“To feel pity…is almost an insult.”

“To feel pity for anyone so magnificently brave as Joy is almost an insult.” 

W. H. Lewis (Warnie) wrote this concerning Joy Davidman on the occasion of her marriage to C. S. Lewis. The marriage took place in Joy’s hospital room. She had cancer. Douglas Gresham, Joy’s son, reflecting back on his mother’s illness, wrote, “And brave she certainly was; the spring-steel fibre in her personality bent further and further time and again, but it never broke!”

When I read this I immediately thought of our grandson Sully. For one so young he lived with courage in the face of leukemia. I thought of the many children I have known at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Then came the news of the death of Tyler Trent, a Purdue University student, on January 1. The story of his fight against cancer and his fierce support of Purdue football, became national news. At the memorial service for Tyler, Purdue quarterback David Blough described Tyler, “Our family member, our friend, our teammate, captain, a classmate, a cancer fighting warrior.”

“A cancer fighting warrior,” this best describes our grandson, the children and young people, and yes adults, who fought and are fighting cancer. It is the description used by parents to describe their children. Of course, there are so many children and adults who are fighting other life threatening diseases and injuries. Children and adults for whom “fighting warrior” is the best description.

Joy’s son, Douglas Gresham, further wrote of his mother. “Strangely, all through those hard, bad, bitter months, it was Mother who comforted us rather than the other way around. She encouraged Jack [C. S. Lewis] and teased him out of his sorrow, she delighted Warnie with her wit and conversation, she cuddled me when I needed it and chided me also when that was required. Mother, from her bed of pain and fear in the common room, became the support and the strength of the whole family. Strange as it now seems looking back at it, had it not been for her strength, we all would have broken down. Mother’s courage and her indomitable spirit were the bonding agent of the Lewis household.”

I have heard similar descriptions given by parents of their children who were cancer fighting warriors. Sully taught us, encouraged us, made us laugh, kept us going, as he so courageously fought for thirteen months of his fifteen month life. Tyler Trent inspired a university football team and so many others with his courage and his encouragement. For Sully, for Tyler, and so many like them, compassion, yes. Love and support, yes. Encouragement and presence, yes. Pity, no. They are heroes among us. 

“Heroes”—this message is on a shirt designed by his parents remembering Sully and all the children whose lives are stricken by pediatric cancer. “Warriors”—a message declared by a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, displayed for all to read who walk by the Alphabet Wall at St. Jude.

Purdue quarterback David Blough had one additional description of Tyler Trent. “Most importantly tonight we get to remember Tyler as a follower of Jesus.”

To feel pity for anyone so magnificently brave as Sully, as Tyler, as the many children fighting childhood cancer, is almost an insult.

(The quotes from Douglas Gresham are from his book, Lenten Lands, My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperOne, 1988, 2003), pages 75 and 81.)

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