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Is Cancer a Gift? A Follow-up

Sometimes when I write a post I promise myself I will revisit the question or topic after a period of time has passed because I know my perspective is an evolving thing. Perhaps yours is as well. After all, we all change our minds from time to time.

The post I wrote last year on this question remains one of my most commented on posts ever. The comments left there are passionate on both sides of the answer to this question. If you’d like to read it, here’s the link. It’s also been published on Huffington Post.

One year later I’m back to pose the same question and reflect on how my position has or has not changed.

I keep waiting for that moment when I will be awakened, enlightened, transformed or whatever.

I think I’ll be waiting for a long time to come.

I don’t see my position on this question shifting any time soon.

Once again, if you do view your cancer as a gift, I respect your viewpoint. I sincerely do. But as for me, I cannot in any way, shape or form even contemplate ever seeing cancer as a gift for all the same reasons I already wrote about and more.

No matter how you “wrap up” cancer, it’s still an ugly disease.

You can wrap and re-wrap any unwanted item in beautifully colored expensive wrapping paper and it will still be an unwanted item when opened. You can put as many “bows,” as much glitter and as many “pink ribbons” (sorry I couldn’t resist) on it as you want, and it will be still be something no one wants when the wrappings are undone.

One of the main problems I have with the whole cancer is a gift idea is that is implies you “come out of it” (and don’t even get me started on the “coming out of it” part) a better person. 

Doesn’t this then mean you must be grateful?

This “cancer has made you a better person” concept was actually the topic for discussion at a meeting I recently attended. I nearly bit my tongue off trying to keep quiet until it was my turn to speak. I should probably write a post on that sometime…

Giving cancer credit for introducing me to new people, ideas and chosen paths since my diagnosis seems misplaced. I am grateful for these people, ideas and chosen paths, but I will not thank cancer for them.

Whenever this topic comes up, I always remember the wise and passionate words of my friend Rachel of the Cancer Culture Chronicles. You should definitely read her post called, The Gift of Breast Cancer? I’d Like a Refund. This is my favorite part:

“I don’t care if the experience of breast cancer causes you to morph into the next Mother Theresa, the fact remains that nothing, nada, zilch can ever be enough to compensate for what is lost to breast cancer. It’s an evil curse and I don’t intend to ever see it any other way.”

Brilliantly stated.

I could not agree more.

From my perspective cancer isn’t, wasn’t and never will be a gift.

How do you feel about cancer being referred to as a gift?

Have your thoughts on this evolved or shifted over time?

Monday 14th of January 2013

I agree. As I always say, It's not like I was an A**hole to begin with.


Tuesday 15th of January 2013

Eileen, My sentiments exactly! Nope, definitely not a gift. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

The Savvy Sister

Friday 28th of December 2012

How would you like cancer all wrapped up in a pretty bow for your birthday? Me neither.

Cancer isn't the gift....the realization that life needs to be lived well is the gift... and you certainly don't need cancer to do that!


Wednesday 2nd of January 2013

Savvy Sister, Right on! I didn't need cancer to learn that either.

Beth Gainer

Thursday 13th of December 2012


Like you, I do not believe cancer is a gift. And like you, I know that we are an evolution-in-process always. Things I thought six years ago, 11 years ago, etc. were a different Beth than the one I am now.

I am constantly evolving.

Other people have asked whether cancer is a gift. Six years ago, after my double mastectomy with reconstruction, I wasn't sure. I didn't have an answer, but I knew my life in general was better post-cancer.

I think Lisa said it so well: cancer is a catalyst. Before cancer, my terrible marriage made me a recluse. I had low self-esteem and was really in a bad place. Cancer taught me that life was precious and rather than waste it, I should seize it.

That being said, I don't think cancer is a gift. I don't think cancer made me a better person or that all the great things that have happened to me since cancer is because of cancer. It's because I seized the reins of my life.

Thank you once again for a thought-provoking post!


Friday 14th of December 2012

Beth, "That being said, I don’t think cancer is a gift. I don’t think cancer made me a better person or that all the great things that have happened to me since cancer is because of cancer. It’s because I seized the reins of my life." I really like those statements. Well said! Thank you.

Wendi Dennis

Wednesday 12th of December 2012

I agree with many of the comments here--cancer is no gift, but it is a catalyst. I hate the idea that I became a better person/learned a big lesson/whatever from cancer. But I must grudgingly admit that it did motivate me to excise from life everything that made me miserable. I would have done so anyway, I like to believe, cancer just accelerated the process.


Friday 14th of December 2012

Wendi, Cancer accelerates a lot of things doesn't it? I agree with you, Lisa and Beth about the catalyst thing, but cancer a gift, never. Thanks so much for sharing.

Lisa Valentine

Wednesday 12th of December 2012

Cancer as gift, no. Cancer as catalyst, yes. If given the opportunity, I would not want to return to my pre-cancer self. There are many things I learned about myself, my loved ones, and the world around me through months of uncertainty, three surgeries, and four rounds of chemo. Things I couldn't have learned any other way. I live life more deeply and fully. I lost two breasts and my youthful sense of security, but I gained a better understanding of my priorities and living to them. I gained the courage to write in ways I had never written before. I gained friends in support group and in the blogging world.

Everyone goes in to a cancer diagnosis as the unique individual they are. There is no one way to see cancer. Just like it is a multi-faceted disease, patients have multi-faceted experiences.

Thanks for this forum Nancy.


Wednesday 12th of December 2012

Lisa, Oh my, Lisa, I think you might be a far better person than I am. I would love to go back to portions of my pre-cancer life/self anyway. I agree, there is much to learn from dealing with a serious illness, but I would gladly give up the experience. You're absolutely right, everyone's cancer experience is uniquely their own. There is no right way to "do cancer". Thanks so much for commenting, Lisa, and for being part of this forum.

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