The Business of Having Cancer

I have a rare and aggressive cancer that is deemed incurable: metastatic leiomyosarcoma. I’ve tried to avoid the “My Cancer and Me” narrative that seems to be increasingly popular, but which I often find profoundly irritating. The truth is, cancer is a bore. It’s lonely, painful and sometimes frightening.

If, like me, one has survived longer than predicted, one can even feel slightly guilty because of all the good and kind people who haven’t. Of course, one knows that the situation could change overnight, but one can’t live on a cliff-edge all the time; so one just gets on with life as best one can.

I am sometimes asked if I have lost all my hair, which is then swiftly followed by, “But it won’t matter to you because you’re a nun.” As it happens, I haven’t lost all my hair, only some of it, but the assumption that it doesn’t matter is wide of the mark. I really don’t like digging out clumps of hair from my hairbrush, and being thin on top has distinct disadvantages when wearing a veil.

Should I be indifferent to these things because I am a nun? The sun scorches my head just as much as it scorches anyone else’s!

Does Faith Help One Cope?

Does having faith help one cope with the business of having cancer: the endless hospital appointments, treatments that make one sick or weak, the inability to do things one once did easily, the terrors that can come in the middle of the night? Some people seem to manage these without difficulty. I don’t.

I don’t have the kind of faith that wears a permanent smile. I have been given the faith of the plodder instead, and I confess that at times it is that of a grumpy plodder. Somehow, and I must admit I don’t always know how, I get up each day and begin again. I do not progress from triumph to triumph but crawl from one little disaster to the next.

Too many people expect those of us living with cancer to be defiant. If we are not hang-gliding or ticking items off on a bucket-list of things to do before we die, we have failed. I have no bucket-list, no desire to cram in ‘one last experience,’ and I suspect many feel the same way. In a way, I think that is immensely liberating.


The writer is a member of Holy Trinity Monastery, a community of cloistered Benedictine nuns in Howton Grove Priory in the United Kingdom. The community website can be found here. “The Business of Having Cancer” is taken from “Faith and Cancer,” published on their weblog iBenedictines.

By Digitalnun. Copyright © 2018 Trustees of Holy Trinity Monastery, Company No. 7487215, Registered Charity No. 1144001

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