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Cancer, then COVID-19: Accepting suffering

Published: October 22, 2020   
Matthew Moix

In a recent conversation with a teacher, I brought up that I had just tested positive for COVID-19. She had been out of town, so she was not aware of the news. She expressed her sympathy and recalled something that her dad used to say. He called people like me a “victim soul,” because God calls me to suffer for others because of my strength and persistence.

Over the last year or so, it feels like there has been one complication after another in my life. Last summer, I had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. I could not bear weight for about six weeks afterward, so I began the school year on crutches. 

Less than a month into the school year in 2019, I was diagnosed with cancer. In February, after five months of battling non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and staying relatively isolated, I was declared cancer-free. 

In March, I returned to a much more normal life, which included going back to school full time. No more than two weeks after my return to school, I was sent back home as schools closed nationwide and switched to online instruction because of the pandemic. Like many others, I stayed isolated for much of the summer. 

People go to extreme lengths … instead of acknowledging that suffering is a natural part of life.

Once again, not a month into this school year, I tested positive for COVID-19. 

I don’t say this to make anyone feel sorry for me. I think the feeling of “I can’t catch a break” is all too common right now. I would not necessarily consider myself to have suffered that much more than the average person. I wouldn’t call myself a “victim soul,” either. I know many people who are in a tougher situation than I am, especially children who are burdened with more before they reach high school than any one person should have to experience in a lifetime. 

If you were raised Christian, you have probably heard some version of the phrase “everyone has their own cross to bear” at least a few hundred times by now. As cliché as it is, it still holds true, especially amid the pandemic, social and civil unrest and political uncertainty. 

The other phrase that every Christian kid has heard when suffering is the classic “offer it up” for a specific intention. This one, especially, has annoyed me at times because it does not offer tangible relief. 

It’s part of our nature to seek physical comfort, but we should not neglect the emotional side of things. The point of the “offer it up” strategy is to give a purpose to your pain and unite yourself to someone else who is going through a hard time. I am incredibly fortunate to know many family members, friends and even people whom I had never met who made sacrifices for me during difficult points in my life. 

The other universal purpose of sacrificing your suffering is to unite yourself to Christ’s passion and death. 

What would our world be like if more people simply shouldered their burdens in sacrifice instead of trying to shed them? I don’t mean keeping unnecessary struggles that can be easily resolved. I mean that people go to extreme lengths to try to get rid of whatever it is weighing them down instead of acknowledging that suffering is a natural part of life. Too often, we lose family members and friends to drugs, alcohol, other addictions and even suicide because they thought that these material things were an easy way to end their hardships. How much more unified would we be as a society if we shared our hardship instead of trying to handle them on our own? W.H. Auden wasn’t pulling any punches when he said, “We must love one another or die.”

We’re all suffering right now, be it from unemployment, sickness, loneliness, loss of a loved one or any other burden. Christ reminds us, though, that our tribulation is not futile: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Matthew Moix is a senior at Ozark Catholic Academy in Tontitown. He attends St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers.

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