Lucille Sider on spiritual resiliency in the midst of trauma: Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

Photo courtesy of Emily Kuhn via Wikimedia Commons.

Consider Meeting Lucille Online

Her Zoom series starts September 14, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. The weekly series of columns so far:

Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s online conversation with readers, which begins Sept. 14, 2021, please look at the information at the end of this story.


Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’

Author and Contributing Columnist

I had lived in Chicago for four years—such good years. My dear friend Frank lived one floor above me in our building in Hyde Park. The University of Chicago, seminaries and museums were in the neighborhood. Plus, we lived just three blocks from Lake Michigan and we delighted in the ever-changing water from our own apartments.

Frank and I meditated twice a day. We met monthly with a meditation group and these people became like family.

Frank was always reading theology and we had marvelous discussions about his favorite theologians.  In 2019 one of these was Meister Eckhart, a German from the 13th century. In late July, he and a friend, went to Germany for a week-long conference on Eckhart.

Three days after they arrived home I treated Frank to our favorite Italian restaurant and it was there that I realized something was wrong. We were chatting away about a friend whose father had died. I mentioned that we were at the funeral. Frank had no memory about the funeral and was somewhat irritated with what I was saying. Frank does not get irritated quickly so this was out of character.  He then mentioned the car assuming it was parked in the lot near the restaurant. The reality was that we had not driven the car. It took some persuading before he was willing to walk home. Home was only two blocks away but he was not convinced that we had not driven until he saw the car in the parking lot.

Frank’s memory continued to deteriorate over the next week. He was admitted to The University of Chicago Hospital and was given a wide variety of tests. After three months it was determined that he had a form of central nervous system cancer.

For it, Frank received a stem cell transplant. This is a long and difficult process and I was shocked when I asked his doctor how effective this treatment is. He responded that this would give Frank about a 20-to-30-percent better chance of surviving.  I was stunned.  I assumed it would be at least 50 percent or more.  While I knew that his form of cancer is very serious, it was not until the doctor referred to the low survival rate that I became terrified.

Frank was a perfect patient. His faith was strong. Many days when I would visit, he would say, “I feel God’s presence. It is so strong.” Frank was very much at peace. But I was not. I had moved to Chicago to be near him and I could not imagine my life without him.

My own mental health started to slide. I lost confidence in myself and was not able to write stories, which I had loved to do. I felt exhausted even though I was getting eight hours of sleep. I travelled to Philadelphia to be near my brother and his wife but their loving care did nothing to stop the depression. When I returned home and visited my psychiatrist I was hospitalized immediately. It took seven weeks in the hospital before I could stabilize and return home.

The central psychological question was: Could I live without Frank?

If he dies, would I be able to carry on? Would I move to Washington DC to be near my son Soren?

It is then that the poem that I had written eight years ago began to speak to me on a very deep level. Back then, I had to let go of the fear of losing my house once again. Now, I must let go of my beloved friend and place my hope in God alone.

These lines once again guided me. “Oh Lord, please give me the grace to hold lightly any person and to open my heart to God’s abounding love and abiding rest and be free.”

Frank has now been free of cancer for over a year. He receives an MRI twice a year. We both hold our breath as we await the results. It seems that I agonize over this more than he does. In some ways, his faith is stronger than mine. He believes he will live as long as God has some purpose for him. And it is clear to him that at the moment he has purpose in a number of ways. He is organist at Montgomery Place, a home for retired people. He is a spiritual director and it is clear that his wisdom is powerful in guiding his counselees.

I receive support from several close friends as well as from a psychologist and psychiatrist. My faith is stronger than ever. When I begin to falter I return to spiritual practices I developed with Frank.

One is a walking meditation. It is so simple. I simply walk slowly and repeat these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.
This step, each step, right here, right now.

The past is behind and the future has not arrived.  Thus these words:

This step, each step, right here, right now.

And finally, the little chant Frank and I composed many years ago, is as powerful now as it was then:

Let it come, let it go,
Let it come, let it flow,
All is well.


Look for the next part in Lucille’s series in our September 20, 2021, issue of ReadTheSpirit magazine.


Care to take part in Lucille’s September 14, 2021, Zoom?

Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it.









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