The Elephant in the Room

by Joanie Butman

Over the years I’ve often been applauded for how I manage living with an incurable disease.  While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not unusual. People do it every day. There is a slew of ‘incurable’ ailments other than cancer that people learn to live with: ALS, MS, Crohns, paralysis, old age, even grief. The list is endless, and many of them are a lot worse than cancer. None of us has a choice in what cards we’re dealt in life. How we choose to play them, however, will be life defining. If we don’t like our hand, do we fold and quit, or do we go all in and determine the best approach in playing the cards we’ve been allocated. Chris Waddell, a paralympic athlete, is a perfect example. His motto is “It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.”

So how do we learn to embrace the cards we’d prefer to discard in order to live fully and joyfully despite our challenges? Good question and a conundrum humans have been facing since we were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Even Paul, a Biblical giant, mourns, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” I’ve often wondered about the nature of his thorn. Was it Depression? Migraines? Arthritis? Ongoing foot issues from all that walking? Or perhaps it was a person – we’ve all got a few of those.

Developing healthy coping skills is crucial when dealing with chronic conditions - whether it be our own humanity or a specific ailment. Denial, though widely popular, is not one I’d recommend over the long haul. There’s just no ignoring the elephant in the room. Sooner or later, he will start getting in the way. Personally, making friends with the enemy within is how I choose to tame the beast. I think it was Abe Lincoln who said, “The best way to defeat an enemy is to make him your friend.” I couldn’t agree more. By befriending your foes, you disarm them. They lose their power over you, which frees you from living under their constant threat. More importantly, you are then open to recognizing and receiving unexpected blessings through your circumstances.

The tribbles (my nickname for my tumors) are a perfect example but certainly not my only chronic condition. Remember last week’s blog – stupid is forever!! Well, apparently so is crazy. Over fifteen years ago, I was prescribed medication for depression. At the time I was told I was a ‘lifer,’ meaning the therapist recommended I never stop taking them. I think my husband would heartily agree. Anyway, I thank God every day for the miracle of modern medicine that offered me a solution to a condition that was affecting my entire life and of those around me. About the same time, I was reading a book by a catholic priest who also suffers from depression. He comments, “The first community service I perform every morning is taking my medication.” I laughed out aloud because it’s so true.

A more recent example came during a course on Boundaries and Conflict Resolution this week. We were given three short quizzes to diagnose our emotional exhaustion levels. Based on the results, I would've been better served leaving and checking into the nearest mental healthcare facility than sitting in a leadership course. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised.

Especially with cancer I’ve learned the best approach is to befriend the elephant in the room because by doing so, it puts it in its proper place – which isn’t front and center. Admittedly, there are times when it’s necessary to make it a priority as treatments dictate, but it doesn’t need to consume your every thought because then you become a psychological prisoner of a physical condition. These photos are an excellent illustration. Who would you rather be?


The only chronic condition you don't want to embrace is sin. Granted, we're all mired in it. We'll never be fully cured this side of the grave, but this is one instance where you definitely DO NOT want to befriend it regardless of how enticing it may appear.

This is also a condition where denial is the favored approach and often our default. It’s also the most lethal. You can’t address something you choose to deny. Trust me, just like any kind of cancer, left untreated, it will grow and spread. You never want to get so comfortable living with sin that you don’t think you need treatment. Again, and I speak from experience, this technique is never a good play. When it comes to sin, Christ is the only trump card you need. He’s our Get Out Of Jail Free card. He is the only winning maneuver to choose when dealing with whatever ails you - whether it be cancer of the body or of the soul.


Choose your next move wisely.

Chris Waddell tells of a defining choice in his life..