Heavenly graces, cardinal virtues, cancer and Christmas.

christmas paint

christmas paint (Photo credit: cassie_bedfordgolf)


Yesterday was busy as Christmas Day always seems to be. Cooking, cooking and more cooking followed by cleaning up. I didn’t mind because the meal was very much enjoyed, even by my son who employs the ‘avoid vegetables at all costs’ policy. Time spent in the kitchen offered an opportunity to reflect on the past year and  consider what it’s like spending Christmas with cancer treatment as my ever-present companion.


The words ‘faith, hope and charity’ came to mind as I checked the turkey’s progress.  I’m agnostic and although those words are described by some as the heavenly graces, to me they’re just words with some significant meaning.  Having contemplated the heavenly graces I also mulled over cardinal virtues; fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance.  The Greek philosophers identified these many, many years ago and philosophy was one of my recent topics of study so it’s no surprise the cardinal virtues joined forces with faith, hope and charity as I prepared our carrots and parsnips.


These seven words –  faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance are as good as any to describe the experience of cancer at Christmas, the dirty mark it left on 2012 and my attempts to erase it.  I like things to be relatively clean and tidy, not perfect but passable.  Cancer doesn’t fit that bill:


CleanAdverb – so as to be free from dirt, marks, or unwanted matter.                   Adjective – free from irregularities, having a smooth edge or surface.


Tidy: Verb – bring order to, arrange neatly.  Adjective – arranged neatly and in order.


I’m no longer free from marks or irregularities nor am I arranged neatly and in order.  My treatment plan is designed to eradicate unwanted matter but there are no guarantees. I aim to be passable in 2013 hence my theme for today is Faith. 


Detecting that there’s something wrong with our bodies calls for faith.  Faith that we’ve a relatively good idea about what we look and feel like, what’s normal and abnormal. Without this underlying faith I’d have faced a heap more trouble this year.  The trouble I found myself in was trouble enough.   Unlike crustaceans and salamanders we can’t regenerate body parts and we can’t operate on ourselves so we have to place our faith in the medical profession; sometimes its a challenge.  I received a clean bill of health in January 2012. What if I’d ignored the inner voice whispering “there’s something wrong” until  January 2013?  It’s almost too scary to contemplate.


Fortunately I trusted my instincts and returned to the medics; unfortunately they confirmed my concerns. Diagnosis is one thing but treatment is quite another.  There’s so much to weigh-up at a time when rational thought can be displaced by disbelief.  More faith was required – to remain positive, chose the optimal treatment pathway, believe surgery and harsh chemotherapy would do the job (without killing me in the process or disabling me for the rest of my life).


These are big decisions that medical science can inform but as yet no-one is equipped to fully underwrite.  Alone with the knowledge that any choice I made would be life-changing called for a leap of faith. The maze that is cancer and its treatment meant I’d either find myself on solid ground or I’d need to learn to fly PDQ.


Cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy, is challenging.  Being confined to a physical body undergoing chemical warfare and death at a multi-cellular level on a regular basis isn’t an everyday experience (thank goodness).  Things fall off – hair, eyelashes, nails; other things stop functioning – healing processes, skin renewal, the immune system.  I learned how to fly to combat an extended period of imprisonment in a body I barely recognised that’s ill-equipped to do the things I want to do.  Flying combines a good deal of faith that in time, things will repair themselves with the knowledge that I can think myself free.  Free from needles, free from chemicals, free from hospitals, physical impairments and pain.  My physical body may well be dying at a rapid pace on a regular basis but it doesn’t mean my spirit has to follow suit.  It can be anywhere it wants to be.


Christmas with cancer has been quite different to other Christmases. Socialising in crowded places is off-limits and visiting or receiving visitors is only possible if people are fit and well.  I’m happy in my own company but I never imagined being a hermit and this Christmas is proving unusually reclusive due to the need to avoid germs. Waking on Christmas morning in the knowledge that I’d be back at chemo camp in three days, on steroids again within 48 hours and doing a human pincushion impression several times before the week was through also put a slightly different complexion on things.  It would have been easy to dwell on  these less than festive thoughts but they’d have stolen the spirit of Christmas.  I set them aside, had faith that I could ignore them and went about making it an enjoyable day for the sake of my family.  My mission was accomplished  – they enjoyed it and that’s all I asked, with the help of a little faith.

In spite of this year’s difficulties, having faith that I could overcome adversity and in the abilities of those who care for me has enabled me to jump some significant hurdles while remaining relatively unscathed.

Tomorrow I’ll reflect with justice as my theme.


13 thoughts on “Heavenly graces, cardinal virtues, cancer and Christmas.

  1. Pingback: Hope – why I saved this one for last. | FEC-THis

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  3. Really interesting to know that you are cooking with yummilicious ingredients like philosophy N other life encouraging thoughts 😉 That’s cool. 🙂

    If my philosophical studies are right, yes Cardinal Virtues have initially derived from Plato’s thoughts but it’s its root in theology as well; if we check thoroughly we would find it’s adaptation in christian tradition too.

    Well, I believe every one in life – at certain juncture – will definitely become agnostic. I dunno what you’ve in mind about agnostic concept.
    Even though I am not sure of His (God’s) existence or importance in our life I am not agnostic but maybe little bit of doubting regarding something n something 😉
    You will be aware of Plato’s absolute concepts like The Absolute Truth N Absolute Beauty 🙂 which indirectly says nothing but an absolute power (I guess so).

    Alright, since I don’t believe in new or old year stuff. Wish you an Evergreen Year N evergreen happy life 🙂


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  6. Thank you Elizabeth. I read your posts and take comfort from them, from the connection and the shared understanding. I feel for you when you face the darker moments, I giggled like a schoolgirl at Ollie in his tiara and I’m glad, so very glad, when you’re sticking plaster free. I have faith in you too, you’ve been on such a journey this year and I know you also have more to come but that finishing line and the prize of a procedure-free future is now within both our grasps 🙂


  7. Pingback: Cardinal virtues, cancer and justice. It just is. | FEC-THis

    • We may be in different parts of the world but we are in this together and we’ll fly through it together. We’re stronger than we look and freer than we think 🙂


  8. An interesting and informative article Tracy. Your philosophy studies have obviously stood you in good stead. As you are aware, I’m agnostic as well. It’s not that I don’t believe, I’m just undecided and prefer to put my faith in things that can be proven. Having been brought up as a Christian, I don’t disbelieve that there may have been an extreemly good and caring man call Jesus, but to believe in an ‘all powerful’ entity who oversees mankind as a whole is a stretch too far for me. No caring God could put his ‘children’ through the horrors that happen every day. I prefer, like you, to put my faith in those good and charitable human beings who give themselves wholly to the betterment of others by gaining as much knowledge as possible about their particular speciality.
    I have faith in you, in that you have the ability to overcome your present problems, and in those who are treating you, in their ability to apply the best possible treatment. Let us all go forward, with ‘Faith’ – into 2013 and beyond.


    • I am, as ever, a ‘chip off the old block.’ I believe there are many things we don’t fully understand, about life the universe and everything. I believe in nature and the natural order of things because it’s visible and tangible but I suspect there’s something beyond our current comprehension as studies on donor hearts and imprinted memories are starting to highlight. I’m lucky to have very charitable people in my life with kind hearts and warm spirits. Fortunately they make up the majority of the people I know and that helps a great deal in holding on to the faith. ❤ xxx


  9. I like the idea of taking on themes, Tracy. Faith is a very good one. And justice, wow, there’s so much to say about that in respect to cancer. I know that you have more to take on treatment wise but even in the short time I’ve been reading your blog, you have accomplished so much. I have faith in you!


    • I’m having a few problems when trying to reply on anything other than my laptop – I suspect its me not the technology. I think we’ve both accomplished things that might easily approach miracle territory this year. Our roads have been bumpy – for us and for our loved ones – but we stride on together and that’s what counts. Our path’s will get smoother as 2013 progresses, I am very certain of it.


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