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Living Hope in a Cancer Ward

Came across this little gem of an article today, in the online edition of Coping With Cancer magazine. It’s by Anne Lawton, an oncology nurse, and it’s about hope.

Hope, she's come to realize, is “the only word that matters” in her business.

Anne’s learned that, from the patients’ standpoint, the nature of hope changes over time. At first:

“People hope their doctor is good. They hope they make it through surgery, and they hope their cancer is treatable. They hope they can tolerate the chemotherapy.”

Later on in the cancer journey, many find themselves hoping for different things:

“They hope for a cure. They hope for a nice, full head of hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. They hope the neuropathy and the other side effects go away. It's no longer just survival they hope for; they want their life back. They have a lot to do, and they hope the cancer never comes back.”

And if it should happen that the cancer does come back? Hope changes yet again:

“They hope for a life worth living, with few cancer-related side effects. They hope to live long enough for graduations, grandchildren, weddings, or that trip of a lifetime. They hope to complete their "bucket list.”

Finally, in some cases – though Anne doesn’t go there – when patients opt for hospice care, the hope is for freedom from pain, a clear mind, the opportunity to say farewell to loved ones and to know they’ll be provided for. A good death, in other words. When the time is right, no apologies are necessary for hoping for that.

Viewing hope as a continuum, can we really say it’s the same hope at the end of such a journey as at the beginning? I’d say yes, it is – although the hope has changed and matured. It’s grown, just as the patient has grown all through this troubling, painful, emotionally-taxing – and, yes, sometimes even spiritually-uplifting – journey.

1 Peter 1:3 celebrates how God “has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Living hope. I think that ol’ apostle was onto something.

By God’s generous grace, hope is alive. It grows and changes as we grow and change. Hallelujah!

- Carl Wilton, A Pastor's Cancer Diary blog, 4/30/11