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Youth Column: The Big C, God and Me

Youth Column: The Big C, God and Me

Monday September 13

Jennifer Bisset reflects on how a cancer diagnosis has impacted her faith

‘It’s cancer’ are words no one is prepared to hear, especially not as an otherwise fit and healthy 25-year-old.

Yet, this is the reality I faced in January 2021 after having gone to the doctor with a small lump in my breast. Since then, I have undergone surgery and fertility treatments; and, as I write, I am approaching my last round of chemotherapy, before moving on to radiotherapy.

It has been quite easy throughout my life for me to be grateful to God and to worship singing songs of gratitude. The song I most associate with my time at the Church of Scotland’s National Youth Assembly is Matt Redman’s 10,000 reasons, the premise being there are 10,000 reasons to sing God’s praise. The third verse states:

And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore

Praising God right now is complicated for me. I should, I have plentiful reasons for gratitude. My cancer was caught early and I will survive it - my strength is failing but my time has not yet come, thank goodness. I have great friends and family helping me through. I have experienced unending displays of kindness which have reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. I have reason to praise God.

But I also have reason for despair, reason to be angry. I have never before been challenged this much physically, emotionally and spiritually. On top of this, I do not have all of my faculties to be able to process everything I am experiencing. Aside from the painful effects of the chemotherapy itself, I am on steroids which alter my mood and personality, and I was plunged into a medically induced menopause overnight. Still, it could be worse. I have spoken with people at the cancer support centre who will not survive; and some who are losing their child to cancer. One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime. How can I believe in a God that allows this?

I don’t have my answer to this question yet. But I am curious about other people’s answers, and of where in the bible I should begin to seek comfort and clarity. In many ways I feel like I am discovering Christianity for the first time, my faith almost childlike.

I wish I could write that the fact I can still see God’s love in all this is enough for me, and that this experience has strengthened my faith. Maybe one day, when I am not in the trenches of chemotherapy, this will be my conclusion. Right now though, it feels premature to write this as my truth. I am struggling ‘to sing God’s praise unending.’ For now, I invite uncertainty and doubt. I look to explore what answers God can give me. I still have faith. Somehow I sense that God is there with me when I’m crying on the bathroom floor, a shadow of my former self. 

It has taken me some time to accept that doubt and faith, anger and gratitude, can all coexist at the same time. Thankfully, our God is big enough and complex enough for this. One day, I hope I find it a bit easier to sing His praises once again. Perhaps it will be an even more profound experience, and I’ll do so with a deeper understanding of what exactly it means to choose to praise a loving God in this world full of pain.

This article first appeared in September's Life and Work. Subscribe or download here.