“Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12
When I talk about cancer with other people, I avoid using the phrase “my cancer”. This is intentional, because cancer is not mine. When we use the qualifier “my”, the thing we are qualifying becomes an identifying mark, and we can even grow affectionate toward it. “My children”, “my husband”, “my faith”, “my ministry” -- these are all blessings I love and proudly proclaim as mine. Cancer, however, I despise and I will never allow it to claim my identity. Not ever! Likewise, you won’t hear me use the phrase “your cancer” either, because I refuse to claim it for you, too.
I am sure there are times when I have inadvertently said “my cancer” because sometimes the vernacular of the English language commands it. So, don’t misunderstand me as being legalistic. I’m not trying to establish a rule I believe everyone should follow, nor am I imploring you to package yourself with a super-spiritual slogan. I am simply suggesting that we, as cancer survivors, need to thoughtfully consider our identity because the enemy would like nothing more than to steal it.
I was diagnosed two months before October, which -- as many of you are well aware -- is breast cancer awareness month. I was in the middle of treatment when I entered the supermarket for the first time that month and was overcome by cereal boxes and egg cartons sporting pink ribbons. Sure, they represent something good --sponsorship of cancer research -- but my heart wrenched at every sighting.
Invitations in the mail to parade in the survivor leg of various cancer relay walks were plentiful; and promptly condemned to the trash. I had no intention of placing a label associated with cancer anywhere on my body. I had upped my commitment to exercise, since it’s important for the healing process, and was excited to find a pair of rollerblades that fit comfortably on my bunion-burdened feet. Excited…until I saw the pink ribbon embellishment delicately stitched on the ankle. You have got to be kidding me! The emblem of the land I didn’t love was stalking me.
I rebelled against pink ribbons, the month of October, satin survivor sashes, and other trendy hallmarks of breast cancer survivorship -- not because these things are bad --but to protect my identity: "I am a daughter of the Most High God and Jesus Christ is my Redeemer." Yes, I am also the wife of an amazing husband, the mother of two incredible children, a writer, a prayer warrior, and a servant of His kingdom who happens to be a cancer survivor. These things are all wonderful and worth celebrating, but they don’t define me. They merely characterize what I do and what I have experienced. My identity is not based upon my achievements or failures; the opinions of other people; or my oftentimes, painful past -- it is firmly fixed and established upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and who He says I am.
Nine years after my diagnosis, I attended a cancer relay walk to promote my prayer ministry. As I ran my fingers across the satin survivor sash the organizers had given me, I remembered the cereal boxes and rollerblades and how they used to trigger me. But this time was different. It felt okay to join my comrades in the survivor lap, to receive the cheers and encouragement from the supporters standing by. It felt good -- even right -- because I had learned how to walk in the fullness of my healing, secure in who I am. Jesus redeemed another piece of me that cancer tried to steal.
If you enjoy the colorful ribbons associated with cancer awareness, then by all means, display them. But let’s never forget who we are and that our most valuable membership resides in the club of Christ. “We are sons and daughters of the Most High God and Jesus Christ is our Redeemer who sees us and loves us and is with us to the end.”
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Joellen Putnam is the founder of ACTIVATE THE CURE, a prayer ministry for those who are impacted by cancer. She is also a cancer survivor who lives in Connecticut with her husband as well as her daughter and son (when they are home from college).