As I worked on this issue dedicated to how faith communities can best support those facing cancer, I read a lot of statistics. I saw charts and graphs about how many new diagnoses of cancer will occur this year, what kinds of cancer are on the rise and decline, survival rates, risk factors, treatment outcomes and so much more. The numbers were daunting in their magnitude, the amount of information hard to wrap my arms around. I realized early on that there was no way we could cover even a small fraction of what might be said about cancer. The scope is too big and everyone’s experience with or of the disease is too personal.
However, one statistic stood out to me in the sea of numbers, lines and data points. It stood out because, frankly, it was one I had never before considered. In the midst of many websites and articles, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, I came across this statistic: 47 percent of people with cancer who are over the age of 55 go to their doctor appointments alone.
All of a sudden, the vast amount of information and the big data got small. In fact, it narrowed all the way down to one: one person going to their doctor to get test results, or hear complicated medical information, or endure painful treatments. Alone. That shouldn’t happen. No one should have to go on such a difficult journey by themselves. That graph reminded me why we took on this challenging topic. The church has a role to play in standing with those who otherwise might have to go it alone. The community of faith has a role to play in supporting those who care for others, too.
We know this, but often we aren’t sure how best to walk alongside people facing cancer (or other challenges). We don’t want to say or do the wrong thing, and too often that means we say or do nothing. I struggled with this dynamic when I was first asked to consider taking on the subject of cancer. What should be included? What if I leave out an important perspective? Surely there are others who can address this complex topic better (or already have). Nonetheless, with the urging of some very faithful Presbyterians, I decided we would attempt to contribute a helpful resource because I, like you, know too many people with cancer who don’t have the luxury of doing nothing.
Inside these pages are some very personal stories, bravely shared. I am grateful to the writers for being willing to be vulnerable for the sake of others. You will also discover information about a faith-based organization that offers not only a model for others to emulate, but training that can help equip us so that we do know what to do and say. In addition, there are resources for further reading and study. This is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it is nonetheless useful.
I hope, too, that you will add to the stories, resources and suggestions. There is so much more that needs to be said. We did not, for example, have an oncologist share their perspective or wisdom. We only briefly touch on childhood cancer and the particular challenges such a diagnosis brings to an entire family. Nor did we have someone write about living with cancer when it is a chronic illness. As I said, there is much more to be said, so please add to the conversation, comment on the stories once they are posted online, email letters to the editor and send in your ideas for future stories. (The idea for this issue started as a result of one reader’s response to last year’s issue on mental health. She said it was a great issue, and “Why not do something like it on cancer?” We really do listen!)
My prayer is that this issue will enable our faith communities to offer the best possible support for those in our midst who’ve received the time-stopping news that they or someone they love has cancer. My fervent hope is that as a result of these articles and resources, fewer people will have to go to their appointments alone.
Grace and peace,