And I believe that’s true, but what about when you’ve done everything right and things still go wrong? What if it is more than the choices you’ve made but the circumstances where you have found yourself?
I visited the dermatologist because I had been experiencing a lot of hair loss. Part of me knew stress was to blame, but when you keep seeing gobs of hair in the drain every time you shower, you need to know if there is any other reason. The dermatologist looked at my head and told me they were going to do a biopsy of my scalp.
I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for this, so like the adult I am, I asked if my mom could come in. They began scrapping away at the top of head, then making comments about the difficulty they were having with the stitches. This is not how I imagined my day going.
Then again—so often life goes in ways we don’t imagine.
I was back in Kansas when my mom called to tell me the results: hereditary alopecia. Basically, it is hair loss I can’t do much to prevent. I would lose hair whether I liked it or not. Obviously, I can exercise and improve my diet. I can start using Rogaine and better shampoos that keep my hair follicle clean. (Add me to the list of 22-year-olds using Rogaine. Oh, I’m the only one? Fantastic.) Unfortunately, the only medication that’s had any success also causes birth defects. I was told that unless my career path included becoming a nun, it was best I didn’t take that treatment option.
It was all not very ideal, but at the same time, it seems pretty superficial to spend so much time worrying about something so cosmetic when you know there are real problems in the world.
Then I came home to North Dakota three weeks later, and my mom told me she had something she needed to tell me. I could tell it was something serious because she made sure I was sitting down. Instantly horrible scenarios ran through my head. Could my mom have cancer? What am I going to do without her?
Apparently she hadn’t told me the full results of my biopsy. She wanted to wait until I was home to tell me so I wouldn’t worry while I was still in Kansas and busy with work.
They found skin cancer on my scalp.
A minute ago I was a normal twenty-two year old who was prepping for a friend’s wedding and enjoying life (even though I am newly unemployed). And now?
I am still the same except I have skin cancer.
My first thought? At least my mom doesn’t have cancer. Which I guess may be a ridiculous response, but I don’t know. How is one suppose to respond to finding out they have cancer?
After relief, came some anger. I am only twenty-two. I have never gone tanning. I don’t even spend that much time in the sun. I don’t even live near the equator—I live in North Dakota for crying out loud. I basically wear a parka year-round. Okay, fine. That’s an exaggeration. But I am the one who not only wears sunscreen but encourages—no, nags—others to put on some sunscreen. Sunscreen with SPF 500,000 even. Why me? I have done everything “right”.
Then I remembered my pastor’s respond to that “why me” question when he was in the hospital with West Nile: “Why not me?”
You see, even when we do everything right, wrong things still find us. We still live in a broken world.
My best guy friend’s wife died not because of anything he did but because death is part of life. My roommate’s boyfriend committed suicide not because of anything she did but because the world is filled with brokenness.
Because the Kingdom of God is still in the tension of being both now and not yet.
I have skin cancer.
Now, I don’t want you to think I’m being flippant, but it’s not that bad. It’s Basal-cell carcinoma. It is probably the most common form of skin cancer, and it’s not the kind where they slap a death sentence on you.
Even in this tension-filled Kingdom, I know I am blessed. I am fortunate they found it on my scalp, even though that’s not what they were looking for, they still managed to biopsy the exact spot of the skin cancer. Because grace falls and covers us; God was there in car accidents and concentration camps and He’s here now in the moments when you find out you have cancer.
As far as treatment goes, my dermatologist thinks he removed my only spot. I have an appointment in January. I’ll be trying to get healthy with my diet and exercise. And I’ll be the one who wears a hat every time I’m outside. I don’t know how I feel about hats, but maybe I’ll help them make their comeback. I need to be careful around sun. Because I have alopecia, I’ll be losing hair, so more of my scalp will be exposed to the sun. I have skin that’s prone to getting more skin cancer, so I need to take care of myself.
I don’t know if I am scared, but I don’t think I am. We have all always known life is short and fragile. We shouldn’t need something devastating to motivate us to live more fully, but often that’s what it takes for us to open our eyes.
There’s brokenness in the world, right in our own bodies. Paul said we live in the “tent of the bodies”; we live in bodies that are temporary. Someday we will be restored, redeemed, renewed. Whether I find myself in fear or tears, I still feel this overwhelming peacefulness because God is in control. God did not cause my cancer, but I know he is still working in and through the situation.
Also, even though our bodies are temporary and broken, we are still called to take care of them. We must love ourselves and our bodies. We must eat right (so for me, that means no more diet of mac and cheese and french fries on the daily) and drink a lot of water. Loving ourselves is more than buying a new pair of shoes, but it’s also sunscreen and hats and vitamins. We are called to love God and love others, and honestly, it’s not always going to be easy to love others, but it’s going to be a whole lot easier to love others if you love yourself first. It’s simple to say, hard to do.
Can you tell I have skin cancer by looking at me? No, you can’t. So maybe that’s another reminder that everyone you meet is going through something, so spread a little grace–we are all fighting some sort of battle. It would be a whole lot easier if we encouraged each other and built each other up; that’s loving one another.