither is cancer. That is, until someone I know becomes a victim. Then I am involved in a big way. Or at least I should be. My own experience with loss is painful enough that I just want it to go away — but it won’t. And I know I have to do better.

I have tried to learn more about the nature and scope of cancer, its types, its treatments, its side effects, and its causes. I have also endeavored to learn to be better equipped to deal realistically and compassionately with its victims.

The truth is that I always feel inadequate in the aftermath of cancer — more so when the patient dies. In that case, somehow, I have always felt like I failed the patient and/or the family.

I did learn this last week: (1) cancer will affect many more people that we think it will. (2) It is not a death sentence — not anymore. Indeed, I now know many cancer survivors. (3) Cancer patients, and their families, need much more support and ministry than the church — or I, for that matter, have provided in the past.

So, I am trying to do better. Will we begin a cancer care ministry at my church? I believe that we will. The need is great and, if people will step up and volunteer, we will do what we need to do. The workshop at CTCA was a good start, I think, and well worth the investment of time.

I still have much personal growth to accomplish in this area. But this was, at least, a step in the right direction and a potent reminder to me that I do not need to shy away from this battle.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]