Faith During a Cancer Battle
- Easter weekend is fast approaching. For Timothy Keller, a man of Christian faith recently diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, his terminal diagnosis allows the holiday to mean even more.
- Timothy’s taken his pancreatic cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to renew his faith in Jesus Christ, something he speaks candidly about with The New York Times leading up to the Easter holiday.
- For some, including the Kellers, turning to faith can be a great way to keep spirits high when cancer starts taking an emotional and/or physical toll. In fact, a 2015 survey found that 69% of cancer patients reported praying for their health compared to 45% of the general United States population.
Timothy Keller, a man of Christian faith, was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer almost two years ago. According to an opinion piece published in The New York Times over the weekend, Timothy, his wife, Kathy, and their three children moved to New York City in 1989 to “start a church from scratch.”Read More
In 2020, when Timothy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he said: “The doctor looked at us and said, ‘I want you to realize that when it comes to pancreatic cancer, you’re going to die from this.’”
While Timothy equated that moment to death, he’s taken his pancreatic cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to renew his faith in Jesus. He spoke with Tish about this as a way to honor the start of Holy Week — something many Christians around the world will begin to observe today (Monday, April 11) in preparation for Easter.
Faith During a Cancer Battle
During a health crisis, such as Timothy’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, it’s important to find ways to cope with the complex web of feelings you may be experiencing.
For some, including the Kellers, turning to faith can be a great way to keep spirits high when cancer starts taking an emotional and/or physical toll. In fact, a 2015 National Health Interview Survey found that 69% of cancer patients reported praying for their health compared to 45% of the general United States population.
This was the case for ovarian cancer survivor Monica Layton, whose church congregation helped her both spiritually and physically as she battled cancer during the Covid-19 pandemic. Her church also aided in her recovery after treatment.
“(I’ve) gone to the same church for a long time, so it’s like another family that really supports me,” Layton previously told SurvivorNet. “We’re Episcopalian, and when I was having surgery, my priest came to the hospital and stayed and prayed with my family the whole time — and it was a long surgery. And then he came back to the hospital every day to pray with me.”
In addition to praying for her, Layton’s church congregation also sent flowers, cards and a prayer blanket. They often visited her, as well.
“They were so kind,” Layton said. “I think my faith has been very important, crucial for me — just the prayer really helps, I think.”
Timothy’s Easter Reflections Post Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
“Holy Week gives you both death and resurrection,” Timothy told Tish. “They don’t make any sense apart. You can’t have the joy of resurrection unless you’ve gone through a death, and death without resurrection is just hopeless. Essentially, the death/resurrection motif or pattern is absolutely at the heart of what it means to live a Christian life. And actually everything in life is like that.”
“I do think that the great thing about cancer is that Easter does mean a whole lot more because I look at Easter and I say, ‘Because of this, I can face anything,’” he continued. “In the past, I thought of Easter as a kind of optimistic, upbeat way of thinking about life. And now I see that Easter is a universal solvent. It can eat through any fear, any anger and despair. I see it as more powerful than ever before.”
When asked how his cancer diagnosis and the “encounter with your own mortality” changed how he viewed both life and death, Timothy said: “On an emotional level, we really do deny the fact that we’re mortal and our time is limited. The day after my diagnosis, one of the words I put down in my journal was ‘focus.’ What are the most important things for you to be spending your time doing? I had not been focused.”
“The second change was you realize that there’s one sense in which if you believe in God, it’s a mental abstraction. You believe with your head. I came to realize that the experiential side of my faith really needed to strengthen or I wasn’t going to be able to handle this,” he continued. “It’s one thing to believe God loves you, another thing to actually feel his love. It’s one thing to believe he’s present with you. It’s another to actually experience his presence.”