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I Am Whole!

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Nineteen years ago I had prostate cancer. The MRIs’ said that it was “highly suspected” that the cancer had spread to T2 and T3 in my spine which is near my neck. I had my prostate removed and my PSA has been 0.0 ever since.  I never stop thanking God!!

In addition to praying and reminding God that “only the good die young”, I often read a chapter of  Now That I Have Cancer I Am Whole, Reflections on Life and Healing for Cancer Patients and Those Who Love Them. It was written by John Robert McFarland, an ordained United Methodist minister who had colon cancer and had worked with the chaos on university campuses in the 1960’s, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama and helped families of murder victims and abused children. He writes:

Now That I Have Cancer…..I Am Whole.

AT LEAST, I AM more whole than I’ve been before.

            On the face (or the colon) of it, that sounds silly. Hole looks more accurate than whole. After all, a part of me is missing. Strangely, now I am more whole.

            Connectedness is the key to wellness: connectedness to others, to one’s own self, to purpose. In other words, wholeness – putting it all together. 

            The less connected we are, the less together, the less whole and well we are. All the parts of us that are not integrated into the whole have more chance of getting sick because they’re out there by themselves, with no support, no surrounding buttresses of love and solidarity.

            There’s a story about a man who fell into the river, An old sailor rowed out to him. Just as the man was about to go under, the sailor grabbed his arm. But it was an artificial arm and came off in the sailor’s hands. The man went under again, but when he came up, the sailor grabbed his hair. Unfortunately, the man wore a wig, and it, too, came off in his hands. When the man rose yet again, the old salt grabbed his clothes and shouted, “How can I save you if you won’t stick together?”

            We’ve got to stick together if we want to get well. That means we integrate mind, body and spirit. The best mark of a long-term survivor is the integration – into wholeness – of love and attitude and looking for purpose and exercise and diet and spirituality and laughter and appreciation for life and relationships and self-love and seeing new options and learning new ways. 

            We don’t have all these in place when we start. They are all approaches that can be learned.  Wellness is often a matter of finding new options, seeing in ways we haven’t been trained to see. Working hard at learning and integration does the immune system more good than any other therapy. 

            Cancer is a spiritual disease because it requires us to face the dilemma of fragmentation and wholeness. In our culture we are used to the adversarial system, whether it is lawyer versus lawyer in the justice system, cop versus criminal on the streets, cowboy versus Indian in the movies, man versus woman in marriage, team versus team on the athletic field, management versus labor in the workplace. There must be a loser for each winner. Someone has to be “number one,” and that’s the only number that counts. 

            In trying to beat cancer, however, I am competing against myself. Cancer is a part of me, so if I win, I also lose. Getting whole, getting well, has to do with oneness. It’s not a matter of  right or wrong, victory or defeat, not even life or death. It is life versus nonlife. If I experience wholeness in life, death is not a defeat. If I experience fragmentation in life, then life is not a victory. 

            The goal, the sense of purpose, is not so much getting cured, beating the cancer, continuing to live. The goal is wholeness itself, being a full and complete person. That is an adequate purpose. In fact, it is the only worthy purpose of life. I don’t have to make some great achievement, do some mighty work, to justify my existence. Being a whole person is the purpose of our being. 

            There is no single road to wellness. Getting well and being well is taking an interlocking network of highways that lead to the one, central junction of wholeness. 

            Cure is an end result concept. Wellness, health, healing, wholeness – these are process, each-moment-at-a-time concepts. I don’t just want to be cured, to reach the end of one road. I want to be whole for each moment of all my life, whether my days are few or many.

            Sickness, especially from cancer, often produces spirituality. One reason is because we are taught visualization, meditation and prayer as methods for increasing our body’s healing agents, enhancing our immune system. I think there’s something spiritual about cancer itself, though. It’s a challenge to wholeness, to the integration of love. If we take the challenge of cancer, we almost have to face our fragmentation and begin to pull together the scattered pieces of ourselves.

                                    Now that I have cancer, I am whole.

By John Robert McFarland

How have these words challenged YOUR attitudes and beliefs about cancer?  How might YOU help someone who is suffering from cancer?


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