Great Lent is a journey to Pascha which we Orthodox make together as a community. There always is also a personal dimension to the sojourn and struggle as we each work out our salvation through prayer, fasting, charity, repentance and forgiveness.
This year during Lent, my own sojourn included a surprise. It was discovered that I have a malignant tumor in my right lung. On Thursday of Holy Week I learned the results of a PET scan which made more certain the diagnosis. On Tuesday of Bright Week, a lung biopsy confirmed that I have lung cancer.
Lung cancer in a non-smoker is fairly uncommon, so I’m in a select group of humans. The doctors are currently mapping out a treatment plan. This is the beginning for me of a new sojourn with many dimensions to it. Though it completely involves my body, it will be a spiritual sojourn. It will bring to a physical level an abstract question I have grappled with for more than forty years: “what does it mean to be human?” The question will no longer be abstract for I no longer can ignore the fact that as a material being, there are limits to be learned and which bind me to the earth. I will experience how the physical and spiritual are related because they are part of the same reality – the world brought into existence by the Creator.
The “good news” in this is that the tumor is still small, growing slowly and at least according to the tests has not spread. As a non-smoker my lungs are otherwise healthy. This week I will undergo a few more tests which will determine what course will be followed. Currently it appears that surgery to remove the affected portion of the lung is the best option for eliminating the cancer. As one friend told me, the role of the medical profession is to remove all of the obstacles to healing.
It is part of learning to be human.