2 1/2 stars upgraded to 3
Being in remission from ovarian cancer myself, I am always eager to read books that are being marketed towards people who have just received the diagnosis of cancer or are in the middle of their own cancer journey. I want to see what the author is ‘selling’ so to speak and if it’s based in reality or not. I am especially tough on books that come from Christian publishers as I feel they have a greater responsibility to reach out to everyone. And I want to see that they are taking a strong position about healing that is both spiritual and physical, but I also want the reality of death to be addressed. And sadly, this is where this book, Prayers for Difficult Times – Cancer, ultimately fails for me as something I would open heartedly give to anyone who is struggling with cancer long term.
It starts off really strongly and talks about the initial stages of what a person goes through when they are given the diagnosis of cancer by their doctor. The fact that there is disbelief, terror and denial in equal measure are all covered in the early chapters and they are covered really well. I could recognise the descriptions of the emotions and the feelings they produced in many parts. It even dares to write a chapter on being angry with God for allowing this to happen (although it’s important to understand that God didn’t allow this to happen so much as it’s a result of sin in the world and we are all under its dominion until we claim salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and go home to heaven.) It then has chapters of acceptance and covers feelings of doubt in the face of a formidable foe but always comes from a point of view that we can doubt and yet believe that God is in control of the seeming uncontrollable.
Then the book breaks off into chapters of prayer starters for all kinds of situations. There is a prayer starter for the family, and friends, the medical staff, for spouses and children. It delves into topics such as physical pain, isolation, anxiety, facing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It has a chapter to start of prayers for dealing with side effects, when exhaustion takes over and any number of other topics. It ends with topics such as peace, hope, joy, love and life. And there are parts in this book in which Sanna absolutely nails it. There are times when I wanted to throw my fist into the air and whoop with delight, because she got it so right.
But the one thing it doesn’t go into is the possibility that despite the faithful prayers, good medical treatment and all the gumption and prayers in the world, that the cancer starts winning the battle. This book never confronts the reality that sometimes good people die because of cancer. The doctor says stage four, and there’s nothing more can be done – what then? There is no acknowledgement that sometimes physical healing doesn’t come to a person and they die. This is annoying for two reasons. One, it’s not reasonable to expect that every person who gets the diagnosis of cancer is going to come out victorious over the cancer this side of Jesus coming back. Two, if a person was reading this book and wasn’t getting the positive outcomes that they think they should be getting, it might really do a number to their faith and how they view themselves. They might think that they are to blame, that they haven’t prayed enough, that they should have fasted and got prayer chains around the globe praying for them and that they deserve to have cancer. And that is so wrong. There are people who are going to read this book that are going to actually die from their cancer plain and simple. To merely brush over that reality is not a caring, loving or honest way to treat people in the middle of what is probably the worst time of their lives.
The other issue with this book is that it doesn’t really address single people or single parents. It assumes that family means a spouse and children. What about those Christians who have never been married or who are divorced and don’t have the support of a spouse to fall back on? Sure, the single person can skip over those chapters and move on with their reading, but why should they? Surely they are in need of support and encouragement as much as a married person fighting cancer. Surely they deserve prayer starters that specifically address their place in the world also. It would not have taken that much to write a couple of extra chapters with singles and single parents in mind. As a single parent myself, the overriding fear I face with my cancer battle is that I will lose and my daughter will be forced to live with her non-Christian father, whom she doesn’t have a good relationship with. That terrifies me. Some prayer starters covering that issue would be very welcome for those days when it seems hopeless or frightening. And I’m sure that talking with a single Christian facing cancer would have a unique outlook on what they fear or need prayer for, something that could easily be researched by the author.
It would seem that she has had no personal experience with cancer or didn’t she didn’t spread her research net wide enough. Prayers for difficult times should include everyone but this is a safe book meant to not offend the religious people in the audience. The very ones who seem to imply that you brought this on yourself because your faith journey wasn’t strong enough. People are being left out. What about widows or widowers? They don’t have a place in this book.
Cancer is brutal. It doesn’t discriminate – it attacks without rhyme or reason. Grief needs to be acknowledged when there is no hope, which is not done in this book. For such a situation, when the diagnosis is terminal, Joyce Hutchinson’s book “On My Way Home: A Hospice Nurse’s Journey with Terminal Cancer” published by Ava Maria Press in March 2017 is a far better and more encouraging book to offer to people who may be facing a hopeless situation.
What Sanna covers in the book is great, but some glaring holes have been left in the fabric of this volume and it makes for a flimsy piece overall.