Have you ever heard the term, “Job’s comforters?” If you’ve ever experienced a tragedy, especially one with your health, you’ve likely gotten a dose of what Job’s friends dished out to him.
Job was a blameless and upright man (Job 1:1) who got caught between God and the devil. Satan thought he could get Job to turn on God, but God knew Job’s heart, as he knows all of our hearts. He trusted Job enough to allow Satan to do his worst.
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. (Job 2:7, 8)
Now that you have a picture of just a portion of the tragedy that hit Job, let’s look at how Job’s friends responded.
In the beginning, Job’s friends did all the right things.
They made an appointment to come and mourn with him. When they got there, he was so ill that they didn’t even recognize him. They sat with him for seven days nights, and no one spoke a word to him because his grief was so great. I find this to be a tender moment. They were allowing him time to grieve and have the comfort of their presence. That’s being a good friend.
Then Job spoke. “I wish I’d never been born!”
Have you ever had a friend who told you she was going through a divorce, or his kid was doing drugs, or she was diagnosed with a chronic illness, or his doctor just told him he has cancer? What do you say to that? It feels like you should say something—but what?
Eliphaz was the first of Job’s friends to give his thoughts on the matter.
“Don’t take offense at this, but I just need to say something. Yes, you’ve done a lot of good things in your time, but it seems to me that you must have done something to deserve this. I was praying for you the other night, and the Holy Spirit told me (Job 4:12) that you aren’t trusting in God, but rather earthly things. Your sin caused this.”
This is an all too real a scenario, for people facing cancer.
That’s why I wrote Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.
In Facing Cancer as a Friend, I address what to say, what not to say, end more importantly, how to use your talents and gifts to bless the people in your life who have cancer.
Some things are more stigmatized than others.
When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, we were quickly immersed in the cancer blame game. “Did he smoke?” Was the immediate response 90% of the time when we told people that he had lung cancer. I soon began to add the tagline, “and, he never smoked,” whenever I told someone about his cancer.
This bothered me, though. After all, are we saying that smokers deserve to have cancer?
The smoking stigma is reflected in research spending.
In a 2012 analysis by the National Lung Cancer Partnership, it was reported that each year, nearly 157,000 Americans die of lung cancer, and 39,970 from breast cancer. Yet, far fewer research dollars are spent per lung cancer death—$1,490 versus $21,641 for breast cancer. (A Sick Stigma by Charlotte Huff, Slate.com)
For other cancers, behaviors such as eating habits, alcohol, and stress are often called into question. While lifestyle is definitely a major contributor to all illnesses, including cancer, it isn’t appropriate to talk about these conjectures regarding a patient, unless you are the patient or their doctor. To do so, is either gossip or just plain tacky, depending on who you are speaking with.
The reality is, people are just trying to make sense of a senseless disease.
Job’s friends aren’t the only ones to engage in the, “how did this happen,” sleuthing. To this day, we can only guess at the cause of Dan’s lung cancer. Radon is the top guess, just because it’s statistically most likely. But when and where did he get the radon? Who knows? One in three homes in Minnesota has an unsafe level of radon.
Dan has lived a “good, clean,” life. But, what if he hadn’t? Can you imagine all of the second-guessing that a cancer patient does at that point? We sometimes joke that he got cancer from the polluted air in Egypt. Really, it’s more of the same, “How could this happen?”
A skin cancer patient will look back on that sunburn from 2 years ago and curse the fact that he didn’t use sunscreen like his wife had nagged him to.
Someone with liver cancer will wonder if it was all of the partying she did back in her college days. Or, was it the acetaminophen she takes daily for chronic headaches?
We want to know why.
Cancer is such a complicated disease. Until it touches you, directly, you don’t have a lot of reasons to gain an in-depth understanding of it. Social-media “science” only adds to the confusion. It’s horrible to think that bad things could happen to good people. It causes a sense of dread in all of us. After all, that would mean we aren’t immune. So, we try to conjure up a reasonable explanation for the cause of the illness or tragedy. Otherwise, how do I know it won’t happen to me?
Unfortunately, when we do this, we are acting more like Job’s friends than supportive friends.
What Are YOUR Thoughts?
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker