Cancer is not a gift, nor is it an enlightenment program from which you emerge as a new and improved version of your former self. At least I do not view it as such and the latter did not happen for me.
As you likely know by now, the concept of referring to cancer as a gift or an opportunity for enlightenment grates on my nerves. Heck, all anyone has to do is read the title of my memoir or the synopsis on its back cover. In fact, I find the notion that cancer is a gift insulting.
What about you?
(Of course, I hope I am a better person post-diagnosis but not because of cancer. Big difference.)
I had no plans to write about this topic again. Even I’m kinda sick of it. I thought, surely by now, the idea of calling cancer a gift had been put to rest.
Talk about a stale narrative, right?
No one actually goes around suggesting someone else should consider her cancer a gift do they?
Yep. It seems so.
Recently, I received an email from a reader who wanted advice on how to handle this very thing. She was taking some sort of Christian women’s class and at the end of one of the sessions, the teacher said, cancer is a gift from God. Yep. You read that right. A gift. From God no less.
In no way do I wish to imply that all Christians think this way because clearly, they do not.
But back to the reader…
Her email went on to say, I really don’t know what this person (the instructor) is talking about. What should I do?
The instructor also shared a link to a book about the whole cancer is a gift notion. I chose not to include the book’s actual title because to me, it borders on offensive, and I don’t wish to generate any interest in or sales for such a book.
Is that petty?
Maybe so. Call me petty then.
Anyway, clearly, this expectation is still out there. This particular reader was at a loss regarding what to say or do about this dilemma. Hence this post.
I very much want to know what you, my Dear Readers, would suggest.
When someone spews the cancer is a gift nonsense to me, I’ve learned how to handle that, but admittedly, it took a while for me to get up the gumption (or whatever the heck it takes) to push back in this type of situation.
When I received that email, I felt sort of protective regarding that dear reader – like someone was “picking on” her, and I needed to help her out.
Does that sound weird?
If someone does feel her cancer was/is a gift, that’s fine. My problem is with the societal expectation that seems to
push nudge others in Cancer Land into accepting that line of thinking too.
I will not be nudged.
Cancer did not teach me what was important. I already knew. Cancer did not make me stronger, wiser, braver, kinder, better or whatever. Cancer did not make me a better person. It just did not.
Megan Devine, author of, It’s OK that You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand, addresses this topic of “becoming better” in her book too. This book (I am happy to mention hers) is about grief, but there are many instances in it where one can easily interchange the word grief with the word cancer.
For example, and as I wrote about in an earlier post, she talks about the unspoken part in statements like, this (loss) will make you a better person or now you know what’s important, that often get floated around. (Yeah people say that crap about grief too):
The unspoken second half of the sentence in this case says you needed this somehow. It says you weren’t aware of what was important in life before this happened. It says that you weren’t kind, compassionate, or aware enough…That you needed this experience in order to develop or grow, that you needed this lesson in order to step into your “true path” in life…Statements like this say you were not good enough before. You somehow needed this.
When you think about it, that unspoken part is darn cruel.
To be clear, people saying such things don’t intend to cause hurt, it’s that those hearing such platitudes often interpret them as hurtful.
So, what should that dear reader do?
I suggested she read my posts on this subject. I also suggested that if she felt truly uncomfortable by such statements and such a book, she should tell her instructor so. Discussion is good, as are varying opinions. Sometimes speaking up is easier said than done though, right? I mean, maybe she had to pass that class or get a certain grade, so there’s that.
But ordinarily, a person should not be afraid to speak up, which reminds me of these very wise words from Audre Lorde:
When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.
Don’t you just love that?
Along with an expectation that you should be transformed (for the better) after a cancer diagnosis, or any difficult life-changing experience, is the accompanying followup question if you should resist.
Why aren’t you “better”?
Hmm. Feels like another version of the blame game.
This does not mean cancer doesn’t change things or you. Hell, it changes just about everything. Some changes are perhaps good. Many are not.
In her book, Devine says the following about all this forced betterment malarchy:
Things happen, and we absorb and adapt. We respond to what we experience, and that is neither good nor bad. It simply is. The path forward is integration, not betterment…You don’t have to grow from it, and you don’t have to put it behind you. Both responses are too narrow and shaming to be of use. Life-changing events do not just slip quietly away…They change us. They are part of our foundation as we move forward…What you build might be growth…But that is due to your choices, your own alignment with who you are and who you want to be. Not because grief (or cancer – my addition) is your one-way ticket to becoming a better person.
Amen to that.
You don’t have to grow from it or put it behind you. That’s so freeing, don’t you think?
I’ve been harping on moving forward vs moving on for ages. After all, cancer is not a before and after event as far as being over and then done with; it’s part of the continuum that is your life.
Giving cancer credit for making any positive changes you do manage to make in your life after a diagnosis is ridiculous. YOU are the change maker. Granted, cancer might be a catalyst of sort, but you are one behind the wheel of your life. You get all the credit. Not cancer.
I’ll wrap this ramble up with a quote from another book – yep, mine:
Calling cancer a gift or thinking of it as an opportunity for personal enlightenment might make a nice feature story for a magazine or newspaper article or sell more books. But it’s just not reality, at least it’s not mine. Plus, it’s downright insulting to those with a stage IV diagnosis. Maybe it’s all semantics, but words matter. A lot…People are gifts. Life is a gift. Cancer is not. This doesn’t mean I am bitter, negative or ungrateful (I’ve been called all three). Mostly, it means I’m a person who lives in reality. If looking at their cancer as a gift works for some, more power to them. But as for me, this kind of thinking is unfathomable. Cancer is not, was not and never will be a gift for me and my family. Despite the illusion often created by pink ribbon culture, breast cancer is still a horrible, too often deadly disease, and nothing about it is pretty, pink or gift-like. Period.
Cancer is not a gift, an enlightenment program, wake up call, path to figure out life’s true meaning or any other BS way of framing it. Hearing it referred to as such is insulting, to me anyway.
What about you?
If applicable, do you feel you are a better person because of cancer?
What advice would you give that dear reader or anyone else in a similar situation?
If applicable, do you consider your cancer a gift or an opportunity for enlightenment?
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You might also wish to read my book, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person: A memoir about cancer as I know it. If you have read it, please consider writing a review on Amazon. Thank you!