The Second Blessing of Cancer: Revisiting Control

The nurse administering my stem cell transplant chemo commented, “You seem to be doing better than the last round of chemo.” I thought back to my first day of chemo when everything was unknown, uncertain and just plain scary. Of course I am doing better, I thought. In a two week time period I had just been informed I had cancer, that there is no formal cure, that we needed to choose a treatment path, that we needed to decide where to locate the family, that we had to get insurance approval for treatment and that I needed a 24×7 caregiver. I had no idea what to expect during treatment because I had never done this before. Yes, losing the perceived control I thought I had over my life shook me up considerably.

The unknown has a way of instilling fear into humans, who like predictability. Just look at the financial markets. We all get a little skittish when we don’t know what to expect.

Cancer changes your world in a matter of hours. Because the severity of the trial is beyond your power and personal control, you must rely on a team of people to get you through. You are suddenly dependent on doctors and research that offer medical treatment, on caregivers for rides, food and water, and on family and friends for emotional support.

I ask, how much control do I really have over my life? The extremes are easy to consider; passive resistance that I am controlled by fate, or hard-headed arrogance that my life is completely my own. I am realizing now I am both dependent and independent. I am an agent of choice and change and yet do not command the universe or its workings. I control much of my own destiny and at the same time am dependent for all that Heaven provides – food, air, sun, and the breath of life. There are two forces at play: God’s will and my own personal will.

I’ve been reading about Abraham Lincoln who also learned about God’s will and personal will as he made every effort to stop the Civil War. From his inauguration in 1861, he fought to save the Union. When war began, he worked tirelessly to end it. In 1864, he saw God’s deliberate hand in the events and came to the conclusion that God would end the war at the appropriate time, when He wanted it to end. “The purposes of the Almighty are perfect” he wrote. The purposes “must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance… We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and and has ruled otherwise.” He then noted the importance of personal will. “Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.” “The purposes of the Almighty” letter to Eliza P. Gurney, September 4, 1864, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 7:535.

Like Lincoln, I realize that success will only come as I seek to understand God’s will and then do what I can with my personal will to “work earnestly in the best light he gives” me. So how do I determine God’s will for me? In a word, prayer. “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” Prayer, Bible Dictionary

Recognizing and understanding God’s will seems to come to humans in a gradation of maturity: First, we can ignore His will completely. Second, we can selectively obey his will. Third we do His will out of duty, but with irritation. Fourth, we can do His will with a glad heart.

Seeking His will takes a bit of humility. “To be humble is to recognize gratefully our dependence on the Lord—to understand that we have constant need for His support. Humility is an acknowledgment that our talents and abilities are gifts from God. It is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that we know where our true strength lies. We can be both humble and fearless. We can be both humble and courageous.” Humility

The best part about humility is that it opens the door to a teaching opportunity. I no longer know everything, so what do I need to learn? My plan is no longer my own, is there a bigger plan for me than the one I had in mind? All doors and windows are literally thrown open to a new view of the world. My predictable world is shattered, but for the better. Perhaps there is no personal growth in a comfort zone.

At the same time, no matter what happens “to” me, I still make daily choices about how I react to each life situation. As Stephen Covey puts it, “Between stimulus and response is our greatest power – the freedom to choose.” The magnificent gift of free will is the greatest gift we have, next to life itself. What do I still control, even during cancer treatment? My gratitude for the great kindness of others, my attitude, my communication with family and children, my thoughts and ideas. As I recover and resume normal activity, the list will grow.

But I will forever know that bringing God’s will and my personal will into alignment will always be in my best interest. “God knows best,” says Lincoln. And I am inclined to agree.

8 thoughts on “The Second Blessing of Cancer: Revisiting Control

  1. Jenny,

    You are an inspiration to all of us. I just read this to Louise & she wants to be invited to the blog. I will try to get it to her if I can.

    We love you! Thank you for posting.

  2. Monday, Oct 4, 2010


    Congratulations on the stem cell replacement on Friday. Stay
    isolated and read a good book. Love you always, Dad

  3. Thank you for sharing additional insights about President Lincoln. His life has always been an inspiration to me. I have a big picture of him in my office. As I was reading your thoughts on revisiting control it made me think of a great book I read years ago. (Its pages have turned yellow with age). It is entitled Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. His basic message was despite what life dishes out to us we can determine our response and the best response is to learn from it, be positive and optimistic and have faith in the future. Thank you for sharing your faith and hope for a brighter day. It will come.

  4. I have been driven many times upon my knees
    by the overwhelming conviction that I had
    nowhere else to go.
    -Abraham Lincoln-

    Thank you so much for the pieces of you from deep with the confines.
    You are a true inspiration. We consider you and Paul some of our dearest friends. I am so thankful to you both for the blessing you are in our lives, and those whom I love. God is blessing you, he loves you, and hears you.
    This is a valuable time, and you are reaping from it. Faith is a spiritual gift, being healed is a spiritual gift I pray you are receiving.
    We Love You
    Geoff and Folleen

  5. Jenny,
    I finally took the time to sit down tonight and read your entire blog. You are a remarkable woman! You radiate grace with every entry and your devotion to the gospel is something of a marvel. You inspire, strengthen and motivate me to be a better mother and woman and I am blessed to know you.

    You have been in my constant prayers teaching me how to have faith once again. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your insights you share.

    You will get through this. Right now you are probably not in the best part of your treatment, but be strong and know that things are as Heavenly Father had planned for you. Somehow, miraculously, time will heal everything. -Maybe not perfectly the way you wanted them, but perfectly in the eyes of the Lord. And then you will one day look back and it will all be a blur. You will sit and wonder how you got through it. It is a remarkable thing. Then others will come to you for aid and mentoring and you will be the source of blessings for them. Everything comes full circle.

    You once asked about blessings of Cancer. I approach these thoughts from someone that did not have it myself, but it was very close to me and impacted my life dramatically as you know. These are my blessings which I acknowledge:
    1. You know in the end how much Heavenly Father loves you and knows you by name. Joseph Smith says in his movie on temple square, “God brings you low so that He may build you up again.” Cancer is one of those moments – completely personalized to you and your exhaltation.
    2. You get to experience first hand what Charity is. You understand it with greater depth than you can imagine and are then, like it or not, allowed to experience Charity’s companion which is humility. There is a huge difference between giving charity and recieving it as well as humility that is self invoked and humility that you are litterally dependant on those around you for basic sustanance. What a blessing it is to be a recipient of.
    3. Definitely as you have mentioned – reprioritazion of values, goals and life in general.
    4. Family relationships strengthened. – They are all that matters now. No wonder that is why Satan trys so hard to pull us apart.
    5. You are the recipient of litterally hundreds of prayers and assistance from the other side. Before cancer, I don’t really think I understood that reality as I do now. I have felt the overwhelming physical lift that comes from a simple prayer. it is like being in the rain when it is sprinkling. You feel a little drop and you know that there is rain coming down. But when it is pouring down rain, there is no mistake as you are soaking wet. Prayer and heavenly assistance is the same. It is a little hard at first to feel the physical help you get, but then you are soaking wet and you feel it. Now stand in the rain for a little while and get used to that. Now when this season is over for you, you will feel the dryness of not having that constant assistance because it is time to stand on your own again. It is proof of the reality of the power of the other side and their help and also the plan of salvation. We actually have our personal cheer squad helping us out every day, all day when we need it. God really does want us to succeed.
    6. Food tastes better and kisses are sweeter. (even if there is a lack thereof)
    7. Fashion takes a back seat for a bit. Not worring about the ways of the world is refreshing and inviting. Relax, kick your feet up, throw on some comfty pants and enjoy not having to do your hair for a spell.
    8. Time to reflect. Time to read. Time to relax. Time for you. Time.
    9. You get a jump start on your estate planning. All your personal affairs now take priority as they haven’t in the past.
    10. You are now in the spotlight. Everyone watches your every move to see how you are dealing with things. They notice if you cry, loose 2 lbs, change your hair, come in late to church. They notice everything. I am not sure if this is actually a blessing. It is actually a curse oftentimetimes. But in the spirit of making choices with things you are given, I will count it as a blessing. Why? Because you are given a greater oportunity to be a missionary without even saying a word. Things that others never noticed about you are now obvious to the onlooker and you are planting seeds. This is a time where living by example is crucial and if you are living in accordance with the gospel, it is an easy, effective tool.

    Okay, I think this is long a enough saga. sorry. Know that I love you! Heavenly Father loves you and we are all praying for your successful transplant. Keep it up!

    Love ya,

  6. Jenny,
    Thank you for sharing yourself and your journey in this blog. I am amazed and inspired by the woman you have become since we were in high school together.

    In gratefulness for your friendship,

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