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Still More Cancer, and Hope--Stuntz

Last week, my oncologist told me the results of the latest set of films: I appear to have a cluster of four small tumors on the left side of my abdomen, and one slightly larger tumor on my liver. My cancer is back, and in two places: a bad sign. I’ve started chemo again, and am feeling the usual symptoms, including constant queasiness and others too gross to describe in a family blog. My prognosis isn’t clear, but at this point, the range of plausible outcomes—see how easy it is to talk about the timing of one’s death?—runs from bad to worse. Still, sometimes improbable things happen; the disease itself is example enough of that phenomenon. Maybe my chemo will shrink these tumors, and buy me some time. I hope so, though I don’t assume so—and I try not to think too hard about the “hope” part of that sentence.

That last clause may sound strange, but then hope is a strange commodity. I have heard from more people than I can count that, above all else, the thing I must do (channeling my inner Jesse Jackson here) is to keep hope alive. Don’t give up hope. Don’t quit: battle your cancer as long and as hard as you can, believe that you can and will beat it. Keep hoping and the victory can be yours. 

Only it usually doesn’t work that way. My cancer is not subject to my will—nor to my doctors’, for that matter. Even if optimism is correlated with longer life (and there is some evidence for that proposition), the idea that hope produces the object hoped for remains false for most of us, most of the time. My cancer will do what it chooses—it seems to me an intelligent but demonic force—or what God chooses, not what I choose. My sovereignty doesn’t extend that far.
Which is OK by me. “Keep hope alive” amounts to the belief that I can control the outcomes in my life. Think about that for a moment, and you’ll see that it’s a terrible responsibility. I don’t want it. Much better to say: Forces beyond my control usually dictate my life’s circumstances, good and bad (and in my life to date there has been far more good than bad: few in this sad world have less reason for bitterness than I do). The most I can do is decide how to behave in the midst of them. That’s more than enough. So I’ll do my best to do my job, to care for my family, and to be faithful to my God. That too is more than enough. I prefer to place my hope in more secure things than my own very limited power.


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Comments ( 10 )

I'm thinking and praying for you.

My prayer for you and for your family is for JOY in the midst of trial and a deeper and more intimate relationship with your Savior, LORD JESUS as you depend more and more on His strength and grace and love.

I'll be praying for you, Bill.

Recently, I've been doodling with the idea of an article on Fourth Amendment scholarship that tries to classify the scholarship in the area and suggest more and less productive turns. Again and again, I am struck by how thoughtful, insightful, and important your work is. It's really a model for me, both in terms of its style and approach: I think it's really wonderful stuff.

Thanks for the honest posting. Most of us live with the illusion of control, and easy faith. Thanks for sharing.

Amen. God is working in and through you. He's given you great wisdom that is helping this total stranger through a similar journey. May God continue to grant you His grace and peace.

Bill, my Jewish prayers (who knows who is listening, right?) are with you and your family. This particular message, and the wisdom it suggests, resonates especially strongly with me. And, by the way, I agree entirely with Orin's comments above about your scholarship. But, your wisdom about life on this Earth and how to live it are far more important to me at this time.

Your crim law class ranked in the top three I had in law school. I have recalled your good humor and keen mind many times since then--which helps to explain why I am sitting in an apartment in Moscow googling the name of a professor I last saw in 2002. Thank you for sharing your insights then and now.

Thanks for sharing a conclusion that I wish more people understood: >>Forces beyond my control usually dictate my life’s circumstances, good and bad ... The most I can do is decide how to behave in the midst of them.

This is my current working definition of hope, over two years into my prostate cancer experience. After surgery, radiation, and hormonal therapy, the cancer still does what it does, when it chooses to (well, the treatment helps some).

After fighting internally for so many months, wanting to be able to will the cancer away, it became clear to me that it's my attitude that defines "hope" for me. Too many people around me want me to have faith to be healed, but I want faith to become me, fully, as I navigate this period of my life. Healing is in God's hands, with whatever help oncologists can provide.

You’ll Never Walk Alone:

"When you walk through a storm hold your head up high.
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm there's a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone

You'll never walk never walk alone
(Walk on walk on with hope in your heart) and you'll never walk alone
No you'll never walk never walk alone walk on."

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

I hope that this verse is of encouragement and comfort to you! It has always comforted me in times of uncertainty, reminding me so simply and directly that the most valuable things ARE certain. And that what Christ promises is far better than anything I could wish for - He is constantly teaching us to hope for the right things.