This must be the most common question that springs to mind when the bottom falls out of life. Its asked from the moment of diagnosis and wrestled with throughout the course of treatment. And its a question asked on two levels: the biological one – why did this happen to my body, and the spiritual one – why did this happen to my life?
Let’s deal with the first level. Cancer is primarily a disease of aging. We are living longer than we have in most periods of history, and the statistics show that most cancers occur in those age 50+, with the majority of those when you’re over 80. Cancer appears in these later years because of genetic errors that accumulate over the decades. Every time a cell divides, billions of code of information has to be accurately transmitted. One error is inconsequential, but thousands can result in mutations – tumours.
These errors are happening more frequently due to two major factors: environment and lifestyle. In our modern day we swim in an ocean of electromagnetic radiation and pollution. The air, soil, water… all are contaminated to some extent. This is part of the price we pay for civilization, as some research also indicates that cancer rates increased with the rise of industrialization, and are significantly affected by poverty.
Over half of cancers are preventable. They are caused by poor lifestyle choices that we make, including smoking, lack of exercise, and poor diet. So, we are living longer immersed in a toxic soup while making unhealthy choices. Is it any wonder that cancer rates are rising, especially in the youngest among us?
Given the complexity of these factors, it is very difficult to pinpoint one cause. They accumulate. They are legion.
Even if you could map all the variables that led to life turned upside-down, it would not bring peace to your heart, because the question Why Me? is ultimately a cry to feel safe. We’re scared. We want to put handles on the chaos. And so we wonder: Did I get cancer because of the choices I made? Was it caused by my negative thoughts and feelings? Does biography become biology? Is it my fault? Or, we go higher: Does God have a reason for this?
While I affirm that there is no calamity that can derail God’s agenda of love, and that the Divine Consciousness can use any crisis as fuel for growth, that does not mean God causes cancer. To attribute it to heaven reveals the limits of our faith language, resulting in praying for rescue from the very one who “caused” the affliction. We also abdicate our responsibility to fix the mess we’ve made when deferring cause to such divine decrees. If anything, the crisis evokes the call to step up and be the responsible stewards of this world, of each other.
Notice how we become Job, the biblical figure who is every person who every suffered, when we ask Why me? In that ancient parable, his friends were quick to answer, to give a reason that simplified things, made them manageable. But in the end, the only thing that made Job feel safe was Love itself. He experienced this when he came into the full presence of God, and in that awesome wonder, he knew he was held. He knew he was part of something astonishing. Through the suffering, he was changed. Einstein put it this way: Adversity introduces a man to himself. For Job, for us, sometimes that is the only way we can meet the better part of who we are.
Why me? will become a waste of your energy unless it leads to choices for health, for balance, for life. It cannot and must not be answered by anyone trying to comfort you. Instead, the best support comes from those who will support you as you wrestle with this, to arrive at some clarity as to how to move forward. How will you use cancer to amplify your life, deepen your love, set you priorities in order? How will you use the crisis to evolve more fully into love? That’s getting back in the driver’s seat.
I confess, through my four rounds with cancer I did not ask Why me? I did ask, What shall we do with this? It was never a straight path. I stumbled along in faith and forgetfulness, in trust and temper tantrums. I never thought there was a pre-ordained plan, more like a path unfolding as I moved forward. Think of it this way: we are travelling through the city, from point A (birth) to Z (death, and beyond). We see the route from within the journey, but God sees the entire map. All choices are known, all contingencies accounted for. Set out on the road, take any turn you like. Nothing can separate you from that underlying Love. Your arrival, however bumpy the ride, is secured.
I encourage you to pick up my book, Beyond Surviving: Cancer and Your Spiritual Journey to explore how you can move from Why Me? to Now What? Chapter four explores this question in depth.
Divine Consciousness can use any crisis as fuel for growth. – David Maginley
Question: How can you use the crisis of cancer as fuel to make your body and your life better?
I’m new here so wasn’t sure where to put my “general” comment. First, I’ve never had cancer, though of course that could happen down the line (I’m 75). Second, I’ve never had an after-death experience, though of course that will happen down the line. 🙂
How I came across you and your work: cooped up with Covid restrictions and just generally discouraged with all that’s going in the world, I gravitate toward NDE stories. They keep reminding me that the negative things I see in the world are *not* what Life/God is all about. I came across your own clips on YouTube and checked you out here. I’m glad I did.
I’ve never felt, when hearing NDE’s, “That sounds wonderful. I hope it’s true.” Rather, “That makes perfect sense to me. It doesn’t sound ‘wonderful’ or ‘hopeful’–it sounds just right.”
I’m not a Christian and am totally astonished by the depiction of a God who could create an eternal torture chamber for anyone who doesn’t become a Christian–which means, about two-thirds of the world! So it’s good to hear–and from a Christian pastor–about God’s unconditional love, for *everyone.*
Thanks for the work you do and for this website. I’m really enjoying it.
Finally getting back to you! (At least, I don’t think I’ve replied yet… my cup runs over frequently, and I loose track!) Thank you for your note, and your encouragement. I’m grateful my work has supported your explorations in the ultimate. On that note, I’ve been listening to Dr. Bruce Greyson’s new book, After. As you may know, he’s a psychiatrist, and one of the world experts on NDEs. I highly recommend his book, and have not found a more thorough exploration of the experience. So much insight. I’m inspired to make my site a more robust centre for supporting experiencers, as well as those facing cancer. I also encourage you to explore YouTube videos of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan and head of the Centre for Action and Contemplation. I’ve not found a better or healthier expression of Christianity.
May you shine!