Throughout my life, I've worn many hats, as we all do. In chronological order, I've been a son, a student, a cornet player, a singer, songwriter, arranger, husband, producer, entrepreneur, and worship leader. I haven't been a student or a cornet player for many years, but all of the other titles still hold true. Or do they?
I'll be a son and a husband for the rest of my life, but the others are all in question now. My last worship leading position ended last May. I expect to retire as a producer and arranger by the end of this year. I'll always sing, but by my definition, I won't always be a singer. The calls to come and sing for people are rarer by the day.
My new hat, which I received last August, is cancer patient. Like many, if not most cancer patients, I feel like that's what I am. That's all I am. It's the entire focus of my life. Everything else fades in comparison.
A friend posted a link to a blog post in The New York Times last month which affected me deeply. I strongly identified with what the author said. A leukemia survivor, the entirety of who she was had been consumed by her cancer and treatment. Now that she was in remission, she struggled to find the person she used to be. This resonates with me in a big way.
One thing I've never been is a fighter. My instinct is to accept rather than fight. In one of the online support groups I frequent, everyone seems to say that what's necessary to survive prostate cancer is a positive, fighting spirit. I think I have the positive part down, but I don't want to fight that hard. I'm getting treatment, and I'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but there's a limit to how hard I'll fight.
Remember, for me, quality of life is much more important than quantity. I'll fight as long as I have confidence that I'll have a good quality of life afterward. But a life of long term, serious side effects is not for me. I'm sorry if this disturbs you, but I have to keep it real.
Every day on Facebook I see people talking about how much they hate cancer, but I can't honestly say that about mine. It's resulted in too much positive change in my life. Last Thanksgiving, in a post titled, "Thankfulness," I wrote this:
Are we really supposed to be thankful for the bad times? I honestly don't know if it says that in the Bible anywhere, but as I stand here at my desk on the day before Thanksgiving, I find that I actually am thankful for the cancer. Here's why.
If it wasn't for the cancer, I wouldn't know how loved I am. If it wasn't for the cancer, I would be alarmed at the state of my career. 60 years old with no church that wants to hire me. If it wasn't for the cancer, this holiday season would not have nearly as much meaning. Life would not taste as sweet. If it wasn't for the cancer, I wouldn't have discovered the joys of writing this journal. If it wasn't for the cancer, I wouldn't be counting my blessings the way I am. If it wasn't for the cancer, Sharon and I would be discouraged, worried, and broke. Because of the cancer, we're blessed, know how loved we are, and our needs are met. What's not to be thankful for?
As I've said before several times, I feel that through cancer, God has transformed my life. I'm not the guy I used to be. The old Mark isn't coming back, and good riddance to him. But who am I now? What will I be when this is over, however it ends? If it ends one way, I'll be a memory. If it ends the other way, I think I know where I'm headed, but who can say for sure?
As a person, I'm not sure who I'll be. I'm still in transition, and expect to be for a while. Like the leukemia survivor, I don't think I'll be able to visit my old haunts or interests and find the person I used to be. But unlike her, I have no interest in seeing the old Mark again. How did you people put up with me?
American men tend to identify ourselves by what we do. We don't just say, "I do this for a living." We say, "I am a..." Fill in the blank. I don't just say that I sing or write music for a living. I say that I am a singer and songwriter. So when those hats fall off, what am I then?
I know what I hope to become, and that's what I plan to spend the next year pursuing with all of my heart. It won't happen unless God makes it happen. But I firmly believe that if I'm doing what God wants me to do, he will bless it. He already is.
I've worn the blogger hat before, but not like this. Mark Bradford's Bible Blog was Bible commentary. There isn't a big audience for that. Unfortunately, the prostate cancer audience is much larger. Much larger.
This new hat has become my favorite. Nothing drives me more than this blog. I pour my whole self into it, as you can probably tell. I'm as transparent as I can be here, and I wish I could tell all of you absolutely everything. But some things need to stay private. I'm not the only one whom this affects.
The author of the blog post to whom I referred earlier didn't feel like she had a new identity, even though her blog was being published by The New York Times. I would feel like a rock star if that happened to me! If anyone at the Times is reading this, I'm available! But even that didn't satisfy her. She felt like she had lost the person she used to be, and she had. But while the person I used to be is gone, I can't wait to become Mark 2.0. Right now I figure I'm version 1.2 Beta. The Master Programmer is just getting started on me.
When I was naming the hats I've worn at the beginning of this post, you may have thought that I'd forgotten a hat or two. Christian. Child of God. I am those things, and they sustain me. They are the only titles I will continue to claim in the next life. But they're not hats. They're not an occupation, they're my identity, even more than son and husband. Those relationships will fade in the next life. They'll change fundamentally, according to Jesus. (Matthew 22:30, blog) But I'll always be a follower of Christ and a child of God. Forever.
It's very important to me, as a man, to have a hat to wear, even in retirement. I don't think many of the old hats fit anymore. But what I was when I was born, I'll still be when I die. A child of God. All other hats are temporary. Especially cancer patient.