Joyful Expectation | December 2

Joyful Expectation | December 2

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5

For my job, I am a medical oncologist, which means I am a cancer doctor. Most of the patients I treat have incurable cancer and live in a time of liminality. Sometimes we know they are incurable right away at the time of diagnosis. The liminality of those situations are the realization that death is sooner than they may have thought, and what do they do with their remaining time? How do they keep living normally, when “normal” has gone out the window?

Sometimes the chance of a cure exists, but we won’t know for sure until they have had five years pass between treatment and the declaration of “cure.” So, those patients (and families) live in liminality for those years: what if the cancer comes back? Usually when cancer comes back, it is no longer curable, so in some sense they are looking over the edge of cliff, wondering what will happen. How do you carry on with chores and work and the mundane of life when you might learn at your next CT scan that the cancer is back? How do you not worry that the cancer is reappearing or worsening every time you have a cough or a new pain?

Some patients and families avoid the discomfort of liminality by denying the seriousness of their cancer. I have a litany of patients who I know have been told their prognosis, only to tell their family, “No one told me how long I will live.” I fully understand this use of denial as a coping skill, though it robs us of the time to come to terms with the discomfort of liminality and the what-ifs. I also live in liminality with these patients – I often wish I could fix their suffering, take away their cancer, heal the pain of their families, but often all I can do is listen and bear witness as they go through the process of moving from one space to another.

Often this time of liminality is also a thing of great beauty and grace: amends made to estranged children, marriage proposals to long-term partners, quitting jobs which don’t provide fulfillment, making large donations, urgent checking off of bucket lists and all the beautiful experiences that come along with that.

Sometimes I am certain I have witnessed a miracle made possible by this time of liminality. I have a drawer in my office where I have saved every card, postcard, note, calendar, obituary, etc. that a patient or a family has ever sent to me. To me, these are a physical representation of what living in the between times can mean, of what the perseverance, character and hope that comes from suffering can look like.

by Noelle LoConte

This post is part of a series of Advent Reflections – “Joyful Expectation”
Learn more about the series at

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