I have heard women in the “Me-too” movement say things such as, “I didn’t come forward sooner, because I didn’t want my rape (or other sexual assault) to define me.” The sad thing, they are correct as it could define them.
I remember in college there was a big story about a co-ed being raped. It was controversial, because it was a date-rape situation and that was somewhat new to our lexicon (1978). I had a close relationship to this story because, I was working the ER (as just a nursing assistant) the night she was brought in by the dean of women students, for a rape-kit investigation. I was involved with her care. The second reason, was that the perpetrator turned out to be a friend of mine. Not a close friend, but more of an acquaintance. He ( I will call him Ned) had attended our discipleship, Navigator group and our evangelical church. I also had special interest in him because he was from an foreign country, coming to our campus as an exchange student. I’ve always have had a curiosity about the world at large.
I was surprised that Ned did this, although having been there in the ER and seeing how distraught the girl was, I have no doubts that it happened. But Ned was very quiet, gentle, and, like I said, a causal attender of our discipleship group and church. The only thing that I think was a sign that he was capable of doing something like raping a girl, was that he was from a royal family in his home country, very rich, and had (in my opinion) a sense of entitlement. It was odd, but the embassy of his country got involved in the case and, somehow, was able to to protect him from prosecution, by sending him back to his home country.
But this girl was defined by coming out about the rape. I hate to say this, but she was seen as a bit “slutty” after that, due to nothing she did wrong. I heard her tell her story in the ER. It was just a first date and things were going well and then Ned forced himself on her, and punched her in the face in the process. It wasn’t like these stories where the girl was drunk as a skunk (as if that mattered) and people would question her judgement. I also heard a lot of people in the evangelical community, on campus, trying to side with Ned. They knew nothing of the case (and I couldn’t reveal my inside story because of medical confidentiality), but evangelicals tend to protect their own (like Judge Kavanaugh).
Since then, I’ve had many encounters with rape victims as a medical provider, especially when I was providing student health services at Michigan Tech University. I always pushed the girls to go to the authorities, and I often encountered their hesitation because of the fear of being defined by the event, especially if the perpetrator was a jock, or as in one case, a campus Christian (evangelical) leader (he will probably be a judge. . . or president one day).
So any big event in someone’s life can have the tendency to define them, at least in the eyes of others, including things like being a war vet, an immigrant, or the victim of any tragedy. Cancer is no different. For those of us who have been enlisted, or I should say drafted, into this horrible war against this menace, it seems to define us.
I am a bit socially isolated these days, being warned by my care team not to be involved with public gatherings of people. I spend most of my time alone, with just my dog at my side. But when I have had social encounters, I sense the strange awkwardness. The most awkward situations is where acquaintances avoid the “C” word, as the elephant in the room. They are afraid, I believe, that they might say the wrong thing so they pretend, with my bald head glistening in the sun, that everything is normal. Sometimes it becomes difficult for me (in a very selfish way) that my cancer is not brought up, yet the other person talks for 30 minutes about their frustration with a sore toe nail, or how they can only run ten miles at a time, and how they know (due to their family history) that they may only live to be 85 and they wanted to live to be 100, and how they have trips planned to the far corners of the earth. I must sit and listen and smile and try to remain interested. In those situations, I do wish they would just ask me how’s it going or how do I feel. But they are afraid to even bring it up. As I’ve said before, the only thing someone can say (and it happens very rarely) that would piss me off is where they suggest that my cancer is my fault. The health nuts live in an imaginary world that if you just eat right and exercise, you will never have cancer. Therefore, I must have done something wrong. Few evangelicals want to blame me for not having the right kind of faith.
Now, when I say I don’t want my cancer to define me, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to just talk about it and nothing else as if I’m just a big cancer blob. I regret when I’ve talked about it too much, especially when I realize that the other person is suffering as much or more than me and I didn’t talk enough about their health plight. I’m still Mike and while cancer, and the symptoms of it, control my moment by moment living, there is more to me.
One example of cancer trying to define me comes to mind is my recent rant about the subculture of American Evangelicalism. First, I will confess that I sometimes (but not all the time) think it was a mistake to raise my controversial questions about God, the American evangelical subculture, and fate on this forum. So many people seem to think these question are the result of my cancer. It is not! If you think so, you don’t know me. I have been writing about the post-evangelical world for over 20 years. I wrote a book about it (Butterflies in the Belfry) and have contributed to other books about the topic. I’ve had three very active blogs about this topic for over a decade. I’ve written published articles about this. As I said before, and this where I may have had a lapse of judgement, is that my old blog followers were a different set of people. Most of them, like me, were post-evangelical. We understood each other, although we may not have always agreed with one another.
But now, I have (in last count) 166 new followers, and the vast majority are sincere people who just wanted to know about my struggle with cancer. I am deeply grateful for the interest. When people from this new crop read my ramblings about God, evangelicalism, or philosophical thoughts about fate, etc., they immediately think, “Poor Mike. The cancer has caused him to doubt God, how tragic. Now he’s not a true believer.” This is where I don’t like Cancer defining me.
After my last set of articles about why people are leaving the evangelical church the response (at least through the group of personal e-mails) wasn’t, “Oh, there is a problem, what can we do about it?” but “Mike, I see you are in a personal crisis from your cancer and unless you repent, you are going to spend eternity in Hell.” That part is frustrating and makes me even more pessimistic that the culture of American Evangelicalism can be redeemed because they have no interest in introspection only preserving. I will try to avoid talking about evangelicals here again as I didn’t realize how many of the 166 new followers were evangelicals. Denise had warned me that I was going to get into trouble doing that (she is a far more private person than me), and I should have listened. I also offended a lot of southern people and family by talking about being raised as a racist in the south. Every word I said was true and I did not say it to offend anyone, but apparently I did. It was meant to be a point of self-confession.
I’ve never cared a lot about offending people, if I know I am speaking the truth. The only influence that cancer has had on my ramblings is that I care less about offending people because I realize how short life is. I don’t say things to be cruel, but I don’t hesitate to criticize where criticism is due.
I will avoid stepping on evangelicals toes again, because it see it as fruitless. I will raise more philosophical questions, the same questions I’ve been raising for thirty years. I find that many people are far more comfortable in speaking in cliches than thinking their positions through the ultimate ending. That is my only goal, to get people to think. Mike