The power of shared stories

Before I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, I had only one passion in life and that was literature.  I loved to get lost within the pages of a book; mining each page for hidden treasures of the valuable life lessons learned by the characters as each stumbled and bumbled their way through life page by page, chapter by chapter.  I have so many deeply treasured books, their pages lined with annotations, marked with Scripture references and notes pertaining to my own painful life lessons.  Shortly after being diagnosed, I began to savor the life lessons learned by others with neuroendocrine cancer.  How had the cancer changed their lives?

Shortly after being diagnosed, I began to savor the life lessons learned by others with neuroendocrine cancer.

What lessons did they learn as they fought their way through treatments and surgeries and how could my life be enriched by their experiences?  After weeks of reading survivor stories, I found myself feeling depressed and hopeless.  Personally, I think that my biggest mistake was trying to read someone else’s story that began with chapter 12 when I had barely written an introduction; I was lost, feeling helplessly alone, and infinitely defeated.

It was not long after I had left these survivor stories that I went back to fictional works, my first true literary love.  Do not get me wrong, there is great value in reading the true stories of others suffering the same plight, but not when one’s story has barely just begun.  Now, two years into the journey and with three surgeries under my belt, I can read and savor their stories.  I find solace in their words and a camaraderie in our shared experience; but nothing has helped me more than reading the struggles of fictional characters and how each managed to find victory over or defeat in their circumstances.  I vividly remember sitting in my living room, staring at my fiction collection, neatly shelved on a bookshelf stretching up 11 feet to our cathedral ceiling and having my eyes land on a copy of Beowulf.  

I find solace in their words and a camaraderie in our shared experience; but nothing has helped me more than reading the struggles of fictional characters and how each managed to find victory over or defeat in their circumstances.

It was at that exact moment I heard a voice tell me to go, pick it up, and learn to be the cancer warrior God has called me to be.  I was dumbstruck.  Beowulf? Seriously? I must be hallucinating.  However, out of obedience, I pulled the book from the shelf, opened up its cover and began reading.  From the very first page God spoke to me about the battles fought in the past, the legacy left to me as a result of those battles, and how to take up my armor and follow suit.  I was completely blown away and so much stronger for the experience.

It is my desire to share with anyone who will listen the lessons I have learned from reading great fictional works.  While my focus is on how to cope with a chronic illness, many of these lessons apply to life in general.  Each of us will face battles with the unknown, be left feeling hopeless and lost by life’s circumstances, and find fellowship with fellow sufferers.  This is what I want to achieve with this blog.  We are all living within the confines of a fallen universe and will fall prey to emotionally unbearable circumstances.  There is hope to be found in the stories of those who go before us.

There is hope to be found in the stories of those who go before us.

There are important lessons to be learned from the fictional lives of well-developed characters, and there is a safety for us in watching them succumb to poor choices. We can learn so much from these choices as well as shield ourselves from making similar decisions and being stung as a result. Fictional stories offer us comfort and protect us from making potentially poor decisions; it gives all of us a safe haven to experiment with a myriad of choices and observe first hand the potential results.  This is what great literature does for the reader, it allow us to see the world in all its brokenness as well as find the hope that there will be a glorious future.

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