beliefnet: The Power of Positive Doing / Kathryn, Cancer, and God
June 24

beliefnet: The Power of Positive Doing / Kathryn, Cancer, and God

I called my friend Sam Beasley to complain about the injustice: “I just got word that my friend Kathryn has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. She’s only sixty-eight years old. She’s been sober for thirty years; she hasn’t had a cigarette in twenty-nine years; and she hasn’t eaten sugar for twenty-eight years. She flosses after every meal and her teeth are perfect. She’s trim and athletic. She and her husband go biking very weekend. Their summer vacations are biking across Europe with friends. She’s done everything right and still … still she gets cancer!”

“So, let me ask you a question,” Sam said. “Are you her Higher Power? Are you her God?”

“Well, no.”

“But what you’re telling me is that you want to overrule her Higher Power,” Sam said. “You think you know what’s right for Kathryn.”


“For all we know, this might just be the best year of her life,” Sam said.

“Oh. I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“Most people don’t,” Sam continued. “In fact, your friend Kathryn probably isn’t thinking about it like that either. But the truth is, we don’t know that the cancer might not come bearing gifts … and this last year of her life might be incredibly good.”

Could Sam be right? Kathryn had expressed many worries, concerns, and complaints over the ten years that I knew her. Chief among them was the absence of an exit strategy from the high-stress business she owned. She often complained that her husband John was not sufficiently sensitive to her emotional needs. She said she felt lonely much of the time and had no close friends. And she fretted about her two daughters: Chloe was overweight and Dianne wasn’t interested in getting married. Kathryn lamented the lack of grandchildren. Clearly, hers wasn’t the picture-perfect family Kathryn thought it ought to be.

To any outside observer, these worries seemed baseless and irrational. Kathryn was a wealthy woman with a long marriage to a handsome, successful man; she had two lovely homes; she leased a new Mercedes every three years; her daughters were talented, attractive, and smart; and her family enjoyed a lifestyle anyone would envy. But the fears were still there — they had nothing to do with objective conditions.

Within a week of her diagnosis, all that began to change. Kathryn’s husband took a leave of absence from his job and devoted himself to caring for her. He moved her business out of their home and put it up for sale while she was in hospital, so when she came home all she had to do was focus on her health.

When I went to visit her in the hospital, I expected to find her crying and fearful — her usual response to anything bad. But the Kathryn who greeted me from her hospital bed was relaxed and glowing. Her room was filled with flowers, cards, and balloons. Her entire family was gathered there with her — her husband John, daughters Chloe and Dianne, her sister Suzanne and Suzanne’s fiancé. Kathryn was basking in their love and attention. She told me that she felt peaceful and serene, trusting God that all would be well.

I think back on what my friend Sam had told me: “This might very well be the best year of Kathryn’s life.” From all appearances, it was. Her cares and concerns of previous years simply disappeared — along with the fear that had gripped her. Her final months were filled with love, laughter, lively conversations, companionship, holidays and special occasions with her family, and treasured moments with loving friends. Kathryn got everything she’d ever wanted. Her prayers had been answered.

As is often the way with us humans, Kathryn finally realized that much of what she thought was missing had actually been there all along. In the words of French writer Colette: “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”

Cancer had come into Kathryn’s life — bearing gifts.