If you need proof of the old adage "to truly understand something you must experience it first-hand," look no further than Maggie Cupit-Link. Diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma at the end of her freshman year of college, Maggie, now a third-year Mayo Clinic School of Medicine student, was uprooted from her life and began a year-long journey filled with pain, fear, resentment and doubt as her care team at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital worked to treat her cancer.
It's a journey that filled Maggie with a sometimes toxic combination of emotions and internal questions about what she'd done to deserve such a fate. "If there was a God," she often wondered as she lay vomiting uncontrollably from the side effects of chemotherapy treatments, "How could he or she allow such suffering?" Not only to her, but to anyone. Finding an acceptable answer to that question — and coming to terms with it — wasn't easy for Maggie, who recently detailed the physical, emotional, and spiritual ups and downs in a "Spirituality Grand Rounds" presentation at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus titled, "Why God? Suffering Through Cancer into Faith."
For nearly 60 minutes, Maggie shared it all, sometimes in emotional detail. She talked about how as a freshman at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, she'd finally felt like she'd found a place where she belonged, and how cancer took all of that away. She talked about how her growing anger and resentment toward her own Catholic faith became so strong that her mother made her sit down with a chaplain. And how that chaplain, after listening to Maggie vent her frustrations, told her it was OK to feel that way. "Getting that kind of permission, especially from a preacher," Maggie told those who gathered to hear her speak, "was liberating."
It also helped her to, over time, look for and find evidence of a higher spiritual power in increasingly complicated places. Like in her doctor at St. Jude, who "instead of building walls to protect himself, built relationships" and "allowed himself to get close to his patients." And in another member of her care team who brought in Christmas decorations from home when Maggie was unexpectedly hospitalized over the holidays. And in the other young patients at St. Jude who had become close friends and helped each other cope. Especially the young boy who, during what would end up being their last conversation together, told Maggie, "having cancer was worth it, because I got to meet you."
Maggie ended her presentation by saying that for everything cancer has taken from her, it's given her something much more valuable in return: A new perspective on suffering and spirituality. "The implications of this are huge when I think about my future patients," she said. "As caregivers, we are given opportunities not only to tend to patients' medical needs, but also to tend to their spiritual needs. … Suffering from illness cannot quench the spirit, not when we as health care providers give ourselves in love to our patients."
You can read more about Maggie's cancer journey and how it's helped shape her into the physician she ultimately wants to become in her book with the same title as her Grand Rounds presentation. Then, give us something to read by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.