Backpacks, Cancer Treatment, and Metaphors


My dad recently wrote me a beautiful metaphor describing his prayer for me.  He wrote, “I do not want cancer to be this massive backpack that weighs you down and keeps you from the adventures you enjoy. What I'm praying for is a small day pack that allows you to go and do everything you want to and often forget about carrying.”

I have been grappling with how to process the most recent development in my health journey, and this sweet prayer has helped me to clarify my approach.  For my “day pack” has been packed by my Savior and has everything I could need for the adventures he has for me. 

When my new doctor told me that I needed to have a new port placed and to begin receiving infusions of Herceptin every three weeks for the rest of my life, I was pretty daunted and disappointed.  I drove home that day feeling weighed down with the enormity of it all.  Another surgery?!  Treatment for the REST OF MY LIFE?! Figuring out what to do with my three boys every three weeks while I drive into San Francisco?!  And Lord, what if it still makes me sick for 24 hours like it used to?! My prayers were a staccato of worry and frustration…and relief.  As much as I didn’t want to do any of it, there was enormous relief in the knowledge that I would be doing everything medically possible to keep me from having to face cancer again.  None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, but this would give me my best chance.  

My cancer backpack definitely felt massive that day; underneath the worry, frustration, and relief was a heaviness at the knowledge that once again cancer, or preventing cancer, was going to dictate my schedule, my life, my abilities.  

But then I started really researching Herceptin (it’s a beautiful miracle of science), and I’m once again reminded how completely God is working all things together for my good.  You see, just like my dad’s metaphor, what Herceptin does in my body is also a beautiful metaphor for what the Holy Spirit does in my soul.  Breast cancer is, after all, part of me.  With an original diagnosis like mine, my disease is presently considered managed, but never in remission.  My breast cancer cells are my cells just like my healthy cells are.  Cancer is unique in that it is not a disease I’ve caught from an outside source.  It’s my own cells doing the wrong thing and taking over the cells that are doing the right thing, and my rare and aggressive kind of breast cancer cells are incredibly good at reproducing and killing my good cells.  Herceptin finds those breast cancer cells, attaches itself to them, and signals my immunity cells to come attack them while simultaneously blocking the cancer cells’ ability to communicate with other cells and reproduce.  Herceptin is taking down any breast cancer cells that try to show their faces, therefore allowing my healthy cells to flourish and my immunity cells to do their job with heightened effectiveness.  

The Holy Spirit is doing the same work in my soul.  He is finding all of the pieces of me that are not working right—fear, doubt, worry, anxiety, impatience, selfishness—and he is signaling the other parts of me to take those out and block them from reproducing and taking over the supernatural parts of me—faith, patience, selflessness, love, peace, joy. 

I am not perfect.  I never will be.  The Holy Spirit will not stop working on my soul.  At this point, it also looks like I’ll never be completely done with cancer treatment while I’m on this earth.  But that’s really ok, because I am believing Philippians 1:6 for my soul and my body: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Thank you, Daddy, for your beautiful prayer.  My cancer day pack has come to hold peace, joy, love, faith, and strength that are not dependent on my circumstances.  It is not heavy or massive; it is a sign that God has prepared me for a longer journey, in this life or the next.

My prayer for all of you is that you can see the gifts that come from what is weighing you down.  May your struggles prepare you for the work God has for you.  May you embrace the truth of Isaiah 40:31: “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”