Being an atheist with terminal cancer is hard. There is no supernatural being to plead to intervene on your behalf. You can’t “give your troubles” to anyone. It’s just you, the doctors caring for you and the people who love you. Which is not a bad thing, but it does require facing the future as a human being and not a “child of god.”
When I was a child, my toy animals protected and comforted me. They kept me safe, accepted my tears and held my secrets. It seems to me that the idea of a deity or saint does the same for people who believe. When confronted with a crisis, these figures could be appealed to and would perhaps interviene on their behalf. It must be such a comfort to honestly believe that miraculous power is genuinely available to you (if they agree to help.)
I didn’t have that when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Or when it metastasized to my lung, bone and lymph nodes. Or last November when I learned the cancer had spread to my brain and I was going to die in six months. I wished sometimes that I could pray, but I knew full well that no one was listening. To pretend otherwise would be hypocritical and an insult to my own intelligence. I am an adult and my animals can’t protect me anymore.
Last month I learned that the Whole Brain Radiation worked brilliantly and as far as my brain was concerned, I am NED. I was so thankful to my radiation oncologist and the people who developed the brilliant new machine that closed 1″ lesions in my brain, that closed 17 lesions in total. A deity didn’t do that, people did. People who dedicated their lives to eliminating cancer and who gave me my future back. I have no illusions that I’ve got tons of time ahead of me, but I’ve got more than six months (it’s been 3 so far and I’m just getting stronger.)
Facing death without belief in an afterlife (beyond becoming a tree if I opt for a green burial – which wouldn’t be bad, especially if I can have an acacia tree planted over me) is not a problem for me. What hurts is dealing with the fear. Sometimes I imagine my dad putting his arms around me, but I know he’s gone, so it mostly just makes me miss him even more.
I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m an atheist because I cannot lie to myself, and it’s not always a comfortable or easy place to be.