CHRONIC HOPE #3: Cancer Complicates My Identity Issues

The life of a creature is in their blood.  Blood is the essence of who a person is.


By Georgia Coats – YAN


By blood I am Greek.  By nationality I am a U.S. citizen.  By education I am a Spanish speaker.  By cultural experiences I resonate with my Middle Eastern neighbors of Dearborn, MI.  By faith I am a follower of Jesus the Messiah.


My whole life I have dabbled in multiple worlds, cultures, languages, and social groupings.  I hover on borders, struggling to figure out where I fit in.

That’s why I became a language and culture learning coach.


That’s why I have identity issues.


Enter Cancer.


By blood I have a cancer diagnosis.  More specifically, chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is cancer in my blood cells.  Ironically, the white blood cells that function to fight off disease have become diseased.


Someone advised me early on, “Don’t let your cancer diagnosis define who you are.”  That piece of wisdom has both haunted and inspired me for that last 20 years.


When cancer runs in your blood, how do you not let it effect who you are?


To complicate things even more, I am on a cutting edge, super-effective, immunotherapy treatment.  No complaints there.  When I tell people I have cancer, they want to know: Am I a survivor? Am I in remission? or Am I still battling the disease?  YES!  I dabble in all of those things.  My treatment keeps me in remission, as long as I keep taking it, daily.  Forever.


In my blood, disease moves slowly.  It’s a lifelong chronic disease, which makes me a peripheral member of another group.  The Chronic Illness Group.  People with chronic illness spend a lifetime on meds, and suffer from their diseases for decades.  There’s no glory in chronic illness.  To find support and strength in a chronic struggle, it helps to own it, and to identify with others who struggle in a similar way.


Blood-Related Issues


This summer I will travel to the Old Country, Greece, with my parents, siblings, and kids, to share with my kids a sliver of their heritage—of the identity that runs in their blood.  We will kiss my aunties and meet another generation of cousins.  We will eat great food and connect with the passion, grit, and generosity of my people.  I will admit my shortcoming to learn, and to teach my kids, the Greek language.  Relatives will look at me through the sympathetic cancer lens and say I look good, considering my health issues.


While I don’t want to be defined by the disease in my blood, I also cannot deny that it hasn’t had a significant impact on who I am.  Cancer brings definition to my character.  And for that, I am grateful.


I am not defined by my trials. 

My trials are the unique tools God uses to

bring definition to my character.


Thankfully, you don’t have to have my issues to embrace the wonderful beauty of your design.


Take a moment to celebrate the precious life God gave you.

Choose joy.

Seek beauty.

Admit weakness.

Chronically cling to hope, even when things don’t make sense.

Let your struggles carve depth and beauty to your character.


And together let’s learn to share in the struggles of others.


Because, cancer or not, we all have issues.