Real Characters, Real Cancer

Kara's blog, Mundane Faithfulness.
Kara’s blog, Mundane Faithfulness.

I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but I want to point you to the blog of a friend of ours: Mundane Faithfulness, written by Kara Tippetts. Kara’s husband, Jason, is our pastor. He, Kara, and their four kids moved to Colorado Springs in early 2012 to plant a church. Just a few months after they moved, Kara found a lump in her breast. Days later, doctors diagnosed her with Stage II breast cancer.

After months of chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy, and planting a church that continues to grow beyond expectations, Kara got better. Her hair began growing back. She regained energy enough to go on a long vacation with her family. A few weeks ago, as she was preparing for a hysterectomy, a scan showed new cancer. One week ago her uterus was removed, and doctors were able to look at the tumors.

Cancer again, worse than before. From her first post after surgery:

 I am now facing stage four metastatic cancer. There is not a stage five. My oncologist came, but offered few options for me. People around me clung to his options as good hope, but I feel like I could see through his words. When I mentioned I might take a different path to enjoy living instead the pain of fighting, my compassionate doctor looked at me with understanding eyes. It’s clear what I have is aggressive, it did not take it’s time working through my tired body.

I have upset a few people with my blunt assessment of this situation. My options are limited, highly limited, but I’m not without hope. I may lack much hope for my time in this place, but I certainly have not lost hope. I may be dying, but I don’t want to be treated like the walking dead. I want to laugh, find joy, fight for my moments. I’m not giving up, but I plan to fight for a life that feels like living.

I can’t shake her thought: I may be dying, but I don’t want to be treated like the walking dead. Jason asked our church yesterday to treat his family like normal people. I confess I don’t know how to do that. Julie and I haven’t been on the inside of Kara’s cancer fight like some people have. But we’ve seen enough to know how brave Kara has been. As a husband and a dad, I’ve watched Jason — and prayed for Jason — as he keeps his fatherly, husbandly, and pastoral burdens together, helpless to stop the cancer silently growing inside his wife. Speaking as a man who wouldn’t know what to do without his wife, I’m astounded at Jason. As for Kara, I could never begin to comprehend what this fight has been like for her, partly because we have watched from further away. To listen to someone tell you, indirectly, that this thing inside of you will likely end your life is an experience I think most of us don’t know how to process; sometimes empathy’s impossibility leaves only a threadbare sympathy. Such is how I feel for Kara.

Please read Kara’s blog. Painful though it is — especially when you see the photos there; oh, the pain juxtaposed with such joy in some of those photos — I do think it helps those of us who read it to be more sympathetic and empathetic, in small ways.

I’m spending two days with a new friend and his family in Louisiana. This place I’m visiting is the backdrop for my friend’s book, in which he chronicles the story of his sister’s cancer, the community here that supported her, and how on the day of her funeral, he decided to permanently move his family back to his hometown.

The church where my friend's sister's funeral was held.
The church where my friend’s sister’s funeral was held.

I’m writing this sitting in the chair on the cover of his book. Last night after dinner, he took me to his parents’ house, who figure prominently in the book. As we headed up their drive, with my friend pointing to his sister’s house across a field, I said, “I’m nervous. I’m meeting characters from a book.” But these folks here are not characters — they’re real, flesh-and-blood people. People whose hearts were broken when their little girl died and left behind a grieving husband and three daughters. I walked around the historic town this morning on my own and found landmarks from the book: where my friend’s sister’s best friend lives; the church where her funeral was. Tonight we’ll visit her grave. It’s sinking in: this woman wasn’t just so much ink spilled on paper. She was real. These people are real. The hurt, bewilderment, and healing are real.

I’ve known Kara was real, because we knew her before her cancer. Yet it’s reading her blog that I come closer to empathy and some shadow of understanding what she, Jason, and the kids are going through, which I’m sure says more about me and my own callousness than anything else.

Whether you know her personally or not, read her story. Pray for her, Jason, and their kids.


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