Following a cancer diagnosis, it seems there is often an unspoken expectation that a person should somehow be transformed into a new and improved version of one’s former self. I know this expectation is out there because this very thing was actually the topic of a support group meeting I attended a while back. (I go to more than one, so there’s anonymity here).
At the meeting we went around the table and each person was supposed to state how she was now a better person post cancer diagnosis. Immediately upon hearing that request, I felt uncomfortable and began fidgeting in my chair.
When my turn came, I couldn’t help myself. I went ahead and stated that I don’t think I am a better person post cancer diagnosis because well, I’m not.
Everyone just sort of gave me one of those looks.
You know the look, the one that says; well that’s not how you’re supposed to do cancer.
If truth be told, in some ways I’ve gone the opposite direction.
Physically, this is true without a doubt. My body has taken a dramatic hit in too many ways to count. My stamina has taken a hit; so has my strength, range of motion, weight, bone health, body image and hair, to name a few more.
Aside from the physical, among other things, I might very well be less patient, less willing to conform, more easily distracted and far too more opinionated.
I’m not the same person in many ways, but yet I am.
After my response, someone sitting next to me at that meeting then said to me, “Well, it must be nice to have always been such a good person.”
I’m not entirely sure what she meant by that, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment…clearly we were not on the same page, or even in the same “book”.
And that’s fine.
I love and just have to share this video interview with Barbara Ehrenreich in which she does the exact opposite thing we did at that meeting. She admits to very possibly being nastier after her breast cancer diagnosis. It’s really funny and she makes some very valid points. (I still need to get my hands on her book, Bright-Sided)
I never was a nasty person and I certainly don’t think I am now, or at least I try not to be.
Before cancer, I like to think I was a decent human being trying to do the right things, most days any way. I still try to live that way.
For the most part, I think people are not all that different after a diagnosis than they were before.
Sure, big changes come as a result of a diagnosis; we learn, we grow, we adapt, but deep down does the core of who you were/are change all that much? Probably not.
And without a diagnosis, a person still (hopefully) learns, grows and adapts don’t they?
Before cancer, some people are saint-like, some people are jerks and most are somewhere in between.
The same is true after a diagnosis.
Cancer doesn’t necessarily transform a person into a new and improved version of oneself.
The thing about this unspoken expectation is that it insinuates there should be some great life lesson to learn from having cancer. It implies there should be some great epiphany or sudden enlightenment about the meaning of life or whatever. Maybe there is, but maybe there isn’t.
In my mind, this borders on the cancer is a gift thinking which frankly, is beyond my comprehension.
Perhaps it’s true, that after any life-changing experience, one does have a greater appreciation for life in general, or for the fragility of it at least. Many attest to being more compassionate, less judgmental and more willing to reach out to others following a diagnosis. I like to think I am as well. Who doesn’t?
And it’s certainly true for many (me included) that after a cancer diagnosis things do change dramatically.
But to assume somehow because of cancer you become a better person…
Somehow this expectation feels like yet another cancer “obligation” one is supposed to fulfill and going even further, I think this expectation might even potentially be harmful to a person’s well-being.
Cancer doesn’t miraculously make you better, or worse for that matter.
You are who you are.
Cancer or no cancer, people are just people; all of us flawed living and learning each day as we go along.
Hopefully we all try to be the best person we can be each day. Hopefully today and every day, we all try to be a bit better than we were the day before.
I say, let’s not give cancer credit for that.
What about you?