I have always been someone who enjoys reading. Returning to doctoral work has ensured that I am never without something to read! These days I am wading through the likes of Kant, Heidegger, Nietzche, and Camus, to name a few. I am not a philosopher by any means so most of the reading makes my brain hurt.
But while developing a reading list with my advisor, and knowing my interest in illness/disability narratives, he mentioned the book Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace by Deanna Thompson. I read it this past week as a form of respite from Heidegger and if you are interested in illness and faith journeys I cannot recommend the book enough.
The book begins with Thompson, a theologian, wife, and mother, discovering she has stage IV breast cancer. As she grimly notes there is no stage V and only 20% of those diagnosed survive beyond the five year mark. The book describes much of her first year of life and treatment. She writes openly about her journey with fear and debilitating illness. She also writes openly about moments of community, hope, and grace.
While there is much about the book that I loved, what I most admired about the book is that she is painfully honest about the chaos narrative. Her story could have easily been written as a quest narrative – one that overcomes illness and disability with a story of spiritual triumph. But yet she resists doing this – particularly noteworthy because her story could easily be called miraculous. She is a theologian and a deeply faithful women. Within moments of her diagnosis massive communities are mobilized in prayer and active support. And within a year of treatment readers learn that her cancer markers fall into remission, and to the best of our understanding five years post diagnosis she is living well with cancer. It could have been easy for Thompson to focus on the miraculous, have-faith-and-God-answers, part of her story. But she does not.
Thompson writes a chapter entitled “The Trouble with Miracles”. In this chapter she admits that her story could be called miraculous, but unlike those who subscribe to the prosperity gospel and its ilk she is clear that she is no more deserving of a miracle than the hundreds of thousands of people who live with, and die with, cancer and other horrible illnesses. And while I am glad for her miracle, and am saddened by stories without one, I am grateful that she is honest about the capriciousness of life.
As someone who feels that much of the last 18 years of my life has been a journey with chaos I am always grateful to find stories that are honest about a chaotic life. These stories are very affirming since they are not usually part of our collective narrative. And while Thompson’s story is clear about the chaos, she eloquently shares that even amid the most extreme chaos there can be glimmers of grace and hope. Simply put, while she is honest that life with cancer sucks, she does not leave the reader in despair. If you are interested in stories of faith, hope, illness, and chaos, I cannot recommend Hoping for More enough.