I was raised Catholic, so it should be obvious that I don’t really believe in religion anymore, right? Ah, but don’t tell my grandparents!
I started questioning the religious practices we had to follow when I was a teenager. Why do I have to go to confession when God sees everything anyway? Why do I have to give something up for Lent when my non-Catholic friends didn’t have to? Why do I have to sit in church on Sundays and listen to some man’s lecture? Why can’t I point out loopholes in the Bible or in the “teachings” of church? I slowly became uncomfortable with the indoctrination.
Life and death is out of our control and understanding. That’s why many of us turn to a belief system to cope with this reality. We tell ourselves that the stars have decided our future before we were born. Whether it’s Astrology or Christianity, crystals or crosses… these are some of the ways we deal with our anxiety of the unknown.
Many people who experience a challenging time—a health crisis, trauma, loss, heartbreak, tragedy—turn to their faith for comfort. When my family and extended family learned of my diagnosis, there were a lot of messages about prayer and faith and God. “God heals all,” was the mantra.
Letting go of control is something I am battling with right now. I have to ride the waves because some weeks are better than others. There’s no fighting the current that carries me. There were low points where I feared the end was closer because some treatment didn’t work. My body started fighting the help it was getting. There wasn’t anything I could do but sit there as the doctors tried to figure out how to fix me. No magic drink, no miracle pill.
I felt helpless. I just had to wait for the doctors to figure out what the new plan would (there were attempts that didn’t work). I saw the sadness in my parents’ eyes whenever I’d tell them that the new transfusion didn’t take-again. Then my mother would remind me to stay strong and pray. So I nodded.
Their faith gives them hope when things are out of their control. I won’t fault them for it, and I certainly didn’t have the energy to start explaining my beliefs for them to understand. They might panic and think that my disbelief in religion caused my cancer. Or worse, I’d hear that ridiculous “this is a test of your faith” bullshit.
I was chatting with another patient during my hospital stay, and she mentioned that she used to believe in religion too. But after finding a second cancer in just a few short years, she didn’t know what to believe in anymore. “Believe in you,” I told her. I cringed at the cliche, but she gave me the warmest smile that I still remember.
We’re the ones who will pull ourselves out of it in the end. I have my faith in science, in modern medicine, and in my healthcare team. I trust that they’re doing what is best to keep me alive (although it doesn’t feel that way during chemo weeks) until they can’t anymore.
But I’m the one who has to get myself out of bed on mornings that I have appointments. I console myself when I can’t see my family because of my fragile immune system. I endure taking the routine medication that I’ve been prescribed every single day. I’m responsible for nourishing my physical body as it gets weakened by the drugs meant to save it. I decide if want to keep going with the treatments as each cycle feels longer and longer. It’s exhausting and isolating, and I understand why some patients choose to forego treatment.
It isn’t “giving up”. It’s not “losing the battle”. It’s living and dying in your own terms. It’s choosing quality of life over a quantity of years (that aren’t even guaranteed). It’s believing that you have the authority over the way you live and the way you exit this realm. There’s no right or wrong answer, simply whatever is right for you.