“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” – St. Augustine
This is a post that has been a long time coming. I’ve written and re-written it multiple times. I’ve questioned whether it’s worth the scrutiny that I could receive. But I truly feel in my heart that the time has come. I’ll preface it with this…This is my story, my experience, my life. It shouldn’t be taken as a personal attack against anyone.
Throughout everything I’ve experienced and witnessed in life, I still believe in the power of prayer, in its infinite possibilities to make change, to impact the world. But I don’t think it’s the only answer. When I was diagnosed with my cancer, the amount of ‘you’re in my prayers’ or ‘praying for you’ was incredible. I could actually feel the love, and boy, did I need it. When 30 monks in Tibet were chanting simultaneously, for six hours during my first day of chemo in my honor, I knew I had a power behind me like no other.
But if I were to be completely honest, there were times when I didn’t want to hear it, any of it. I was angry. ‘I don’t want your prayers,’ I would sometimes think. ‘I want this to be gone, done and over. And prayers aren’t going to do that.’ That latter? I still believe. I know that there are a number of reasons, both explainable and unexplainable, as to why my cancer is gone. That you could never know by looking at me (except for my perfect bra-less tatas), that I went through 10 months of pure hell 5 years ago. Some may think that it’s the power of prayer that rid me of it. But I know that if I would have just knelt and prayed, I’d be dead.
First of all, I got my cancer by mere dumb luck. Even though there’s a plethora of cancer on both sides (making my family tree look as if it had chicken pox), I’m truly negative for the cancer gene, a bewilderment to both my genetic counselor and my breast surgeon. I found my tumor by mere chance, doing a complete random, self-exam while lying in bed one night. I had an assertive breast surgeon that led me right into action – scans, tests, surgery, treatment. My cancer was so aggressive that waiting a mere month would have sent it to stage4. I stood up to my oncologist when she made a mistake with my prescriptions, with the help of my husband who had my back. I questioned my doctors, and I was assertive enough to make my point heard – and they listened. Two weeks after surgery, I went straight into 4.5 months of the harshest chemo (it’s not called the Red Devil for nothing) to 6 weeks straight of radiation, to forcing my doctors to order a PetScan to ensure all of that hell was worth it and that the cancer was gone, only to then go back under the knife for reconstruction and healing. I knew, throughout all of this, that just being on my knees to pray was not going to heal me. I need to take action for myself and my family. While prayer gave me the strength, I had to actually do the work.
There is nothing wrong with questioning authority, especially doctors or any public position whose purpose is to serve the people. It’s incredibly challenging to listen to an opposing view, whether it be medical treatment, how to care for someone, or even how an entire group is being oppressed. It’s all the same. It takes courage and endurance, and a humble acknowledgement that you may have been wrong in choices you’ve made in the past. You are sometimes forced to put your pride aside and stand up for what’s moral and right, for yourself, your loved ones or even complete strangers. It means you may have to think differently than you did before, than your family, friends and co-workers. It doesn’t mean you hate the person or persons you’re questioning. It means that you’re so passionate and confident about your beliefs that you would rather be questioned and scrutinized than end up on the wrong side of history, and for some that means life or death.
Then, there are things that simply can’t be rationalized or you’ll go insane. Why was my body able to handle the worst of the worst and my aunt not able to handle a fraction? Why did her cancer continue to spread, despite all of her efforts and mine cease? Why has a school mom who went through my near exact treatment, been diagnosed with what they say is an incurable leukemia and not me? For them and so many more, prayer is what gets them through, but boy do they fight with as much energy they can muster.
At the same time, there are so many people who are so far down the rabbit hole that they physically, mentally and/or spiritually can’t pick themselves up. That no matter how hard they try, they can’t. And prayer alone especially won’t do it either. It’s easy to sit back and judge these people – they caused they’re own homelessness, they aren’t hard workers, they just expect handouts. Judging is so easy but is so wrong. You see, I experienced just a sliver of that judgement when I had cancer. When I didn’t look sick but was filled with so much Red Devil I looked like a drug addict, asking for a seat on the subway, fumbling and bumbling down the street. People looking at me as if I was contagious, as if I had caused my own downfall. It was embarrassing. On the other hand when I did look like cancer, I’d get the extreme looks of sympathy and concern. After experiencing this day after day, I realized that the looks weren’t always for me. My cancer reminded others of their own. Maybe they just received their own diagnosis or that of a loved one. Maybe they are taking care of their dying partner. Or maybe even they buried their own child. We’ve absolutely no idea the pain, the struggle, or the history of someone’s downfall. And it shouldn’t be up to us to judge them or keep them in their pit of misery. I’d bump into people all the time, fell asleep on someone’s arm once – all the while, none of them really knowing what was going on with me.
While prayer is sometimes the only thing a person has to offer, the majority of us have so much more to give. Whether it be a dime to homeless person, a voice for the oppressed, an advocate for a loved one, food to the poor – the list is endless. Prayer is an amazing and wondrous act of faith and spirit. Its powers are limitless. But getting on your knees to pray for others is easy. It’s when you have to pray for yourself to have the courage and bravery to do what’s right that’s the most difficult. And then actually doing it, even more.