Some one in my recent history once described me as an anti-hero. The terminology came about as a reference to the kind of message I have been sharing, and why it seems to resonate with people of different walks of life.
So often in life, we are sold ideas and and methodologies of how to ‘win’ in life, how to ‘succeed’ and how to get everything you want. Such is the fairy tale ending that we all seem to be after. Our lives, no matter which part of the journey we are on, seem to be aiming for this ultimate destination where we can say we have won, or succeeded, or found that place where we can live happily ever after. This idea of thinking is endemic in our culture, and is also seeping into Christian faith based practice. It would seem the measure of our life is by how well we have done in either our marriage, our job, or our material possessions.
When we are children, we cannot wait till we are teenagers and the world is our oyster. When we are teenagers, we can’t wait till we leave school and gain some independence. When we have left school, we can’t wait till we have graduated to get our first job and start earning money. When we are single, we can’t wait till we are married (or settled down) with the women/man of our dreams. Then, kids become the panacea, followed by the desire to be rid of them. Finally, retirement seems to the pinnacle of our life’s achievements. At every step of the way, the next step seems to be greener grass that we desire. The fairy tale ending is just within our reach, yet just beyond it.
By far the majority of us will never find the promised fairy tale ending. Most of us will keep reaching for the next branch, thinking that will be the final one, only to discover it wasn’t as good as we anticipated, or that there are many other branches to climb before we arrive…. arrive where exactly, its hard to say.
Perhaps that is why my story resonates with people. Statistically, I’m unlikely to find my fairy tale ending. The next steps in life for me are probably going to be painful, and full of suffering. I will endure some of the hardest things I will ever have to face, and friends and family will be dragged through the same turmoil. There is no fairy tale ending here, only sadness, mourning, loss, and grief.
If we try to find our purpose in the ending, we only end up losing ourselves in the process of getting there. What I have discovered is that the purpose is in the journey, no matter where that journey leads us. The path we are on, no matter how successful or unsuccessful is littered with stories of meaning, of relationships, and of purpose. Through finding meaning in the journey, I am at peace that my outcome will NOT be the fairy tale ending, I have found purpose in the day to day living of my life. The colours are brighter, the relationships more vivid, and what it means to serve humanity is more apparent. I’m okay with dying, and I have come to that place by finding meaning and purpose in the journey rather than the destination.
Let’s also be clear, I’m not saying that meaning is found by accepting our inevitable and slow demise, I’m saying that by realizing it is the journey that is important, the inevitable demise no longer matters. The ending, whether good or bad pales into insignificance when contrasted against the reality of living the way God intended in our lives now.
I also have to be clear on another point. I have described the meaning found in the journey above without using God language, but the reality for me is that faith is an integral part of that journey. I cannot imagine any of these things apart from God. The meaning, the sanctity of life, the value of serving humanity, all comes from one source. And as such, deserves all my attention, all my focus, and all my energies.
This is why I’m an anti-hero. I don’t talk about conquering, overcoming, or being the victor. I talk about the reality of suffering in my life, and why I’m at peace with that. I talk about why more often or not, there is no fairy tale ending.
Thanks for listening.
On November 15th, 2010, I finally became a Doctor.
..And what a journey it has been. This time last year I sat through the qualification ceremony of my class, and resolved that I would return to medical school and qualify. It has been long and it has been difficult. It has also been punctuated by 20 rounds of chemotherapy, and 9 CT scans. It has involved at times losing my life to study, and at other times losing my sanity to stress. Questions have been made, and with certainty, answered. I have finally run the gauntlet to its completion and survived to tell the tale.
For me, Medicine is more than a vocation, it is an intellectual challenge, it is a passion, but above all, it is the chance to serve humanity when they are at their most weak, their most frail, and their most mortal. The privilege to input into people’s lives during these moments cannot be understated, and with it comes responsibility, respect, and reverence for the human condition.
It was by the Grace of God that I was admitted into medical school, so it is not insignificant that it is by the Grace of God that I get to finish it. Credit lies with God, with Hannah, and with family and friends as I have embarked and endured the journey over the last 6 years.
Having cancer has made the journey more challenging, that goes without saying.
…but also, having cancer has made the journey more rewarding.
It should not be forgotten that it is in light of our suffering, our brokeness, and our trials and tribulations that our accomplishments, our joy and our celebrations become all the more colourful. Life is a vivid theatre of ups and downs, each up is only as monumental as the down that precedes it. It is in light of cancer that I can celebrate this achievement with so much more vigour.
It is in the light of my suffering that my joy shines.
Enjoy the photos of the evening.
I’ve recently had another interview air on the radio.
This time the station is Life FM, and the interview takes a slightly different tac than previous interviews. The tempo is a bit faster, its a bit more aggressive, and covers almost the same amount of topic in 1/4 of the time. I guess this reflects the different audience/demographic that Life FM tries to hit.
Anyway, if you are interested, have a listen and let me know what you think :-).
Thanks for listening.
May 21st – 18 months ago I got histological conformation of my cancer.
I turned 28 on that day.
I was married for only 11 months.
And my life was changed forever.
To contemplate just how much my life has changed in the last 18 months is no small feat. My identity, the person who I am, is now intricately intertwined with cancer. Its almost impossible to separate me, Jared, from the cancer that has dominated the last 18 months of life. The words Jared and cancer are now synonymous.
This has been both a blessing and a curse.
The curse part is obvious. I have been confronted with my mortality, slapped into my face like a cold fish, there is no avoiding it, I’m dying; I’ve been confronted with family, dealing with the mourning associated with finding out a loved one is suffering; I have been confronted with marriage, knowing that Hannah is grieving this in totally different ways to me, in ways no new wife should have to; And I have been confronted by community, the support, the friendship, the collective sadness at what awaits me in my future.
All these things now define me, and are my cross to bear, so to speak.
If I stop my contemplation there, I end up depressed and feeling sorry for myself. So, if only for my own sanity, I have to look at the other side of my journey.
Cancer has been a blessing. And not in a silver-lining-behind-every-cloud kind of way, but there has been genuine reward in the journey I have been on over the last 18 months in ways I could never have anticipated.That reward has come at a price, but none-the-less, has had a hugely positive impact in my life. As mentioned in a photo I posted earlier this month, the colours around me are so much brighter than they every used to be. The beauty of the life I have lived has never been so appreciated as much as it is now; The bond of marriage has been woven even tighter than I could possibly have thought as Hannah and I are forced to embark on this journey; And finding joy in knowing a community that weeps with you, rejoices with you, and celebrates with you, no matter what the circumstance.
In the light of death, there has been re-affirmation of what it actually means to be alive.
And the exclamation mark of that last paragraph belongs to Christ. The hope, the faith, the love, are all things that carry me beyond my present reality. They empower me to be me, beyond cancer, beyond a short lifespan. They create meaning in the nothingness, beauty in the uggliness, and colour in the black and white.
Perhaps that is the biggest reward of this journey, is re-discovering faith in a world that is rapidly leaving it behind.
Thanks for listening.
As an evidence based guy, and simultaneously a man of faith, I am often at two ends of a spectrum that do not necessarily harmoniously walk hand and hand. One camp takes the skeptics approach, demanding rigorously demonstrated evidence in order to proclaim the truth, the other proclaims the truth at the outset as a manner of faith, where no such evidence is necessary. How do I seemingly reconcile two very different life perspectives? particularly when the outcomes of which have a direct bearing on my life, that is, the knowledge of medicine and disease with respect to my cancer, or the hope that there might be something more beyond the tangible reality of our world.
This is a potentially controversial topic, as people tend to polarise to either end other spectrum, and very rarely find the middle ground. Perhaps, it was never meant to be a spectrum in the first place, but two ends of a piece of string that can be held in each hand. Holding the ideas in tension, constantly evaluating the merits of either, using it to measure up what real life has to offer.
The first camp is the evidence based camp. It requires strict adherence to a set of rules set by science, deemed to be truth by scientific consensus. The latter part of that statement is important. Scientific consensus is not one person claiming something to be true by science, but a collective of thoughts and agreements that have been repeated rigorously, with the same collective outcome. The classic example of non-scientific consensus is the publication of an article in 1998 that claimed vaccines were the cause of Autism [Wakefield et al. The Lancet, Volume 351, Issue 9103, Pages 637 – 641, 28 February 1998]. Consensus never agreed with this, it was the one and only paper with a sample size of 12, that anti-vaccine proponents jumped on. This was despite repeated studies that could not agree with the finding of the original paper. So much so that earlier this year it was retracted from the journal it was published in.
The second camp starts from somewhere else, it begins with an a priori assumption that something bigger exists beyond what can be touched, felt and heard. It claims that before time, God existed, and nothing exists apart from Him (or She, english does not give us a gender neutral pronoun so I will resort to the traditional). It claims that all things are possible, and that the miraculous occurs in day-to-day life, and does not need to be backed up by empirical evidence. This particular camp will often be proponents for a literal 7 day creation, it will also have tendencies for claims such as the inerrancy of the word of God. The premise here being that God is before, during and after, the alpha and the omega, and that all creation cannot exist part from Him.
Two very different camps, two very different ideas about the world. Both of which I have stakes in. So how does that work?
The world that I live in, the medical world, is empirical. People live and they die daily based on whatever ailment afflicts them, and whatever treatment is available to help them. Christians, people of faith, are unfortunately not statistically anymore likely to survive terminal illness than any other sup-population. We live in an empirical world. I have an illness that can be quantified, it can be measured, and it can be treated with the best treatment that is available for it. That treatment has known limitations, known side-effects, and known positive effects. All of which is weighed up when I receive this treatment.
The faith-based world believes in something beyond the empirical. It believes that no matter what happens in this world, there is a greater power that oversees it, that governs it, that gives it purpose, that gives it hope. I believe that HOPE is the distinguishing point that this life view offers over the empirical.
Without Hope, the world as we know it is just a meaningless machine, cogs moving, intertwining, a process that we are stuck in and have very little say in. With Hope there is knowledge and meaning that goes beyond the tangible world.
I live in a world where the empirical definitely reigns, but I also live in a world of hope. Yes, I have terminal cancer, yes the odds of my survival are not good. But with hope, there is meaning in the life that I have left. There is a chance that maybe, just maybe, I will beat the odds, that life will extend another 50 years. Empirically, I don’t see the evidence for it, but through the eyes of Christ, I can see the eternal. I can see the promise of something so much greater in this life, and the life to come.
Again, these two perspectives must be held in tension, God heals, but he doesn’t heal everyone. I believe we do Him a disservice when claiming the miraculous where it doesn’t exist. Christians are good at that. We claim this and that as miracles, yet 10,000 children die every day from starvation. We begin to enter a tricky mine field of what God is capable of and how he works when we begin to claim fortuitous circumstance as miraculous. Miracles happen…. the are just rarer than we believe.
I will always be torn between these two perspectives on life, seemingly incongruent, yet each has a hold on me that I cannot release either one. Perhaps that is the better way, to hold each in tension, to trust, and to acknowledge reality and the suffering that it might entail.
…. and through all of that is to Hope…. and that is what keeps me going.
Thanks for listening.
On Tuesday this week I was interviewed for a second time on Radio Rhema, which aired this morning. For those who would like to hear it, I have posted the link to the Rhema website where it is available.
The interview is about 30 minutes total, split into four slots. So only listen when you have the time :-). This interview was really a followup from my previous one, and focused on a few different aspects being four months on. Namely, we discussed cancer and its effect on my life, which I have reflected here on this blog, as well as its effect on Hannah and how we deal with the diagnosis on a daily basis.
If you didn’t hear the previous interview back in December, you can hear it by clicking HERE.
Peter Shaw is very generous in his introduction of me, for which I am grateful, and to be honest, simultaneously a little uncomfortable. When people describe me using words like ‘amazing’ and ‘courage’, which I do get to a reasonable extent, I’m always hesitant to accept such labels. I’m usually quick to point out that I’m none of those things, I’m just a fellow human, like the rest of us, with an unfortunate set of circumstances. Adjectives used to describe me like this I believe are better applied to the source of my faith. The reality is, none of how I respond is on my own strength, its through God’s grace alone that I am able to be the person that I am, I take no credit for that.
Never underestimate the love or the grace of Christ, its what makes the world go round…
…and keeps me ticking.
Thanks for listening.
Its easy to get cynical when you have cancer.
There are times when the all seems right with the world, but they are slowly and surely being crowded out by the times when the world seems to be completely falling apart. When I am on each round of chemo, I look into the mirror, and see a shadow of a person staring back at me. My eyes look heavy, dark rings framing each of them, my skin pale and blotchy, my hair thinning out. Hannah reports that when I’m on chemo, I have a certain smell about me, as the toxins no doubt leach out my pores, adding to the chemo aroma that envelopes me every two weeks.
It’s easy to get cynical when you have cancer….
Its easy to wish that life was not this way, to wish that some sense of normality could be returned to. Its easy to fall into despair, to feel sorry for yourself, its easy to forget that there is a bigger reason to live for. Its easy to hear about someone else’s problems and to belittle them in the light of dying with cancer. Dying of cancer is the ultimate trump card, the ultimate conversation stopper, the one line that is sure to bring an awkward silence to those who don’t know your story. There is even a sense of self satisfaction that no one has it as bad me; albeit a false sense.
The minute I start falling into this trap of cynism, which is easy to do, is the minute I stop looking at the bigger picture. The minute I start caring about my needs over that of others, is when the cloud of darkness sweeps in, and tries to wash you over with self doubt, self loathing, and self pity. Its a dangerous trap that we all fall into at one time or another. To become self-oreinted is to place your own priorities over others, to forget about those next to you, and to dwell on your own issues and make them bigger than your neighbours. This kind of thinking rarely makes us better people, it frequently drowns us in our own false sense of self importance, it makes us selfish, it makes us moody, and it blinds us to what is really going on in the world around us.
When I recognise the trap of cynicism setting into mind, I have to consciously dig myself out of its grasp. I have to pause…
I have to refocus…
I have to remember the plight of others, the injustice in this world, and how I might be a part of its solution…
You see, the minute I start thinking in a selfless manner, I am set free from the struggle of selfishness. Selfishness does nothing but destroy, whereas selflessness builds those around us up. Not only does it pay dividends to our neighbours, but it frees our own mind and our own soul.
I’m not pretending for a second that cancer is a walk in the park. It has its moments when all I wish was to live the life I had 18 months ago, before the diagnosis. But the reality is, the way I approach cancer is what makes it either a curse to live with, or a blessing in it’s own kind of way.
Cynasim and selfishness destroys the soul….
Selflessness and perspective builds it up….
Jesus once said ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, right after he told us to ‘Love your the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, all your strength and all your mind.’
Loving ourselves comes last on the list, cos if we love ourselves first, we slowly die inside. We waste away to a shadow of what we were meant to be.
Loving God first, and then others, builds us up to people that can achieve so much more than we could ever hope for…
Its counter-intuitive, but I can say in my own life, this principle holds true.
Thanks for listening.