Cancer is not a gift

April 4th, 2011 § 21 comments

I have a friend who says that “cancer has been her gift.”
She says that it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

That perspective doesn’t suit me. Despite being optimistic and determined, I am a realist. I see the ugly warts.

I don’t think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me; in fact, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

A gift is something you want to share.
Something you want to give to someone else.
Something you say “Next time I need to give a special gift to show someone I care, this is what I want to give.”
Cancer is not that thing.

Language matters.
The words we use to describe illness, death, and emotion are important– we should choose them carefully.

Cancer is not a gift:
It’s what you get.
It’s what I got.
It’s a twist of fate.
A happenstance.
A piece of bad luck.

But once you’ve got it, you have to decide what you’re going to do with it.
You can’t give it away, so you might as well make the best of it.
Fortunately, some good comes with it too.
And one of the best parts is the people you will meet.

Just because you don’t think it’s the best thing,
or a good thing,
doesn’t mean you are a negative person
or a bad person
or any particular kind of person.

In fact, it may mean you are a realistic person.

It may mean you are having a bad day.
Or a good day.
Or just a day.

And you will have those days:
Good
Bad
High
Low
Carefree
Despondent
Manic
Depressed
Terrified
Numb
Grateful
Spiteful
Bewildering
Confused
Overwhelmed
Sleepwalking
Drained
Energized
Proud
Embarrassed
And everything in between.

The days are gifts.
You can celebrate the days.
You should celebrate the days.
But don’t celebrate the disease.
Don’t treat it like a prize.

You are the prize.
You are doing the work.
You get the credit.1

  1. April 29, 2009 []

§ 21 Responses to Cancer is not a gift"

  • joanne firth says:

    I couldn’t agree more that cancer is not a gift. Nor is it something I would wish on anyone. This post is a comfort as all of the types of days you mentioned do happen and by identifying them here, I don’t feel like a bad or negative person. I think what I am is a person who has trouble living with cancer every day. Still being in the treatment process, I don’t know what I want to do with cancer yet. I do know that once the bulk of the work is behind me and my family, I’ll make the best of it and shoot for many more good days than bad. Thank you for this post!

  • Liz Swanson says:

    So interesting. I’ve never put it into words like you have here, but I totally agree. While I’ve had some negative experiences that I do consider “a gift,” the WORST experiences of my life I would never categorize in this way. Instead, I am proud of my response, my resilience, my ability to overcome them. It’s our secret well of strength that’s the gift.

  • Erika Robuck says:

    I agree that gift feels like the wrong word. My mother’s terminal illness is not something I would wish on anyone, but at the same time, I do understand what your friend means. My mom’s illness has caused her to do great reflection on her life. It has allowed her family to be near to her much more than usual, and for our interactions to be extremely loving and meaningful. If she died suddenly, we’d never have that time and I imagine, I’d have regrets.

    But cancer sucks. You’re right. It’s the fighters who are the gifts.

  • Ann Gregory says:

    Well said. Cancer is not a gift. Some people choose to cope by telling themselves that it is. I cherish the relationships that have developed as a result of cancer. Those people are the gifts.

  • jo miller says:

    You are the gift, you are the prize. this is a beautiful piece of writing. It makes me think,opens me up,helps me to appreciate & to learn to forgive & allow myself human emotions. Thank you.

  • Karen McClure says:

    Thank you, Lisa. Very well said. Some wonderful things happened during my treatment and during my daughter’s three-year bout with leukemia. We met lovely people. We found support, help, and understanding in unexpected places. We gained insight into who we are and learned of strengths we never knew we had. But we were not once grateful to have been stricken with this awful disease and there is no one on earth I so despise that I would want them to suffer as we did.

  • Robin Black says:

    Lisa, I think there’s such wisdom here. As always in your posts.

  • Good writing, good expression, good sense.

  • Philippa says:

    Beautifully put and a very sound point of view. I echo what you and others say, many wonderful things have happened, I have been able to spend beautiful time with close family and friends and I have connected with some amazing people and developed special friendships, all as a result of cancer. But cancer itself? I will never be able to see cancer as a gift.

    To quote my favourite quote – “cancer sucks, but blogging rocks”!

    Keep blogging :)

  • I totally get this. And you’re so right. Cancer is not a gift. Abuse is not a gift. To me, life is the gift. The rest just comes with the package.

  • I love this post! It kinda goes along with a recent one of mine about positive attitude. Cancer is NOT a gift. Certain aspects of the “journey” (another word I don’t like) are pleasant, but they are not the cancer part. I think there is a huge difference. I’ll be back to read more of your blog. Thank you for writing this post.

  • Being Sarah says:

    Yes I have had all those days too… and cancer most certainly is NOT a gift. Very well expressed here, thank you.

  • Robin says:

    My sister sent me this link and I’m so glad she did. I feel like you’ve both just tossed me a life preserver. I have Leukemia and I do have family members with bc including my sweet sister. Everything you have written here has reassured me I’m not losing my mind. I have been having days where I experience most of the moods in your list in one day! I am so tired of hearing people say, “they choose to be positive”! When I have bad days I feel like I’m not doing this cancer thing the correct way. Thank you for voicing what many of us feel!

  • Tina Sneed says:

    Just reinforces, “it’s never what happens to you, it’s what you do with it.”

  • You are so right. It is not a gift. Cancer changes you. Perhaps the change is the gift.

  • This is an amazing post. Thank you! You articulated what many of us feel.

  • Chris says:

    “When I have bad days I feel like I ‘m not doing this cancer thing the correct way.”
    I’m 5 years out from ampullary pancreatic cancer, almost 5 for ovarian and 18 mos for breast cancer. No metastisis, and no genetic reasons for these ‘gifts ‘. I’ve asked why, but not why me. I believe life events to be more of a crap shoot. There have been no epiphanies nor resolutions for me, no races for cures nor binding with fellow cancer travelers; but sometimes I feel I’ve missed something along the way. A guide book would be nice; maybe it could be called ‘The Road To Sainthood ‘.

  • Ingrid says:

    Another emotion I’ve come across that is unique to me is “ambivalence.” I feel that I have always worked toward doing my best in my job and doing my best in holding up others — often to the extent that I have not necessarily given myself the time and attention I have needed. I’m three months out from diagnosis and in the middle of radiation treatments to try to wipe out any microscopic remnants of bc that may remain. I find myself having a tug of war with my inner self. I struggle to set boundaries and focus more of time on me and my state of well being. I don’t think of cancer a a “gift” but, rather, a “wake-up call”. Being forced to look at my own mortality is truly making me reassess what I value and what I don’t, what I choose to spend time on and what I refuse to spend time on, etc. I don’t like the threat cancer brings to the remainder of my days. Even though we are all mortal, I don’t like to hear the clock ticking. Then again, perhaps it’s ticking will remind me to live “in the now” as now is all each of us truly has for sure!

  • […] Another of my guides is Lisa Bonchek Adams. Adams, also a writer, and a person with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, is a friend of mine — although we know each other through social media only, she is a friend nonetheless. On cancer-as-a-gift, she writes in a blog post something that resonated with me: […]

  • Patricia says:

    I had a woman tell me that it was a gift from God–So that I could be an inspiration to others. I replied that no one could believe in a “God” that would do that to someone and the only thing inspiring me was her comment, to commit assault, but I was afraid that I did not have enough bail money with me.

    • Rob W. says:

      Inspired to commit assault, lol, that’s rich. This is sort of like that stuff about how everything supposedly happens for a reason. All this stuff that people come up with about gift, curse, reason, random, positive, negative, meaning / purpose or lack thereof, etc., — none of it is true or false in any objective, factual sense; it’s all subjective interpretation. I would imagine that the woman who told Patricia that G-d is turning her into an inspiration was trying to be helpful by putting some positive spin on something which no one wants. The problem is that spinning adversity in such a way only works if the person bearing the brunt of it truly arrives at such an interpretation internally. It’s not the kind of thing which you can decide for someone else. That woman’s intentions might have been good, but it ranks with the list of stupid things which people (and people includes me too) say. I would be tempted to ask her, “Would you like to be an inspiration, too?” Somehow I doubt that she would.

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