Why Cancer?

April Amiot and her family have been Assembly of God missionaries since 2004. Their first term was spent in Mexico City, and the following two terms in Costa Rica. They work with university students and have helped start the international network of university ministries called Red Universitaria which reaches students throughout Latin America.

In 2009 I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer, and it felt like the straw that might break the camel’s back. My family and I had been serving as missionaries in Mexico City when our youngest “bonus baby” was born with some major health issues. The first year and a half of her life I spent taking her from specialist to specialist seeking answers. We were under so much stress, it’s hard to fathom how we kept this child alive except by the grace of God. This was the time when Mexico City was upgraded by the U.S. State Department to “more dangerous than Colombia” in regards to murders and kidnappings of U.S. Citizens. Daily the news carried stories of roadside graves filled with headless corpses and towns terrorized by warring drug cartels. We didn’t go out at night. It was dangerous to travel from the capital city to the border by car. We were harassed daily by corrupt police officers looking for bribes from foreigners. Our house was robbed. Our car was stolen. The Swine Flu Epidemic was just beginning. And now the doctors were telling us that they had done everything they could for our sick baby. They told us to go home, she would not survive here.

We went home with our sick baby wondering what God was trying to tell us. Within 3 weeks, I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. After that, I stopped journaling. I no longer had the physical strength to hold a pen nor the mental will power to deeply process what I was experiencing. I down shifted into survival mode. Moreover, I was not at all sure that I really wanted to remember my cancer treatment. I didn’t want to remember the complications following my surgery. Or my hair falling out by the handfuls. Or laying on the cold bathroom tiles trying desperately not to throw up. Or losing my senses of taste and smell because of the radiation treatment. Or the frighteningly uncontrollable weight gain. Or the Fibromyalgia that the cancer triggered. Or the brain fog that turned me into a zombie. I prayed that my children would not remember me like that. I did not want to think about the line of pill bottles on my kitchen counter.

Though I appeared to have resigned myself to my new normal, my first indication that I had some unresolved emotional issues was that Gratitude would stick in my throat. Whenever anyone said to me, “God is good! You survived.” I would hum a vague response, uh-hu. Sure I had survived, but at what cost? For what purpose? I asked God, “Why? Why cancer? What is this all about?” And He never answered me. It was as if I sat in judgement on God. If His reason for giving me cancer was good enough, then I would admit that, yes God is good and His ways are higher than mine. But if His answer failed to satisfy, then God was unjust and cruel. But He did not answer me, and I eyed Him warily from the corner of my world.

On the surface, I looked like a good missionary should. But underneath it all, I was angry. I was angry about my loss of health and strength. I was angry about the chronic pain that was my new normal. I was angry when other people’s lives look so easy. I was angry at my genetics. I was angry with things that only God can control, so by default, I was angry with God. Angry and scared of His power at the same time.

Then I read an idea that was strong enough to make me question my own point of view. It was in a devotional called “Live Dead Joy” and it said, “Biblically, suffering is a gift... Thorns are given. We do not accidentally step on our designated thorns- God lovingly selects them for us. Our thorns are handpicked, God-made, and uniquely designed to keep us humble. Gifts are intended to be cherished, and if God is the giver, then our thorns should be precious to us.” (p. 90)

This took my breath away! I cannot say that I am resolved enough to think of my cancer as a gift, but whatever it is, I have resolved to give it to God as an offering. Let Him do with it what He will. I have shared my testimony in front of groups of women both large and small and watched the tears roll down cheeks that have been creased with pain and sorrows. Foreheads wrinkle and heads nod as women pass tissues to each other and affirm that what I am saying rings true in their hearts as well. God draws near to the broken and crushed in spirit. God bottles up our tears as a precious offering. But God does not explain the “Why” to us as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, He only reveals Himself. And that is enough.

Is it part of your daily habit to pray for missionaries? Pray for the health of missionaries and their families as they serve in stressful or dangerous settings.

Nicco Musacchio