Cody Lee is a WHUS family member who was recently diagnosed with Non-Hodgekins Lymphoma. He has decided to keep everyone up-to-date with his experience by occasional postings on WHUS.org. Cody joined WHUS in the summer of 2010 and is currently a sophomore at UConn. If you'd like to get in touch with him, you can email him here. Follow Cody's posts here.
These past few days have been very busy for me as I’m out of the hospital and healthy enough to go have fun. So instead of my normal journal post, here’s the bit on prayer I promised you all.
PLEASE, READ THIS ENTIRE POST BEFORE POSTING HALF-INFORMED ANGRY COMMENTS, OR SENDING HALF-INFORMED ANGRY EMAILS. If, after you have gone through the entire post and gained a firm grasp of the ideas presented, you want to make a relevant and insightful comment, then I fully encourage it. But to be clear, I am not asking anyone to do anything for me specifically here, and I am not asking anyone to change their beliefs.
It is a common misconception that “There are no atheists in (insert name of a place where many people die here).” The most well-known of these places being “foxholes”. This is of course, not true. As you probably know, I have cancer and I am an atheist. I am currently an atheist in a cancer ward. Granted, my doctors don’t expect me to die, but it’s definitely a very real possibility. The point is, the above mentioned phrase is a ridiculous insult that implies atheism is a weak belief that disappears at the first sign of trouble. This is not true for most atheists, just as most religious people don’t abandon their faith the second it looks like their god has forsaken them.
So why am I writing this? One reason is that I have a lot to say on this subject, and it will run too long to be posted in my regular “Cancer” journal, which now contains an abridged version of this, and a promise to make a full post. The other reason, is that I find that people often pray for me and I consider it to be offensive, and useless (Don’t go closing the tab yet, I explain these things and it only sounds abrasive until you hear the point I’m going to make).
I am currently in the prayers of an entire convent full of nuns, at least one synagogue, a good many prayer groups, and quite a few individual people. The reason I find this offensive, is that many people dedicated their entire lives to cancer research and fund raising who won’t get credit here. Instead of thanking the amazing medical team working to save me, or the people who developed the medications to save me, or the people who funded the research to save me, these people will be thanking whichever god they decided saved me. If people want to pray for me, that’s fine, but the second someone gives credit to a divinity for saving my life, I will explain to them what they can go do with their praises to god. This isn’t about religion at all for me, this is about credit going where it belongs. I would be just as pissed off if someone sampled the intro riff to “Money For Nothing”, and took full credit without ever mentioning Mark Klopfler. So before I go on, I want it to be clear, pray to whomever you want, but don’t you even think about robbing credit from those who deserve it. (If you’re still offended at this point, then don’t expect it to get any better)
I was talking to my parents about this. They are also atheists and I asked them why people insist on praying for me when they know I’m really not interested and am completely confident in my doctors’ ability to save me. They say that people feel a desperate need to be there for me, and prayer lets them feel like they’re doing something. I can understand that. I know what it’s like to see someone in a dire medical situation, and to need to help them but not know how. So I decided to contemplate what could be done that would actually do someone in that situation some good. I figured that I would be the best person to tell all these concerned people how they can really help out their loved ones. I decided that whatever I thought of would have to cost nothing, and take about the same amount of time and effort as prayer. Otherwise, it would just look like I was asking people to give things they didn’t have the recourses for, and that would defeat the purpose.
It was around this time that I got a letter from someone I never met, but who went to high school with my mom. I often get letters and messages from people in the mail and online. I don’t always feel up to reading them right away, but on good days, I’ll go through the pile to help pass the time and boost my mood. So I realized, prayers and letters both consist of nothing but words, and in the time it takes to talk to an invisible man in the sky asking him to do something medical professionals are already doing, you could type up a message in just as many words.
I want it to be clear I’m not asking people to go out of their way to amuse me, I can get by on my own and I have everything I need. But if you feel compelled to do something for anyone in this situation and you feel like there is nothing you can do, remember that a positive attitude is the best thing a cancer patient can have, and that a single email, facebook message, or letter can do a lot for someone who’s been stuck in a hospital for several days.
I realize this has been a long rant, so I’ll sum up the main points here.
-I’m not asking anyone to do anything for me. The point of this was to give a suggestion of what people can do for anyone they know in a similar situation, instead of prayer.
-Don’t assume atheists change their beliefs when they’re in trouble.
-If, after reading this, you still want to pray for me, or anyone else, go for it. This is just a SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVE FOR PEOPLE LOOKING TO HELP IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
-I understand that people feel the need to do something in situations where they really can’t do much.
-The most common way to do this, is through prayer
-I think it is wrong to not give credit to the doctors who will sometimes work for years to save a person’s life.
-It is more encouraging to a person battling a disease to get a letter than a prayer.
-If you know someone who is battling a disease and you want to help them, writing to them can make a huge difference. I know that the support I get from friends and family means a lot to me, and if you know someone going through something similar, it’s a safe bet it will mean a lot to them too.