Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 19

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RECONCILING FAITH, FAMILY, AND CANCER
BY S T E V E N W E L C H

Growing up in a religion that kept you
in line by catastrophizing everything, I would
have thought that my whole life leading up to
that point was preparing me to handle the word
" cancer " when my doctor called on December
21st, 2015. After all, there isn't a much bigger
catastrophe when it comes to your health.
However, I wasn't prepared for that call at all. The
news hit me like a ton of bricks; and it all started
with a cliche, " Hello, are you sitting down? "
Everything flashed before my eyes: my life, my
choices, my family, my friends... my mortality.
Quite often, I am asked what the worst part
of having cancer was, and I always respond
the same: the hardest part was the emotional
struggle after treatment ended. I was one of the
lucky ones who didn't have to endure chemo.
I got off easy with iodine radiation that only
required five days in isolation. I only had a
one night stay in the hospital after my full
thyroidectomy surgery, and had a relatively
quick recovery time. I was lucky enough to have
decent insurance, therefore it wasn't a major
financial issue. What scared me the most was
facing my own mortality and the emotional
repercussions that came after getting the " all
clear. " Everyone around me got to move on
and celebrate my recovery while I was still left
completely broken. I was left dealing with all
of the emotional wounds that were far from
healing and living in fear that every ache and
pain was a symptom of something much more
than just getting older.
I'm certain that everyone feels the ground
fall out from underneath them the moment
they hear the C-word. You start from feeling
invincible to being handed this kryptonite
called cancer. When a person hears that word,
it is human nature to feel the devastating reality of your own mortality. Processing that

diagnosis inevitably comes with the thought
of " what if I die? " but I had never truly been
scared to die for most of my life.
I was born in a household where religion was
coursing through our veins in every aspect of
your life. We read scriptures at breakfast. We
talked about our spiritual goals like most kids
would talk about school dances or extracurricular activities. We didn't just say a prayer
before a meal, we used it as a way to have an
ongoing conversation with God. We were
expected to have daily personal bible study.
We also had family bible study at least once
a week. That was on top of attending church
three times a week. We rarely spent Saturdays
playing and unwinding from school like most
kids, we used them to be ministers to others.
We would go door to door and share our
teachings with strangers, because we knew to
our core that ours was the only true religion.
Our only goal in life was showing others this
" truth " we believed beyond the shadow of a
doubt that we had.
I was the youngest of seven kids and we all
believed with every fiber of our being that we
were part of the only true religion. We didn't
entertain secondary education because spiritual education was more important than what
any college could give us. We didn't work to
get ahead in life, we worked to support our
ministry and to keep a roof over our heads.
We lived our lives for God and no one else.
That was our sole purpose in life.
If you were a faithful member of the organization, you would get to live forever on
a paradise earth. All other people who didn't
accept our message from God would die at
Armageddon. We were taught that if you
were had the right heart condition of putting
God's word above all else, you didn't have to

fear death! This life was nothing more than a
waiting game for the perfect existence we were
all working towards.
However, if you did anything that disobeyed
God's commandments, you were facing excommunication. Since you did not associate
with anyone outside of the organization, meant
losing everyone in your life. Once you were
excommunicated, your family and friends
could no longer carry on a relationship with
you while still remaining faithful to the religion...and the religion was number one above
everything else, even family. You also faced the
very real possibility of dying a horrible death
at Armageddon for your sins. Beyond that, if
you watched movies about ghosts or spirits you
were opening yourself up to being exposed to
the possibility of demon possession. In fact,
even the act of buying an antique could lead
you to demon possession because the owner of
it prior to you purchasing it could have been
into spiritism... and the list of deeply instilled
fears goes on and on and on (there's the catastrophizing I was referring to).
In our religion, there were basically two
paths you could choose. The most common
was to graduate high school, find a nice spiritual girl to marry, and continue focusing your
life on preaching the message to anyone who
would listen. The other, more " elite " option
was trying to be one of the few chosen to go
work for virtually free labor at the headquarters in NYC. Unfortunately for me, neither
were really an option because I had a secret. I
was growing up in rural PA, raised in one of
the strictest religions known, in a family that
was as devout as you could possibly get...and
I was gay. Homosexuality was a sin and I was
lucky enough to be born that way. I can't say
that I hit the genetic lottery, being born gay
ELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM
DECEMBER 2020

19


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Elephants And Tea - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Elephants And Tea - December 2020

Contents
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover1
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Cover2
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - 1
Elephants And Tea - December 2020 - Contents
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