The Centers for Disease Control reports that more than 20 million people in the United States are currently diagnosed with cancer, and 1.4 million people will be diagnosed in the coming year. This disease not only affects those patients but also their family members, friends, and health care professionals. This book of brief meditations is addressed to all those living with cancer in some way.
John Robert McFarland is a United Methodist minister who has written for many outlets ranging from the Chicago Tribune to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show. He is a cancer survivor himself and in this revised edition of a book first published in 1993, he also sees the disease through his eyes as a grandfather to one-year-old Joey, who is fighting a rare form of the disease.
McFarland writes with refreshing frankness, humor, and hope. He organizes the book around times in a cancer patient's life: when you first get the diagnosis, after surgery, when it's time to fight, when you're bald and beautiful, when you think about death, when you need to take responsibility, when it's time to give thanks, when it's time to say "no" or "yes," when it's time to look inside, and more.
A key theme in his approach is wholeness. He writes:
"Cancer is a spiritual disease because it requires us to face the dilemma of fragmentation and wholeness. In our culture we are used to the adversarial system, whether it is lawyer vs. lawyer in the justice system, cop vs. criminal on the streets, cowboy vs. Indian in the movies, man vs. wman in marriage, team vs. team on the athletic field, management vs. labor in the workplac. There must be a loser for each winner. Someone has to be 'number one,' and that's the only number that counts.
"In trying to beat cancer, however, I am competing against myself. Cancer is a part of me, so if I win, I also lose. Getting whole, getting well, has to do with oneness. It's not a matter of right or wrong, victory or defeat, not even life or death. It is life vs. nonlife. If I experience wholeness in life, death is not a defeat. If I experience fragmentation in life, then life is not a victory."