Jen Hatmaker's Cancer Manifesto

Debbie Holloway | Contributing Writer | Updated: Jun 03, 2015

Jen Hatmaker's Cancer Manifesto

It’s hard not to be terrified of cancer. Everyone knows someone who’s had cancer. Most people by now know at least one person who died of cancer. My mom’s best friend died two years ago after battling cancer. Then, last year, my mom was diagnosed with cancer herself – as was the mother of one of my dearest friends. As a close friend or family member of someone fighting cancer, it’s often hard to know what to do. How much do you talk about it? Where should you put all the fears and feelings accumulating inside you?

Today, Jen Hatmaker shares her family’s Cancer Manifesto with her readers. 6 months ago, she sent this letter to her family and friends explaining the system they were going to put in place to deal with her mother’s battle with cancer. Their coping mechanism? Stress goes out, love goes in. Family and friends are labeled into tiers or rings, with Hatmaker’s mom at the “bulls-eye” in the center, followed by outer rings of her husband, her children, her grandchildren and children by marriage, and finally outer rings of close friends and neighbors, co-workers, and church family. Jen explains the system here:

The way this works is that stress can always go out but never in. Mom is in the bulls-eye, so she can say and do and feel whatever she wants at all times. She gets to act straight crazy if she's in the mood, but at no time does she have to deal with our psychosis or anyone else’s. No other rings can dump their worry, fear, or burdens on Mom. She is the Cancer Queen and zero drama can reach her on the throne. She can be calm and measured like she normally is, or she can be irrational and hysterical. It doesn’t matter. In the bulls-eye, crazy can go out but no crazy can come in. We have to be strong and steady at all times for Mom. I don’t know how we’ll manage as this is not our skill set. Maybe there is a YouTube tutorial.

And so stress flows outward, ring by ring. Dad shares his frustrations with his adult children. Jen and her siblings vent to their spouses, children, and close friends. Each outer circle listens and receives the pain of the inner circles, but only pushes back in love, support, and encouragement. In retrospect, Hatmaker sees that she and her family were helped immensely by this system.

If the rings are maintained well, the bulls-eye person gets to sit in a soothing emotional spa of calm and serenity and love. Oh sure, her people have plenty of fear and crazy, but they only send it outward, never inward, so she is shielded. Good outer rings constantly strengthen the inner rings.

…God was and still is so ever present, so ever near, so ever good. And we are taking our turn as outer rings for other folks right now, because that is how the community thing works. When someone staffs the outer rings of others, she need not worry when her day in the bulls-eye comes.

God-given community is truly such a huge part of what sustains us during times of trial. According to Kelly Balarie, community means speak love over one another, rather than fear.

Love doesn't see issues, but sees hope.

Love doesn't see threats, but sees opportunity.

Love doesn't see differences, but common pain.

Love doesn't see the words "you can't", but encourages through the words "you can."

Love doesn't see the potential downfall, but a chance for greater faith to be forged.

In What to Do When It's Just One Trouble after the Next, Jennifer Dukes Lee explains how important it is to remind each other of Christ’s saving work in times of hardship.

When trouble comes—and trouble will come—when the river through your life swells and rages; or when the creek bed cracks dry; when the storm marches across the sky, or maybe straight across your heart; you will be scared. And it might feel cold. You might be tempted to grab for a sorry substitute, begging for the false hope of a rope.

But friend, you are strong. Hang on to the tree that is even stronger. Hold tight to the tree that has already redeemed you, the tree that bore every ache you could fathom, the tree onto which every sin was nailed. Hold on to the tree that held your Savior.

And finally, Shannon Perry shares her own journey walking her mother through cancer in Are You Longing for God to Bring New Life? In it, she ruminates on seasons of pruning and seasons of blooming – seasons where we feel lifeless and abandoned, making way for seasons of joy and fulfillment.

God is the master Gardener, and he knows when to cut off the dead stuff in our lives. It may look ugly, but “blooming day” is coming. What is God pruning from your life today? What needs to be “cut off” so that new life can be born? Maybe it’s a relationship God is removing so he can bring others that cause you to bloom. Whether financial, emotional, relational, or physical, God longs to get rid of things that hold us back, weigh us down, and are not a part of his perfect will for us. Instead of being afraid when God picks up his pruning shears, welcome them as a sign that new life is on its way. Today could be your “blooming day.”

So what do you think of the “ring” method to cope with illness and grief? How has God worked in your life through a family struggle or a time of hardship? Tell us about it in the comment section!

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor at

Publication date: June 3, 2015

Jen Hatmaker's Cancer Manifesto