The “Gift of Cancer” – Say what?!
I spent Christmas morning getting chemo. There are no breaks for holidays and so I was given the beautiful gift of poison wrapped in a see-through plastic bag, hanging on a pole just for me; a gift bag of arsenic with my name on it that I’m so thankful to be receiving. And it made me think about the irony of it all.
Google “the gift of cancer” and there are lots of books, blog posts, and articles that patients have written about what cancer has taught them. Cancer gifts. But, there are just as many retorts by people who seethe at the thought that this horrible disease would be analogous to a gift.
Me? I sit on the fence. I see both sides and I understand.
Society loves a triumphant, positive hero. It makes them feel good to see someone fight and win, and stay strong through it all. It’s much harder to see someone rage, and fall apart, and admit their self-pity. This puts pressure on the cancer patient to bury their emotions for the benefit of others. But, to state the obvious, “this isn’t easy”. I’m human, and weak, and often get down in the muck and wallow at how horrible it all is. I cry. I have panic attacks. I feel all of the emotions and often smile on the outside while screaming on the inside. Cancer sucks, and if I’m honest, I hate it. I wasn’t allowed to use the word hate growing up but in this case, it fits. As a child, I watched my mother eaten alive by leukemia, and I was happy when she died because I didn’t want to see her suffer any more. I get why people resent the word ‘gift’ and ‘cancer’ used in the same sentence.
But, after each mud bath of frustration and anger, I slog my way toward the positives. I reach my muddy hand out to receive the gifts because they help me to heal my torn bits. My internal wounds are bandaged by focusing on the lessons to be learned. I rejoice in being given poison on Christmas day because 40 years ago, this life-saving treatment wasn’t available and I’d be long dead by now.
So what are my gifts of cancer?
I’ve been shown the beauty of the human spirit. It sounds cliché and sugary, but it’s true. With so much hurt and pain in the world it’s nice to experience the goodness too. Unselfish, compassionate human beings have shown up in abundance to support me. I’ve been reminded that my life matters. Those closest to me and others I’ve never met, have all stepped up, with nothing to gain but the intrinsic reward of giving. If I ever questioned my worth in this world, I will never do so again. I know I’m loved.
Cancer has reminded me to stop and feel the beauty that surrounds us in all the little miracles that make up our day. Being an artist and photographer, I believe I’ve always appreciated beauty. But to feel it is another matter. Today, for instance, I felt the majestic mountains kissed by the afternoon sun, the shimmering tickle of water on a yellow bird’s feathers as it bathed in my fountain, and the twinkling music of lights on a little Christmas tree. These experiences flowed through me and caught my breath. Life is miraculous and I feel it like never before.
I surround myself with those I love and let the trivial fall away. I cherish authentic relationships, live my truth, and protect my soul. When I see others that are angry, or lashing out, I feel compassion. None of us are born wanting to live an unhappy existence. Things go wrong and we’re challenged because life is hard. I know this. I’ve lived it. So, I send love and light to those I see struggling. But, I also know that I’m too sensitive and vulnerable to open myself up to negativity. I live in a protective bubble of my own making that is filled with what heals me and makes me feel good. I spend my time doing what I love, like reconnecting with my passion for writing through this blog.
None of us know when our time on this earth will end. Cancer took a distant death deadline that I never thought about, and shoved it in my face for examination. Remission has allowed me to distance myself from the inevitable once again, but I keep my mortality present enough to appreciate each day. I live in the now. In a very real and powerful way, I know that today is a gift.
The good news is that none of these lessons or gifts need come from experiencing cancer. In fact, much of this I already knew. But, leukemia has been the catalyst in reminding me to make the most of my life. To love. To feel. To cherish. And to be gentle with myself and others.
Thank you, Cancer. Now, get lost!