Gleanings from a Book: “When Mama Had Cancer” by Marjorie Kunch

Marjorie Kunch has already given Orthodox Christians a wonderful resource in her first book(s), “When My Baba Died”/ “When My Yiayia Died.” These first books drew on her experiences as a mortician. Now she offers, again through her own personal experience – this time, with breast cancer – another valuable resource: “When Mama Had Cancer.”

 

Suffering has been part of our human experience ever since the first humans’ choice to disobey God. We all suffer, some of us much more than others, but we all suffer. What we do with that suffering either makes us or breaks us in the long run. Author Marjorie Kunch has turned her recent suffering, her battle with breast cancer, into an opportunity. She documented this painful period of her life in order to help not just her own children, but anyone who reads her new book. The book teaches its readers that God is there with us when we suffer, there are helpers at every turn, and all of us – even the youngest – can help each other in times of suffering.

“When Mama Had Cancer” follows a family through the entire cancer experience: from diagnosis to head shaving (“the chemotherapy she had to take would make her hair all fall out anyway so she wanted it to come off on her terms”) to chemo/its subsequent side effects to surgery and finally back to health. The book acknowledges that not everyone fights cancer and continues their earthly life. The book offers gentle reminders that, in that case, it is “not their fault, your fault, the doctor’s fault, the priest’s fault, or even God’s fault, even though you may feel that way… It is simply their time to join the Heavenly Kingdom.”

This book explains difficult words in simple terms that will help children of varying ages to better understand what their loved one with cancer is experiencing. It is very positive in its outlook. The book does not gloss over the difficulty of the experience, but rather is positive in that it offers suggestions of hands-on ways that even children can help their sick loved one. It is full of scripture and Orthodox Christian traditions. The book suggests saints to whom someone with cancer can pray for help. Essentially, this book takes a very difficult and frightening experience and brings peace to the children reading it by helping them to understand what is happening, framed in the context of Orthodox Christianity, while also offering concrete ways that the children can help their loved one.

“When Mama Had Cancer” will likely be of the most help to a family experiencing cancer for themselves. However, we recommend it to all Orthodox Christian families, even those (currently) without anyone experiencing cancer. After all, “…if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it…” (1 Corinth. 12:26) and there are plenty of other Orthodox Christians and other neighbors suffering from this terrible disease. The book helps to clarify the cancer experience, removing some of the fear that comes with uncertainty and misunderstanding, and offering hope in the form of Orthodox Christian ways to respond and help, so it is a good one for all families to take in!

The illustrations in this book are photos with a brush-stroke effect, very similar in appearance to the photos in Marjorie’s previous books. These illustrations help the reader get a better sense of what the family is experiencing during the course of the experience. Kristi Tartara (who wrote “What Do You See At Liturgy”) did the graphic design and was the layout artist for the book.

“When Mama Had Cancer” will be available in early October 2017, from Pascha Press. Visit http://www.paschapress.com/home.html for details. Or order the book from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/When-Mama-Cancer-Marjorie-Kunch/dp/0996404554/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505956315&sr=1-4 or Barnes and Noble at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-mama-had-cancer-marjorie-kunch/1127082593?ean=9780996404556.

Here are a few gleanings from the book, along with some ideas of how to use it with your family:
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“Cancer is a difficult topic, especially for children… Marjorie’s new book, “When Mama Had Cancer”, helps children see cancer from a Christian perspective. Her book explains what cancer is, what symptoms to expect, and what children can do to help… this book points children toward Christ. We are reminded that God has not forgotten us, and that cancer is not a reason for despair. During times of sickness, we are encouraged to trust in the love of God, the support of the Church, and the power of prayer.” ~ from Fr. Joseph Gleason’s forward to “When Mama Had Cancer”

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“During that season of our lives [when Mama had cancer], my sister and I learned that cancer patients have so many helpers. We learned that people really do live the commandment to love one another. All around the world there are people who care about my family. People on earth and in heaven, everywhere!” ~ from “When Mama Had Cancer” by Marjorie Kunch

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After reading the book “When Mama Had Cancer”, talk together about the children in the book. How did they help their mama? Does your family know anyone who is fighting cancer? How can you help them? Brainstorm a list, and find a way to do some of the items on that list. Minimally, you can say a prayer for them. You can pray the prayers for the sick (found in your service book or here https://www.goarch.org/-/prayers-for-the-sick). Or pray the “Akathist to the Theotokos the Healer of Cancer” found here: http://www.stvladimiraami.org/sheetmusic/akathistvsetsaritsa.pdf. Your family may want to make cards for the person fighting cancer, take them a meal, send them flowers, etc., to help to cheer them up. The important thing is that your family comes up with (and carries out) some ideas of ways that you can help this person and their family in their time of need.

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The boy narrating the story “When Mama Had Cancer” tells how his family practiced and prepared him for things he may need to know how to do should an emergency arise. They practiced dialing the phone and kept important numbers (like his dad’s) taped to the wall by the phone. He also knew to dial 911, and which circumstances required that type of call. He says, “…it made me feel safe to know what to do in any and all situations.”
Take this moment as a family to review important emergency basics together. A child who knows what to do in an emergency situation will be able to help, and helping will give them peace that they’ve done what they could. (While you are at it, you could also take this time to go over fire safety and escape plans, etc., as well.)

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“When Mama Had Cancer” lists numerous saints who are quick to pray for those suffering from cancer. The list includes St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, St. Luke the physician, and St. Nektarios. Your family may find great encouragement by reading of some of the healings that God has wrought through their prayers!
Scroll down to find recent miracles of St. John the Wonderworker here: https://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/johnmx1.htm#_Toc525564613

St. Luke has worked miracles recently as well. Read about them here: http://myocn.net/recent-miracle-st-luke-blessed-surgeon/ and here: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2014/07/two-recent-miracles-of-st-luke-surgeon.html

St. Nektarios continues to work miracles as well through his prayers. Read a few of them here: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/7070-miracles-by-st-nektarios/

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“When Mama had cancer, we were scared at first, but as she got stronger so did our family and faith. We learned how to rely on God and how to let others bless us, too. We learned about grace and humility. We worked together and helped Mama triumph over cancer… Even though my sister and I were small, we were helpers just as important as the grown-ups, doctors, and nurses.

It is so special that we Orthodox Christians have many helpers in our time of need: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, a multitude of saints, family, church members, and friends.
Can you be a helper for your loved one, too?”
After reading this closing portion of the book, discuss how each member of your family can help someone you know who is living with a chronic illness. Together, make a plan of what you will each do to help, and then carry out your plan!

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From “biopsy” to “JP drain” to “oncologist” to “venerate”, the glossary at the end of the book “When Mama Had Cancer” is very helpful, especially if your family has a family member or friend fighting cancer. To help your children learn and understand these terms, create a matching game with one card containing the term, and its match containing the definition. Pair the cards together after reading the book. Then practice the words by playing a simple game like “memory” or “go fish” with the cards.

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“The cancer patient is seldom alone in pain and suffering. Family members share in the struggle as well, because of love. God heals through many ways: the doctor’s touch, the nurse’s care, and the love provided by family, friends and church. All these are the presence of God in the life of the patient.
If and when we know anyone with cancer in our church, let us show that when one member of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. Whatever we can do at the time, we should do it. If a visit is not possible, then a phone call, a postcard, or helping out with a meal will be much appreciated. Most of all, pray for the healing of that person, whether the cancer is at stage five or stage one. A sick person should know that he or she is surrounded by believers in a merciful God who cares.” ~ Fr. Elias Bitar, “Thoughts on Living With Cancer”
Read the article in its entirety here: http://antiochian.org/node/25626

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