[God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3, Book of Common Prayer
When we are first diagnosed, the emphasis is almost totally on the physical aspects of cancer: remove the tumor and as many affected body parts as possible, treat with chemotherapy or radiation, have blood work and scans to chart progress. The effects of treatment are concentrated in the physical realm as well—manage the nausea, deal with the hair loss, adjust to the neuropathy or tinnitus.
Sometimes the hospital may have a social worker, counselor, or support group as part of the package deal. I went to a therapist who was also a cancer survivor soon after I finished chemo. I didn’t see how I could manage one more thing during the treatment itself, or I’d have gone sooner. Too often, people are told unhelpful things: Be glad you’re alive or Hair grows back. We are asked to be complacent, if not downright cheerful, about having cancer.
For us and for our caregivers, though, a broken heart may be part of the picture. No matter how early the cancer was caught, there’s the tiny fear of not living out our days, not finishing the work we’ve been given to do, whether it’s raising our children, being there for grandchildren, or some wider ministry.
I’ve been dealing with cancer for five years now, and I still haven’t gotten used to the sadness and fear. My heart is broken, not for my own children or grandchildren (I have neither), but for the children at church I may not live to see grown. I ache for the carefree days of feeling fine and assuming I would remain so indefinitely. I miss the freedom of not having regular check-ups and procedures, not worrying about the outcomes.
It’s hard to talk about this with anyone except other cancer survivors or trained therapists, because people who haven’t had cancer don’t, and can’t, understand. My gynecologic oncologist teaches at a local university, in addition to maintaining his practice. He told me once that he instructs the students, “Never tell a woman you understand what she’s going through. You don’t, and it’s insulting.”
So we are left to mend our broken hearts as best we can. The good news is that we are not alone in this effort. God is with us, able to heal the heart, bind up the wounds. The scar from my major surgery has faded, but the psychical scars are still there. Those are the ones that only God can deal with.