Cancer as a Chrysalis: The Agony and Beauty of Waiting

Cancer as a ChrysalisIn January 2107, I was thrilled to begin a semester-long sabbatical from college teaching. I was looking forward to digging in to my research project, reading journal articles, and actually having time to practice. I am an associate professor of music at a small liberal arts college, and my busy schedule normally does not afford the time to do such things. To be honest, I was feeling burned out, cynical, and ineffectual, and I wanted some time to reflect on my career.

For about three years, I had been plagued by what I would describe as a feeling of unease. Something was moving in my soul, saying “You can do more than this. Your real life is yet to begin.”

I shrugged off this feeling, telling myself, “I’ve achieved a great deal in my field. I worked hard getting a doctorate in music performance; I got a job teaching at a college in the competitive atmosphere of academia. I’m shaping students to be better citizens in the world. I’m making a difference.”

I had always been a fairly active Christian, but decided it was time to invite the Lord into this situation in a more proactive way. “Alright then, Lord; show me. If I’m supposed to make a change in my life, then help me do it.”


My sabbatical took a decisively unexpected turn when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April. All of my plans for research and relaxation were hijacked by doctors’ appointments, tests, and MRIs. I had no idea how time-consuming cancer is! It has become like a part-time job for me, and I have had little time to focus on my project. While I was initially overwhelmed by the news, part of me also recognized that this was exactly what I had asked for: I had wanted a change, and a change was unequivocally, frighteningly here.

I am realizing that sudden change is fairly unusual; long-lasting change is an achingly slow process. I realize, too, that I am not fond of slow processes. I am terribly impatient, and it is a character flaw of which I am not proud. Apparently, it is one of the first things God wants me to improve about myself, and believe me, having cancer is an excellent way of doing it.

Since my first mammogram, I have been waiting…

Waiting for a call to get the pathologist report results back…
Waiting on the phone to make appointments for various procedures…
Waiting on the phone to talk to my insurance company…
Waiting in the waiting room for yet another procedure…
Waiting to consult with a surgeon about whether to get a lumpectomy or mastectomy…
Waiting for the surgery date…
Waiting to determine a treatment plan…

It has been agonizing, and I have been searching for a way to relax into the waiting. I finally found the analogy I needed to do this.

Cancer as a Chrysalis

As a way of celebrating Easter, the youth leader at our church bought a butterfly kit. It included everything needed to watch the incredible process from ugly caterpillar to beautiful Painted Lady butterfly. It was the Sunday that the caterpillars formed a chrysalis that finally spoke to me. In the sermon that day, our pastor explained that, though a chrysalis looks like an ugly, dead thing, amazing changes are occurring that are transforming that caterpillar on a cellular level. The caterpillar does not know what is happening, but its instinct tells is what to do. It does not question its instinct; it forms its chrysalis because it *must.* It is being directed by forces that are frightening but wonderful, and it must wait until the entire process is complete before it is ready to emerge.

I am choosing to view my cancer as the chrysalis into which I must crawl and wait. In it, I will transform into the life that has been prepared for me—a life that is as colorful and as fragile as a butterfly’s wing.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

Guest Author: Beck Lister

Beck has been an Associate professor of Music at Lebanon Valley College since 2003. For her entire life, she has been part of music and worship in churches in several different denominations. Check out her blog, B-Flat Christian for more of her writing.

6 thoughts on “Cancer as a Chrysalis: The Agony and Beauty of Waiting

  1. Simply beautiful. God has truly spoken to your heart, and you had “ears to hear”. Thanks for sharing your insightful revelation, Rebecca!

  2. I sometimes tell people my cancer was a blessing. When they question that I will refer them to your insightful article. You have expressed the cancer journey very eloquently and honestly. Now I live and enjoy every hour of every day. God bless you.


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