Thursday, May 01, 2008

May 1, 2008 - Fill in the Blank: My Cancer...

On April 29, Leroy Sievers posted a request on his My Cancer blog on the National Public Radio website. It attracted hundreds of replies from readers. Leroy simply asked his readers to complete a sentence: “My cancer....”

The replies he got were many and varied. I’m copying a selection of them below. I’ve included only those that come from cancer survivors themselves – there were many other noteworthy responses that begin, “My husband’s cancer...” or “My wife’s cancer...”, but those are a subject for another day.

I’ve only included responses that are positive, that speak of learning or growth or gratitude. There were some negative responses, of the "cancer sucks" variety – expressions of anger, pain, sadness, loss – but not nearly so many as you may think.

I’d guess there were 3 or 4 positive responses for every negative one. I’ve omitted the negative ones not because they don’t have validity (indeed, I think ANY honest response to cancer is valid), but simply because I’m more interested in the ways cancer has changed its survivors for the better.

If you want to read some more of the responses, I’d suggest you visit Leroy’s blog.

My cancer reminds me that no one is permanent and I will not be the exception to this. Also, my cancer has taught me that life and health is process not a final destination.

My cancer has made me more compassionate and more appreciative of the time I have left....

My cancer made me stop taking myself so seriously....

My cancer has taught me who my true friends really are...

My cancer has taught me valuable lessons about living, loving, and dealing with things, all of which I would have been happy to have learned from a book instead.

My cancer was a great teacher. It taught me gratitude, hope and that not everything is within my control....

My cancer grounded me in reality; made me more empathetic and compassionate for the suffering of others...

My cancer taught me I was stronger than I ever knew....

My cancer reinforced for me what is truly important in life – God, family, friends – pretty much in that order. And conversely, that I could safely put aside, career, status, things....

My cancer has given me FREEDOM I never had. I don't worry. I don't fret. I am free. I faced the beast. Lived and live with it. My shoulders are broader than I ever thought, and I can handle anything. The Beast may be lurking, but he is wasting his time....

My cancer finally made me give up, at 58, the illusion that I was still just a kid in a grown-up body. But I've worked hard to regain the feeling and find myself looking at children with more joy.

My cancer helped change the direction of my life. Time became precious and relationships even more important....

My cancer made me so aware.

My cancer has taught me that every day on this side of the grass is a Good Day!

My cancer taught me the power of others’ prayers for me. It also taught me humility.

My cancer sucked me up in a slashing, burning, poisoning tornado, then set me down in a new place, headed in different direction. I'm a better person since cancer, and in whatever time I have left, I'll add more to the world.

My cancer... has shown me what the real difference is between "wheat" & "chaff" in my life. It's a lot easier to deal with life's little irritations now....

My cancer has been a “life sentence.” A poster I found not long after my diagnosis and treatment says it all: “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.”

My cancer showed me how much my husband really loves me and that his love truly is unconditional.

My cancer has enabled me to know both the fragility and the hopes of life, and with this knowledge to live most fully.

My cancer has brought out the talents, skills, devotion and strong faith for those that care for me. That is my reward, watching from my “cancer” vantage point as others improve their life’s journey.

My cancer will not define me or become the be and end all of my life. What it has done is make me stop and be aware that I am not the center of the Universe, and that I must be attuned to others, their ideas and needs.

My cancer has made me face up to the many things that were wrong with my life, and fix them.

My cancer brought me face to face with death. And that made me realize how important the gift of eternal life really is, and how glad I am I have it through my relationship with Jesus Christ. No outcome is bad now – if I live, that’s great, and I’m embracing life.
If I die, I go to heaven, a place of eternal rest and peace. And that’s a rather wonderful “backup.”

My cancer... saved my life.

My cancer taught me to pare down to the essentials in all things – to live large and travel light – trusting in the power of kindness and love to lead me where I need to go.

My cancer was the best worst thing that ever happened to me.

My cancer has made me worry less about what I can't control.

My cancer has... stretched my gratitude muscles but I have learned to be very, very grateful for the smallest of things.

My cancer taught me that I am living and dying at the same time. The living feels so full and so intense, filled with exquisite beauty and wonder. The dying feels like I am tearing away all the layers, seeing parts of me I didn't know were there, and it hurts, but just a little. And I am also learning forgiveness and gentleness and a lightness of being that will hopefully let me die with peace and grace.

My cancer has humbled me.

Cancer stripped me of my hair, breasts, uterus, ovaries, eyebrows, eyelashes, 60 pounds of excess weight, career, and marriage. But I looked in the mirror one morning and saw big green eyes, a beautiful smile and a spirit that filled the entire room and said “There you are. I wondered where you were all these years. Welcome home.”

My cancer has taught me patience....

My cancer is the thief of all the opportunities life has to offer, yet also the perspective by which I appreciate everything more.

My cancer taught me to “let it go”....

My cancer has taught me to treasure, not mourn, transience. Because the beauty of this spring will fade, or because it might be my last, does not make it less glorious.

My cancer is not me. My cancer has tried to change me. My cancer has tried to take me. But it only made me more and more what I am before my cancer. It made me discover parts of me that cancer cannot touch. Indestructible hope. An ability to laugh. A mind of my own.

As for me, I posted a response as well:

My cancer has made me a better pastor, husband and father.

If you're a cancer survivor (or someone who loves someone who's had cancer), why not try filling in the blank? Click on "Comments" and post your response here. Pass it on!


Vance said...

Excellent insights!

Anonymous said...

Why do we have the view that a horrible disease such as cancer "changes us for the better"? No doubt many of us end up believing that the "fight", "battle", "journey", orhowever you wish to label it can be or has been life transforming but have we stopped to consider why we have granted this disease such a high status. Some call it a blessing! I will never give cancer undeserved value or power or recognition because I would not wish it upon another being so it is not and can never be a blessing. What cancer does is that it forces many unsuspecting victims into life situations where we have to find ways and means and thinking to cope with the consequences of pain and suffering. You need to allow the other (so called negative) side of the comments equal voice in your column to allow cancer to be understood as the disease it really is.


Carlos ("Carl") said...


Thanks for a thoughtful and insightful response.

One of the writers I quoted wrote: "My cancer has taught me valuable lessons about living, loving, and dealing with things, all of which I would have been happy to have learned from a book instead."

I guess I see things differently than you do. I don't believe that trying to identify some blessings that emerge from the horrible experience of cancer imputes a "high status" to the disease. I don't believe the blessings come from the disease itself - as though they were a kinder, gentler sort of side-effect. Sure, some of us may say, "Cancer has taught me..." but that's a metaphor. What we really mean is that we've found sources of strength we never knew about - or, if we did, that we never had cause to tap before.

I selected the responses I did for a reason. There's no shortage of people today saying "cancer sucks" - and, they're absolutely right. Read back through some of my earlier posts from the spring of 2006, when I was undergoing chemo, and you'll see ample evidence of that. Yet, I think there's value in lifting up some thoughtful voices that witness to the resilience of the human spirit and/or the activity of God in the midst of it all.

Bill said...

You and I were featured this morning on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's website. I can see that we have very similar views and outlooks.

"My cancer" has shown me bright new paths to people like you. It has taught me to accept love.... something I have been striving for all of my life. And it has allowed my life to slow down to a pace where I appreciate so many important blessings.

Carlos ("Carl") said...

Yes, Bill, I discovered your blog, too, in just the same way. I'll look forward to digging into your earlier blog entries.