Leading Causes of Life at Cancer Camp

Grace, mercy and peace to all who read these words.

Tomorrow is the Sabbath, Sunday, July 22. In the afternoon I will drive up into the mountains, 20 miles on paved road, and then 20 miles of dirt road. Once I arrive a camp there will be 30 or 40 other people each of whom shares a common calling. In one way or another cancer has touched their lives.

Some children with cancer will be there; so will their siblings, their parents, and perhaps a friend or two. Some adults, some of whom may be in the midst of chemotherapy, some of whom may be recovering from radiation. Some will be in remission. Some will be adjusting to the fact that cancer came their way and now they must figure out how to live with it.

For three days we will be sharing life. I am sure there will be laughter; there will be tears; there will be quiet conversations as the experience of cancer draws us together. I have been asked to speak about the Leading Causes of Life, which I am glad to do. I do so with a hint of hesitation because I know how very much is on the line.

Each of the causes will come into a play with a newfound clarity . . . of that I am sure.

Cancer came their way . . . and so what’s to be done?

Together the families band together to share the “new normal” with others people who walk that same path. Healing should not be a lonely experience and thanks to camps like this it needn’t be. . It is the gift of connection that allows for learning. It is the gift of connection that helps us navigate our way through a forest frought with fear.

But connection isn’t the whole story. We require a theme. It is a theme of life. Just the word “cancer” is enough to disrupt our lives and throw our worlds into chaos. And so we must re-organize our priorities. What mattered before the diagnosis may not seem so important now. What had been neglected before may now come into the light of day. Perhaps the theme of the three days will be healing. Perhaps it will be truth. Perhaps it will be authenticity. For sure we will find it out.

I do not have cancer. But I have had to survive when the odds are against me. I remember as a child going to the Rexall Drug Store with my father to buy insulin. Without that insulin my life would suddenly end. The drugist knew us. My dad and I did what we could to keep the demon of diabetes at bay and to celebrate life inspite of the circumstances. The key is to be about life. And we’ll find, I think, that what applies to an individual also applies to institutions. The hospital’s diagnosis is “a budget shortfall.” The church’s diagnosis may be the same. And so, what’s to be done? We must organize around life.

At cancer camp that’s precisely what we’ll be doing. As usual, the Lectionary for the day fits perfectly. Jesus said to Martha’s sister Mary that she had made the better choice when she chose a conversation whose blessings could not be taken away from her. Yes . . . we may have met the panther that will run us down . . . but neither connection, coherence nor hope are dependent on circumstance.

So what is to be said about life?

I suspect our five causes will lead the way . . .

We are there together . . .
We are looking for meaning . . .
We’re taking time to drive into the mountains . . . mission is always about doing something . . .
We’re listening to hope . . .
We’ll find blessings that will sustain us upon our return home, during visits to the hospitals, during new doses of treatment . . .

I suspect it will all be about life.
As Edna St. Vincent Millet put it, “I shall die but that is all I shall do for death.”

And so our conversation will be about life.

Take care, and I’ll let you know how it went.

Larry

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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