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Faith and Cancer: Can We, or Dare We, Talk?

Two-time cancer survivor shares her thoughts about that small, quiet voice.
PUBLISHED August 18, 2016
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at,or
Cancer makes it hard to hear that small, quiet voice. Heck, sometimes life makes it hard to hear that voice. Plus, isn’t religion one of those things we aren’t supposed to talk about? Really? We could call that quiet voice faith, spirituality or connection with nature. Spirituality is so much more than organized religion. For me, I call it faith, and find my faith extremely helpful, especially after being diagnosed with cancer twice.  

Prayer helped me through my cancer. It was hard to pray during cancer treatment, or rather, what was really hard was the listening part of prayer. My mind, my emotions and my soul were screaming “Help! Help! Help!” The hard part was to get quiet enough to hear a response.   

Honestly, I am not sure what I "heard," yet through prayer and my connections with family, friends, faith, community and caregivers, I truly felt like God had my back and there was a purpose and a season to my cancer experiences. Yes, I had cancer twice, two different kinds—breast cancer and then an unrelated melanoma. Do I think the cancer could come back? Yes. Faith or not, of course I worry about that.   

Lately, I keep thinking about something my pastor said to me once. “We live in a fallen world.” I repeated this to a friend recently who only heard the negativity or hopelessness of those words. I actually find some sort of comfort and soothing in those words. They’re a reminder that the world isn’t perfect and won’t be perfect, and that is okay.   

Our bodies have problems. Our minds struggle. Our relationships fail. Our world has failing governments, monetary systems and employers. My faith gives me hope in a fallen world. My faith gives me a light to go with the darkness. The older I get, the more I see the light and the dark and the happiness and the sadness together. The good and the bad live side by side in our world and in our lives. Someone once even said to me that one of the characteristics of mental health is being able to hold two opposites in your heart together at the same time. Yes, paradoxes are real and there are many of them.   

Opposites like joy and sadness, suffering and hope, life and death can and do exist side by side in our world, in our lives and in ourselves. Recognizing all the opposites that live together brings me peace. It also helps me lose the perfectionism. Life isn’t perfect. I can’t make it perfect. It won’t be perfect. All I can do is hold the darkness and the light together, and when I can, listen for that small, quiet voice.   

In that pause, when I stop to listen, there is the opportunity to think a moment and choose a different reaction or course of action. There is a reminder that I am not in charge of everything, and there is comfort in that. There is also hope for my change. The hope and my faith, brings understanding, forgiveness and love, and I feel less alone when I stop to listen to that small quiet voice.  
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