My doctor sat beside my hospital bed in the recovery room. He carefully explained to me that he had just removed a precancerous tumor “the size of my thumb” from my colon. “That growth would have been full blown cancer by the time you turned 30,” he said gravely. I was 28 at the time.
I remember the emotion that surged through me when he told me that. I did not feel fear that such a time bomb was ticking inside me, nor did I necessarily feel thankful, although I suppose I was. What I felt was complete elation. Excitement, even. It might seem to be an odd feeling to experience at such a time, but there it was.
A week later, at my follow-up visit, my doctor explained in more detail about the danger I was actually in. We looked at the photos, he explained what he found and counseled me on the many ways I could lower my risk of the polyps returning. I asked questions and he answered them in a way that conveyed concern and a genuine desire to help. Armed with a solid prevention and maintenance plan, I left his office and that same feeling of excitement and elation returned.
If you think this reaction is a bit odd, let me explain. You see, I was happy because I had finally found someone who truly listened to me – and who most likely saved my life. My grandmother was a colon cancer survivor, but no one else in my family has ever had it to my knowledge. Yet, when I was 26 I had a feeling something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was, nor did I have the usual warning signs of colon cancer, so doctor after doctor simply brushed me off with, “You’re too young. We will start screening you when you are 40.”
It took me two years to find a doctor who would listen, and even he admits he was a bit skeptical when I first came in. But after the biopsies were done, he was amazed at the size and progression of the growth. The kind I had was slow growing, and he estimated that this polyp probably started when I was 12 years old.
Sixteen years! That is a long time for something so potentially dangerous to be festering inside a person. Long enough that most people would get so used to the subtle signs that any twinge or tiny warnings begin to be viewed as mild annoyances or ‘just the way things are.’ Kind of like how many people view sin.
When we get used to sin, it becomes quite easy to either brush it aside as no big deal, or to not even realize it is a sin at all. Meanwhile, these sins continue to fester in the soul, killing it. These sins can cut off the light and life from God very quickly, leaving us with no room for God’s grace to work within us, and close our ears to the warnings we may be given along the way.
When I was on my journey back to the faith, I came across two distinct types of attitudes towards sin in the people around me. One group encouraged me on my way, but only if I was headed where they were. “Oh that is not really a sin. The Church does not understand what it is like these days,” they would say. “Think about it. If that was still considered a sin, just about all of us would be sinning! Confess it if you want, but it is no big deal. The Church says to let your conscience be your guide . . .”
Then there was the other group, who also encouraged me, but they did so by challenging me to stretch myself to reach closer to God. They did not try to make me comfortable in my sins. They helped me see where my sins actually were. They did not brush my concerns off at all. In fact, they sent me to confession! What they had to say to me was not very pleasant, but I had to hear it to begin the healing process, and I am eternally grateful to them for helping me return to spiritual health.
Over the years, I have learned to identify my risk factors and come up with a prevention and maintenance plan for cancer in my future. I have also learned where my spiritual weaknesses lie and found ways to avoid the things that may tempt me to fall into sin. And of the two skills, I am by far more grateful for the prevention and maintenance plans I have in place for my soul.
As Lent comes to a close, remember this: a soul riddled with venial sin is diseased and dying. And if mortal sin is present, the soul is already dead whether we feel it or not. That is why it is so vital to surround yourself with those who will help you stay spiritually healthy instead of enabling you in your sin. Find yourself a holy priest who will is willing to listen to you, and can assist you in rooting out that which may be festering inside. And finally, get into the habit of examining your conscience nightly to alert you to any emerging problems that may be developing. This spiritual prevention and maintenance plan will help you catch your tendency towards sin early and seek help from the Divine Physician so that, at the end of your life, you are not taken by surprise by the cancer of sin that had so quietly killed your soul.
Copyright 2017 Cassandra Poppe