Schrödinger’s Cancer: My Recent Biopsy and the Reality of Living Death

I’d like to share what I learned during my recent cancer scare, though perhaps I should employ a less dramatic opening, considering the results. I am, after all, perfectly fine. I do not have cancer; and although my situation requires some monitoring, I can now continue with my regularly scheduled life.

Back in October, however, I did not have the benefit of foresight. I had to go through the process one step at a time, without knowing how everything would turn out.

The Test

As I sat in my doctor’s office this fall as she told me I’d need a biopsy, cancer was just a theory.

The whole thing reminded me of Schrödinger’s Cat: you know, that thought experiment with the cat in a sealed box with a decaying radioactive substance, a hammer attached to a Geiger counter, and a flask of poison. Until you actually open the box, you can’t know for sure the fate of the cat. Until the box is unsealed, the cat is both dead and alive.

That’s how I felt. Only this time, I was both outside and inside the box. I was both waiting for a revelation and waiting to be revealed.

Schrödinger’s Cancer

During the wait, I kept thinking that no matter the outcome of the test, the truth was already real in my body. A simple test would not alter reality: it would only reveal it. Therefore while I waited to hear from the lab, I was both sick and well, healthy and ill. This was Schrödinger’s Cancer. Nothing had changed and everything had.

I wasn’t afraid—not exactly. I wasn’t losing sleep or wandering the streets in a haze or holding my breath. I was, however, evaluating my life.

If I really had cancer, why waste energy on minor annoyances? Who cares if the weather isn’t cooperating or if there’s a hair in my sandwich? It takes more than petty problems to rattle the living dead.

Living Death

If anyone is suited to endure a living death, it should be the Christian. It is, after all, our primary calling.

Though the call to follow Jesus is often framed in terms of new birth and everlasting life, the reality is more complicated than that. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The call to follow Christ has always been one of living death.

And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23)

Consider also how the Apostle Paul calls the church in Rome to understand baptism.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

Both dead and alive, alive and dead. Already declared righteous and not yet perfected. This is Schrödinger’s Catechism, if you will, and I had never been more attuned to its paradoxes.

Further Lessons

Apart from the readjusted perspectives mentioned above, I walk away from this experience with increased empathy for those in medical limbo.

While I’ve always been sympathetic and prayed with people waiting for serious test results, I’ve never been able to truly empathize. As a result, I’ve historically offered a brand of buck-up-and-hope-for-the-best and let’s-not-worry-until-we-know optimism that has likely proven unhelpful. I know better now.

I’m also moving forward with the comfort of this Scripture freshly graven on my heart:

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8)


Three quick orders of business:

First, my holiday novella Murder on Birchardville Hill is still on sale. Go snap it up!

Second, this week I’m celebrating my 40th birthday! Since I have no material wants or needs, I’m asking you to help celebrate by making contributions to the ministry of my friends Jairo and Vania. Their family will soon head to Jordan to serve displaced Sudanese refugees, and I’d love to send them off well supported. Please see here for information and to make your contribution to their ministry.

Third, remember to sign up for my 2019 Year of Books. Each month during the coming year, I’ll be sending a recommended list of titles for you to check out. No discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it. Go sign up!

Happy Monday, everyone! I’m sure it’ll be a busy week for many of you. Don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the delights of the season. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your coffees be flat white.*


*Or whatever you like. Just going for the rhyme, not commanding your coffee choices. But if you haven’t tried a flat white, you definitely should. Consider the recommendation a gift from me to you. Merry Christmas!

4 thoughts on “Schrödinger’s Cancer: My Recent Biopsy and the Reality of Living Death

  1. Could really relate to this post as I went through a similar situation in 2015. I did have surgery , all the cancer was removed and I have been cancer free for 3 1/2 years. Through it all I had complete peace and trust that God had it under control whatever the outcome. Romans 14:8 has been my go to verse in many situations in my life. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

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