There Are No Atheists In Fox Holes

Taryn Hillin
6 min readMay 15, 2021

My journey to finding God, after cancer.

Post-cancer treatment, 2020.

Since being diagnosed with a rare and deadly cancer in fall 2019 (high-grade small cell neuroendocrine Stage 3C), I have written extensively about the lifestyle changes I’ve made around food, diet and exercise. One thing I haven’t spoken much about, publicly anyway, are the spiritual changes I’ve made.

Spirituality is a sensitive, deeply personal, subject for many of us, so I would like to share a tiny glimpse of my journey so far. Before cancer, I was really an agnostic and at times even bordered on atheist. I felt that while I didn’t know everything (obviously), it was difficult for me to imagine some higher power involved with our human lives, when some sort of chaos theory — i.e. elements and matter colliding at random, with no deterministic future, until billions of years later here we are — really made sense to me. This changed slightly in 2016 after I went on an Auyascha journey in the woods with a Peruvian shaman. Following that experience I became more spiritual, believing in an “energy of the universe” that connects us all, but still didn’t believe that we had any control over that energy. I certainly didn’t have a desire to join a church or participate in organized religion. The concept of God (and Jesus) felt foreign to me. In fact, any time I was in church, I felt like an imposter (even though my dad was actually a minister before I was born).

From my Auyascha trip through 2019, I read a few books on Buddhism and topics like The Four Agreements and aligned myself more with those teachings. I always struggled, however, because there are so many religions, so many devout believers and I thought to myself, “Well they can’t all be right? Someone, by virtue of statistics, has to be wrong.” It also felt strange as an adult to simply “pick” a religion at random, as if that made it inauthentic.

Then, I got cancer. Stage 3C. Suddenly, my life was on the line and I found myself praying A LOT. Praying to who? Anyone who would listen. As they say, there are no atheists in fox holes, and that really rang true for me. I read a book called “The Biology of Belief” by Bruce Lipton and during cancer treatment envisioned my cancer cells being destroyed. I began to imagine that I did have some control over my cancer through meditation and prayer. During that time more and more people reached out to me, saying they were praying for me. And as a former atheist, I have to say I was very thankful for this. I appreciated those prayers more than you could imagine. Knowing that people in my community, who were very religious, were holding me in their hearts and praying to God on my behalf gave me a sense of relief and comfort.

Simultaneously, I leaned on Psalm 91 (“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all ways”) during chemo-radiation and after treatment booked sessions with different healers. A medical medium, a Reiki healer, and a hypnotherapist. The medical medium, who had previously diagnosed things in me doctors had missed, assured me early on, it was not my time to go. That cancer for me was about “trial by fire”, not victimhood. Even my brother, who I consider very intuitive, said from Day One, you will not die from this. Their confidence gave me confidence.

I dove further in. I read books by famous psychic mediums like Laura Lynn Jackson and Rebecca Rosen and explored memoirs of people with Near-Death Experiences (NDEs), like Anita Moorjani, who cured her Stage 4 cancer after a near-death experience. I watched the documentary “Heal” and felt aligned with that mindset. I really didn’t want to die, so of course, I explored stories of those who had seen “the other side” and made it back to tell the tale. My spiritual world began blending with elements from Christianity, Buddhism, and the New Age. During treatment I had dreams that my “mammaw” (my grandmother) was visiting me and holding my hand, telling me everything was going to be okay, that I was going to live to serve some larger purpose. I leaned on my Indigenous ancestors to help save me. The concept that they were on “the other side” helping me, gave me hope.

I found myself leaning more and more on my spiritual practice of meditation, prayer, and gratitude, and the more I learned from different sources, the more I realized there was one underlying thread. We are all loved and our purpose here is to give love. This is actually the same message I received on my Auyascha journey, but at the time I still struggled with the “why”. Why was the universe created? Where do our “souls” come from? And does the universe (or God) really care if we live or die? In my mind, I imagined any larger force caring about us as nearly impossible. After all, there are seven billion people and many of them die every day.

But when you get cancer, especially one that can kill you, you NEED a larger force to care about you. You NEED your community to pray and rally for you. You NEED that miracle energy brought by spiritual leaders like Jesus and the acceptance energy brought by Buddha. So, here I was, a former agnostic / atheist, wearing stones around my wrists, sageing my house, praying to God, praying to my higher beings, and meditating on killing cancer cells. I came to understand that my body created the cancer inside it, and therefore could also help heal it.

I now have a much different view of religion. Though varying in their practice, I actually believe that all religions are working toward the same goal — to love ourselves and our neighbors. To teach love, forgiveness, and enlightenment. While they all pull at different threads, the end game is the same. Where organized religion goes wrong, I believe, is when it begins discriminating against others or denying others of their rights. This is where I believe new-age energy-based spirituality is filling in the gap by preaching the idea that we are all incredible, light-filled beings deserving of love and forgiveness. That we are all equal and connected to the same consciousness. When one of us heals, we all heal and when one of us hurts, we all hurt. The energy we put out into the universe matters. I truly believe that everyone believing I am cured of my cancer, and praying on my behalf, has helped cure me of my cancer. (But please don’t take this the wrong way, I still believe in science and medicine and attribute much of my success to my amazing oncology team who all came together to do everything in their power to save me as well. I had the best surgeon, the best radiation-oncologist, and was lucky enough to get a hematologist-oncologist who believed in me and all my complementary treatments, guiding me along the way. But this post isn’t about the science side of cancer — i.e. the chemo, radiation, and surgery — it’s about the spiritual side.)

So I’ll end with this. As Einstein *allegedly* once said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Before cancer, I lived as though nothing was a miracle and the world was just a random event caused by billions of other random events. Now, I believe everything is a miracle. That the love of the universe (or God) is infinite and not a zero-sum game. Me, being alive, is a miracle. And I thank God every day for that.

*no one can actually prove Einstein said this, but everyone attributes it to him, lol.

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Taryn Hillin

Writer, journalist, media strategist. Sony TV Diverse Writers '21; Universal Writers '22; Formerly of HuffPost, Fusion, TMZ, and VP Strategy ENTITY. Yale grad.