I have just been thinking again about my incurable/terminal cancer diagnosis back in 2009; I was prompted to this because I just had my annual appointment with my oncologist to make sure I am still okay—I still am. One of the consequences of my treatment, back in late 2009 and then through 2010 was that during my resection surgery they had to remove my right kidney in order to get clean tissue margins when they removed my tumor. So obviously this left me with one kidney, and a kidney that had gone through the ravages of the hardest hard-core chemo the body can handle (and it really can’t). My oncologist ran a test on my kidney function, well at least on my creatinine level, and it was a little elevated; even for someone with one kidney. This is not surprising, it has been this way since 2010. Nevertheless, he wants me to go to a nephrologist (which I have once, and should’ve been in contact with him this whole time), just so they can keep an eye on things and monitor the performance of my kidney. I will have to say, this has rattled me a bit; even though my oncologist said there is nothing to panic about. This leads me to what I want to reflect upon in this post; about the impact that clinical-medical diagnoses have upon the patient, but more importantly, how it reduces death and sickness to the hard and “cold” sciences (i.e. just the facts type of approach) rather than, as it should be framed for the Christian, from the perspective of God’s Providential care, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Todd Billings, a fellow theologian and brother in Christ, was diagnosed with a rare and also incurable cancer back in 2012. He, like me, has survived his cancer, and has even written a book on it Rejoicing in Lament, which I reviewed here. He is the one who started me thinking this way, and he was put onto thinking this way by a medical doctor and oncologist who has personal experience with dealing with cancer (as do so many of us), and he dealt with the death of his father from cancer. This doctor (his name is escaping me) wanted to delve deeper into patient care, and how that care engages with the spiritual and familial aspects of treating cancer patients; to get beyond the “science” of it all.
Billings has extended this out further, and placed this discussion into one wherein such topics should be seen as before God, first, and the science itself, while having its place, should lose its grip on being able to frame issues of health and death itself. I well might be recalling Todd’s premises wrongly, but this is what I am recalling at the moment (off the top). What I want to say, in concert with Todd, is that, at least for me personally, I do not like giving the doctors the last word. There seems to be this elevation of scientists in our culture, even for Christians, wherein they have gained godlike status; as if they have been imbued with some sort of control. But that is not comforting to me; what is comforting to me is that God is in control, that he alone gives life and takes it away (I Sam. 2.6). While scientism dominates our culture, almost in cultic types of ways, those who are suffering some of the most heinous diseases among us are ensconced, unwillingly, right in the middle of that culture, only to suffer through whatever they are suffering through with this type of clinical atmosphere surrounding them. To me this is just one more fall out of living in a post-Christian pagan/secular society wherein the secular has become the sacred, and the scientists have become its priests.