Forgiveness is Forever – Healthy Advice For Breast Cancer Survivors

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No longer is cancer a four-letter word spelling “doom.” Nor is it a five-letter word for “gloom.” Much progress has been made on treatments even in the last ten years. I should know: I have been a breast survivor since 1996.
 
If you are what I call a breast survivor, someone living with breast cancer regardless of how much breast tissue was taken, you may know that causes of the disease are multiple. Still, it is not uncommon for the breast survivor to point her finger at someone or something for her predicament. Many women will blame God, or a person, even herself. Passing through her mind are many possible causes, including pollution (think smog, pesticides, and Love Canal), faulty genes, the impersonal government, one’s spouse, a demanding boss, and undue stress.
 
This reaction is perfectly understandable, and is part of our human nature. Many if not all these explanations for my cancer went through my mind after diagnosis. Why not? They are in the popular and medical literature, and there are elements of truth to almost all. The real name of the game, however, is forgiveness, pure and simple.
 
Forgiving Oneself
 
Most of my life I have engaged in binge eating. Until I could release the guilt I harbored for this obsessive behavior, I couldn’t fully recover from my cancer diagnosis. During chemotherapy treatment I sought a counselor to help me flush out a deluge of conflicting emotions. Like a balm of Gilead, this therapy was instrumental in completing my healing. In reflecting upon my self-abuse, the counselor posed a series of questions: “Whom have you had to forgive in your life? Can God forgive you for things you have done? Is He beyond forgiveness?” These challenges to my psyche forced me to review all the behaviors for which God had forgiven me, not just compulsive indulgences like overeating. 
 
Forgiving Others
 
As a breast survivor I listened to many thoughtless remarks over the course of my treatments. My temperature boiled over at unwanted advice by “well-meaning” medically uninformed friends. A few of those supposed friends practically ordered me to take their advice to “cure” my cancer and erase all traces of it from my life-or else face the fatal consequences. Others thought I shouldn’t endure any cancer treatment except surgery to remove the tumor. Shouldn’t I be relying on God rather than toxic chemicals to heal? If only I had that kind of faith, I would prosper.  My blood boiled at these caustic comments. “Whose cancer is it, anyway?” I wanted to retort.
 
I was also livid at the doctors for not telling me how to reduce my risk of lymphedema, a complication from surgery and radiation that I developed, causing my arm to swell.  If only they had referred me to the National Lymphedema Network for advice.
 
But no matter the cause of my anger, I was determined to chuck my judgmentalism. Bearing resentment toward people who are clueless to the struggles of breast survivors will not solve any problems. Resentment will make our hearts harden like Plaster of Paris. Rather, we need to forgive those who’ve offended us and ask the Holy Spirit for apt words to counter unwise counsel from friends and ignorant physicians.

Seeking Forgiveness

From time to time I examine my own heart to determine if I need to apologize to and seek forgiveness from others for the thoughtless words I have spoken to them. I have written letters to several people whom I have offended, asking for forgiveness. In only one case did I get a letter back. The important point is not that the person has now forgiven me, but that I have put my own mind at rest, knowing that I have sought forgiveness. When we seek forgiveness, a door will be opened to ease our minds, heal our wounded hearts. 
 
We often bandy about the saying “forgive and forget.” With the help of long-term memory loss that I attribute to chemotherapy, it is not hard for me to forget most offenses. In fact, sometimes I don’t even recognize the person’s name from the past. If I don’t remember the name, how can I recall any wrong committed by that person? I reckon this is another one of those unique “blessings” bestowed upon breast survivors. 
 
I am left with nothing but praise to God for revealing to me the true meaning of that other-worldly challenge we call forgiveness, which is certainly not a four-letter word in this breast survivor’s book.

A former attorney, Jan Hasak authored Mourning Has Broken: Reflections on Surviving Cancer (Xulon Press 2008). In this memoir she shares her long journey through two bouts with breast cancer.

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