Two words strike fear in the hearts of women and those who love them: ovarian cancer. Lynn Neu lived through the shock of that diagnosis, suffered the grief and numbness that followed and then turned her medical condition into an opportunity. In her new book, “The God Box: Hope Strength, Courage @ Your Fingertips,” she provides a spiritual roadmap for those facing this disease. The 62-year-old Kenosha native and former parishioner of St. Mary Parish, Kenosha, spent 10 years working for the Milwaukee Archdiocese in youth ministry and 10 years teaching at St. Catherine High School, Racine. She and her husband Jerry moved to San Diego, Calif., where she worked as a freelance writer, public speaker, consultant and trainer in adolescent faith development and leadership skills for the Center for Ministry Development. In 2003, she was diagnosed with the disease.
“When I found out I had cancer, I was like a deer caught in the headlights,” she said. “It felt surreal. I went numb. I can still remember standing at the top of the stairs at home, looking down on a living room where so many family gatherings had occurred and thinking, ‘I’m not ready to leave all of this yet.’”
While she wasn’t ready to die, she discovered that she was not afraid to be reunited with her parents and other loved ones in heaven. She began taking action by notifying friends and family members about her diagnosis, and asking them to pray.
“I leaned on them, and I leaned on God,” she said. “I engaged my powerful mind with affirmations and visualizations. I read everything I could get my hands on about ovarian cancer. I invited in all the Reiki, Healing Touch and massage therapists I knew. I listened to music, laughed, cried, and kept moving.”
From the beginning, Neu realized that the only way to proceed was to accept and go through the cancer process, but she wasn’t prepared to handle it alone. Her personal therapy included writing e-mails to her friends, sharing her fears, prayers, feelings and emotions. The more she shared, the more her friends begged for more.
“They encouraged me to share my e-mails more broadly, with a wider audience,” she said. “I considered rolling my e-mails about my cancer experience into a book someday. But then the God Box phenomenon emerged.”
Those who spent their days and nights praying for Neu’s healing asked her to send out prayer requests for their friends and themselves. Through sharing her suffering and insight, a virtual community of loving, kindness blossomed.
“As I discovered how eager people are to pray for one another, how interested they are in finding new ways to pray, and how cyberspace was becoming sacred space, I realized that this was a story that needed to be told,” she said.
After her fourth round of chemotherapy in December 2004, she wrote her annual Christmas letter. In her self-disclosing way, she revealed lessons learned and the ultimate blessing that followed the dreadful diagnosis.
We are dependent on God … and one another .. .more than we know. The generosity of others is bigger than we ever imagine.
Forgiveness and laughter are healing therapies. Letting go of rigid expectations enlivens us; being easier on yourself and others has enormous benefits. Waiting for someone’s eulogy to tell them how much you love them deprives them of life-giving energy while they are alive! Let yourself receive what others have to offer. There are so many healing touches to be had; be open! The time you “waste” on relationships and developing your faith is the most precious time you can spend; it all boils down to faith, family and friends. Slow down, listen, savor the moment.
Neu credits her close relationship with God in getting her through the tough days of no hair, nausea, and a face that she barely recognized after chemotherapy ravaged her body.
“My love for God grew and I realized that one of the many things I loved about him was Jesus, God’s skin. I got in touch with the suffering Jesus in ways I hadn’t before,” she said. “’Why me?’ became ‘Why not me?’ What deepened in me through my experience with cancer is trust, and gratitude. My dependence on God for breath itself became more focused. I recognize the gift of everyday, and give praise to the Giver.”
In writing “The God Box,” Neu learned that prayer recognizes that she was not able to do everything herself. While studies demonstrate that prayer lowers blood pressure, decreases depression and anxiety and lowers mortality rates, for her, it was a calm for her racing mind, and a “tent for which to hide,” and away from the noise of her fears. “I can rest in God and know that all will be well,” she said. “And I believe in miracles, but we don’t always get the miracle we ask for. Sometimes the miracle happens in us. It’s like the peace advocate who is asked if he really believes that his picketing will make a difference because nothing every changes. He replies that things may not change, but he does. I prayed to be healed completely. The miracle stories in Scripture gave me the courage to ask that boldly. ‘Ask and you will receive,’ became my mantra.”
Despite Neu’s recovery from cancer, she realizes that many who pray as she did, who demonstrate faith in God’s healing, will lose their battle with cancer, or will lose someone dear to their heart. She reminds them of Christ’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane.
“He asked, ‘Father, let this cup pass.’ It didn’t. Yet, through this death, redemption came,” said Neu. “I believe the same is possible for us. Death is a part of life. But, it is not the end.”
The book, which took Neu a couple of years to write, has struck a chord with those suffering with cancer and those who want to draw closer to Christ.
“People tell me it is a fast, easy read, that it is like having a conversation and they believe that what I say is true,” she said.
“It’s a book they can return to again and again. One person described it this way, ‘It’s not a start to finish book, but a jump around sampler read parts over book.’ One of my former high school students who is now a mom to teenagers herself tells me that the inclusion of trusted Web sites helps her guide her kids. My young adult house sitter said she couldn’t put the book down. She began reading it in the tub and didn’t know when to get out. Took it to Starbucks the next day and overstayed. Then curled up on the couch to finish it. She cried and laughed and prayed through all the prayers in the book – prayers she’ll return to often now that she knows they’re here.”