Over the past few years I’ve accompanied quite a few people – friends, relatives and parishioners – on the journey of cancer. My observation is that although some have survived it and some have succumbed to it, none have emerged from it unchanged. I’ve actually become quite interested in the stories of people who have taken the cancer journey, and when I see a book about it, I tend to pick it up.
I was recently pointed in the direction of Sarah McLean’s book ‘Pink is the New Black: Healing the Hidden Scars of Breast Cancer – a Journey from Grief to Grace‘. I started it last night, and I found it so compelling that I read it in one go, from nine until about twelve forty five.
In brief, Sarah’s story (you can read part of it here) is that she was in her mid-twenties and only recently married when she discovered that she had breast cancer. A preliminary lumpectomy proved inadequate, and was followed very quickly by a very invasive double mastectomy. In the book she deals very honestly with her reaction to this, the effect it had on her marriage to her husband Steve, and her gradual journey through counselling to a point where she was able to accept what was happening to her and grow through it.
Eight years later, despite having had a double mastectomy, her cancer returned and she had to go through not only surgery but also weeks of radiation therapy. She also experienced a problem with one of her breast implants that led to more painful surgery.
Sarah writes as a devout Christian of the evangelical persuasion, and her relationship with God is right at the heart of her response to cancer – whether it be questioning, ranting, crying out for help, learning to trust, or receiving comfort and strength. Her approach to the suffering is very much like that of C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain (although she doesn’t mention the book or give any indication of having read it) – faith in the sovereignty of God, and a consequent belief that God had a purpose in allowing her to go through it. Not every Christian can follow her in that approach, and I personally have some problems with it, but there is no doubt that it has enabled her to come to terms with the painful reality of her cancer and find a way through it, to the point that she now runs a ministry called Project31 which reaches out to others who have made, or are making, the breast cancer journey.
Some people who write stories like this or run ministries like Sarah’s come across as saying ‘I used to really struggle with this, but I’ve come through it now, and I want to help you do the same’. That’s not Sarah’s approach. She acknowledges that she is still very much a work in progress, and if she can help others, she does it by coming alongside them, not by trying to lead them to a place she’s already reached.
I found this book inspiring and challenging, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to find out more about what it is like to go through breast cancer. I’m obviously not a breast cancer survivor myself, so can’t say with any certainty whether or not a survivor would find it helpful, but my guess is that they would.