NASHVILLE (BP) — I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma earlier this year. It was shocking; cancer diagnoses usually are. The treatments were unpleasant; cancer treatments usually are. I thank God that my final chemo treatment was two months ago and my scans showed no sign of the disease remaining.
As I begin my new phase of life as a cancer survivor, a new enemy has crept in: anxiety.
I find myself worrying that it will come back. I worry about possible long-term effects from chemo. I worry that I’ll be afflicted by another type of cancer or a completely different disease in the future.
While I was in the hospital waiting for my initial biopsy results, I had a strange peace. After months of uncertainty, we had a name for the symptoms I was experiencing. There was a standard treatment with an excellent response rate, and I was under the care of experienced doctors. During treatments I had some difficult moments, but I looked forward to the end and couldn’t wait to get back to normal.
Now that I have moved on to the next phase, I’m finding that anxiety can be crippling if not addressed and confessed daily.
As we suffer trauma, sometimes in the moment we don’t fully process what’s happening. We’re just in fight mode and do what we have to do to get through. When the dust clears and we start to make sense of everything, the deeper feelings come out.
Anxiety feels different when you have actually experienced something life-changing. The event serves as justification for future worry: That awful thing happened that one time, so who’s to say that this new thing I’m worried about is not a legitimate concern?
Jesus gives us plenty of instruction about anxiety in Matthew 6:25–34. He tells us plainly: Don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about tomorrow. But why are these commands from our Lord so hard to follow?
I’m convinced that to move on, we have to give up. We have to give up a lot of things that we love, that we cling to, that we rely on. If we don’t, we’ll never make it.
We certainly have to give up the illusion of control. You can live a healthy lifestyle, but you can never guarantee that you won’t get cancer or another debilitating disease. You can drive safely, but you can’t prevent someone else from crashing into you. You can cling to your loved ones, but you can’t guarantee their safety. There’s literally no other option but to trust God.
I have repeated Matthew 6:27 to myself often during this period of my life: “Can any of you add one moment to his life-span by worrying?” This is a very practical statement from our Lord — worrying doesn’t change circumstances. I wasn’t able to prevent getting cancer by worrying about it, and God saw fit to heal me without any assistance from me.
To worry about our lives is to demonstrate a lack of trust in God and His good plan. He tells us repeatedly in His Word that He loves us and cares about us. He showed us His love in a very definitive way at the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice involved more physical, emotional and spiritual pain than most of us will ever have to experience, but it was part of the good plan of our good God.
We also have to give up our idols — the things and people that we value more than the will of God.
For me, my biggest idol has been my marriage. At the time of my diagnosis, I was engaged to a wonderful man. We worked with my doctors to plan my treatment schedule around the wedding date, and we had a wonderful ceremony right at the mid-point in my treatments. I had longed for marriage for so long, and I wasn’t ready to let go for anything. Even the thought that I might not be able to live a long and happy life with my husband was too much to bear.
God’s priorities for us might be different than our priorities. He promises to provide for our needs as we seek first His Kingdom (v. 33), but He knows what we need better than we do. We need to be prepared that He might allow us to lose the things we love the most, including our families or our own lives.
I encourage anyone who has experienced trauma or debilitating anxiety to seek assistance from a counselor or doctor. But it’s also worth it to reflect on what you’re holding on to. If we hold on tightly to our lives, we will worry that things won’t work out the way we want them to. Jesus has already guaranteed that we will have troubles (v. 34), so there’s no question that we will all experience seasons of pain, loss and disappointment. We need to give up so that we can trust God and free ourselves from the anxiety that will keep us from seeking and desiring His will.