This is a guest post by Rachel Camp. She lives in Iowa with her husband Jon and their three small children.
My lack of faith was never at the forefront of my mind until I heard the words, “Your baby has cancer.”
I was suddenly faced with the reality that my 4-month-old might die, my entire world crashing, burning and scattering ashes all around me. In one week’s time, I went from confidently parenting my third baby to discovering his entire abdomen was filled with cancerous tumors. How could this happen? How could I have not seen weeks ago that his belly was so clearly too big? Why was this happening to him, my sweet innocent baby?
I thought, if cancer ever touched my life, it would affect an elderly relative or possibly even me. Not my baby. Never my baby. It was the single most unfair situation I could ever imagine.
I found myself searching for answers, meaning, help. When connecting with fellow cancer parents, various support groups, and well-meaning friends and family, the most common piece of advice I was given was a variation of “Trust in god. He chose you to be the mom of this baby. He wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.”
I would smile and nod in agreement, though inside, I’d be screaming. Trust in God?! Your God who controls everything, yet somehow isn’t solely responsible for my innocent baby’s cancer?!
I was furious at the double standard of thanking and praising God for all of the good in this world, while placing all of the blame for the bad on human nature. It made no sense why God would “choose” me to miscarry my first three pregnancies, then continue to worsen the blows with this pediatric cancer diagnosis? (Sometimes, life DOES give us more than we can handle.)
Every attempt at searching for answers ended with a call to lean on my faith for healing and guidance. I understood where everyone was coming from; that’s what they did when facing tragedy. It brought them comfort and peace to know everything was in God’s hands. But I couldn’t cling to a faith I didn’t have. I couldn’t trust in or pray to a God I didn’t believe existed.
That’s when I began seeking out (Facebook) support groups for non-believing parents. I was surprised they even existed. It was so refreshing to find a group of like-minded moms from whom I didn’t have to hide my views. I didn’t have to scan through paragraphs of religious “fluff” before getting to their useful advice. Their empathy didn’t come in the form of knowing “I must be a special mom to be given such a special baby.”
There were also cancer-specific support groups for non-believers. While they were smaller, with most members either having cancer themselves or being a parent or caregiver to someone who did, I found the support I had been yearning for. I was no longer alone.
It was through these groups that I learned to put my trust in medical research, treatment plans, and knowledgable doctors and surgeons. I discovered an intense appreciation for life, including my children’s lives. While I couldn’t control their future, I could make the most of the precious time we still had together. I didn’t think about losing them because it would’ve been too painful knowing they would be gone forever. I found solace in knowing I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.
My baby endured eight brutal rounds of chemotherapy. But it worked. He lived. His cancerous tumors shrank and he was able to end treatment. Today, he functions like any other “typical” toddler. But it took years of research for that outcome to even be possible. There were thousands of babies, just like mine, who were research subjects, who were experimented on, in order to fine-tune the treatments needed to control and shrink my baby’s cancer. Words cannot express my gratitude for the doctors, researchers, and parents of those other children. They’re the ones who saved my baby’s life. They’re the ones who deserve all of the glory and credit.
My baby was a miracle: a miracle of modern medicine.
Our journey with cancer isn’t entirely over. The nasty beast could rear its head again in the future, and I know it would once again devastate our family. But that’s out of my control. All I can do is make the most of this life, day by day, and make sure my children know how much I love and care for them.
Being the parent of a child diagnosed with cancer can be lonely. You know most other parents aren’t experiencing what you’re going through and it’s hard to relate. Being an atheist in a world full of believers often feels similar. Being both brings on a whole new level of isolation. But through connections with other parents who had faced a similar path, I was able to get through the hardest time in my life. Their empathy, compassion, and kindness gave me hope in a way accepting God’s role in everything never could. It’s fueling me even today, even with that ordeal behind my family.
(Images via Kaitlyn Brooner)