I thought I knew everything about how to live a life of faith and hope. I’m that person who once thought they had it all together - until I was diagnosed with the devastating news of having stage III oral cancer. My life was instantly turned upside down. An 8-hour surgery, treatment, scars, disfigurement, and recovery, followed by more illnesses, quickly overwhelmed my once optimistic outlook.
The plans and dreams I once had vanished overnight. Within days, my physical condition went from strong and healthy to being a cancer patient undergoing surgery and treatment that affected me permanently - mentally, emotionally, and physically.
What arose were deep feelings of loss, overwhelm, anxiousness, discouragement, disappointment, exhaustion, physical pain, numbness, and many tears because of the broken dreams, cancelled plans, unmet expectations, and embarrassment about what others might think about how I sounded, looked, or ate. I had a drooping eye, scars on my arm, neck, and throat, and a partial tongue which regularly swelled causing a speech impediment and swallowing challenges.
An ah-ha moment came one day when my surgeon commented about how our bodies are designed to heal. As I reflected on his profound words, I was reminded that God’s original design was for us to be whole – body, mind, and spirit. That is part of God's ultimate story of hope for us – so, I began a journey of trying to embrace a broader meaning of wholeness and hope and what that could mean for me because there was absolutely nothing that I could do to change my circumstances.
This was a crossroads moment where I could choose to let myself become miserable and bitter or I could try to find a way to accept my circumstances and embrace life – even with all its unwanted changes, pain, discomfort, and limitations.
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)
When our dreams have been dashed, how are we supposed to embrace life and hope especially when it isn’t the kind of life we dreamed of?
The first thing I realized is that I needed to gain a deeper understanding of who God is, His goodness, who I am, and then examine how God can bring us healing and wholeness in a way we never imagined.
As I began to contemplate what that meant for me, I learned (and still continue to learn) that:
Slowly I began to see that I needed to live from my inner values not from any outward appearances nor my circumstances – because our looks and circumstances can easily change. Knowing our deepest values can help us move to a place where we can live from them in whole ways with the challenging circumstances of caring for ourselves or caring for others stewarded to our care, rather than taking on society’s values or other’s expectations for us.
I finally accepted that I don’t have to be perfect – physically, or speak without a speech impediment, to be of great value. I began to learn to embrace all that I am, while understanding and honoring Whose I am and my value as God’s beloved – just as I am. I continue to gain a deeper understanding of the concept of wholeness from a body, mind, soul perspective as I practice embracing the life I have while cultivating resilient ways of living in and through it – even when more unexpected changes happen.
At one point, I had to make a list of what I needed be reminded of when new issues cropped up or when the difficult days or moments kept recurring. For you see, I seemed to keep forgetting all that I knew to be true. Even today, I keep it handy, in arm’s reach, as a reminder. I hope you will read it through a lens of your own specific context and maybe even consider writing some of your own reminders that will help you continue to walk towards hope, wholeness, and God.
“I reminded myself that:
- Cancer and other health conditions often bring loss and unwanted changes. This makes it hard for us to see how our future could be good. But we can hope for good to come out of it. Look for and hang on to hope.
- Risk factors aren’t the same as the actual causes of cancer. Blame and shame aren’t helpful in healing.
- Comparison isn’t helpful. No one’s cancer is worse than another’s; each experience is difficult.
- Grief is a silent partner of cancer, yet we can uncover some of our deepest longings as we process it.
- Asking for help when needed is a sign of courage.
- Labels are unhelpful. We aren’t our health conditions; we aren’t victims.
- We’re more than good enough just as we are because of Whose we are!
- We’re stronger together. Wisely choose an inner circle of support.
- We aren’t ever alone. God promises to always walk with us.
- Practice presence and curiosity. Look for good. By doing so, we’ll see more good in and around us.
- Cultivate patience. Deep healing is a slow process toward wholeness.
- Practice self-care and soul care. It’s important to take the time needed to heal, inside and out.
- God’s original design is for us to be whole!”
Reference: (Buszowski, Fern E.M., Word Alive Press, 2023, Embrace Life, Embrace Hope: Cultivating Wholeness and Resilience through the Unexpected, (Winnipeg, MB, 2023) p. 151-2.
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Learning to let go of unanswered questions and the vision of what I believed was "normal" wholeness required that I re-examine my values, beliefs, identity, and life purpose, with vulnerability, compassion, and insight, and take much-needed time to care for my soul.
As I began to process and release all of my unmet expectations, unanswered questions, and the never to be realized dreams and started the difficult journey of embracing wholeness and hope from a broader perspective, I saw more good around me and could finally see glimpses of my own story in God’s bigger story.
Slowly I was able to accept my circumstances and embrace a new ever-changing normal along with an enduring kind of hope that God promises. In the process I became more real and more of the me God originally intended. Over time I began not only to survive but thrive.
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FERN E.M. BUSZOWSKI MALM, MA Counselling (CPC) Speaker | Author of Embrace Life, Embrace Hope: Cultivating Wholeness and Resilience through the Unexpected, | Thriving Cancer Survivor
www.hopeblooming.ca www.instagram.com/hope.blooming/ www.facebook.com/AtHopeBlooming/
*All profits from book sales will be donated to cancer research and/or to support groups for cancer