Cancer Was Not, Is Not & Never Will Be A Gift…

So how do you feel about the expression, cancer is a gift? I’m pretty sure most of you are well aware by now what my thoughts on this one are. If not, you can read some of them here. My mind has not been changed since I wrote that piece two years ago. If anything, I believe even more strongly that…

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

I have not felt that epiphany moment when I suddenly figured stuff out and morphed into a new and improved version of my former self. Perhaps I’m a slow learner, but the great “cancer lessons” escape me, except of course, the great lesson of loss. I have learned that lesson well.

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

Do I sound a bit bitter and maybe even a bit angry? Though I try not to, sometimes I guess I do and sometimes I guess I am.

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

My mother died from metastatic breast cancer five years ago now. We received the devastating news about her horrible prognosis on Christmas Eve no less, ironically right before my family and I sat down to open gifts.

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

Dear friends of mine have died from metastatic disease and others I care about (and countless more I will never know) struggle every day in ways unimaginable to those who do not “know”.

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

When my initial cancer treatment ended, I felt blessed for many reasons, but I did not feel blessed to have had cancer. I was grateful for many people and many things, but I did not feel grateful to cancer.

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

I am the same. I am changed. I am still me and yet I am not.

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

If you choose to call your cancer a gift, I do not judge you; truly I do not.

But as for me…

Cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift.

Do you view your cancer, or any serious illness/experience you have or have had as a gift?

How do you feel and/or react when you hear someone call cancer a gift?

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cancer was not, is not and never will be a gift! #cancer #breastcancer #cancersucks #cancerlanguage

52 thoughts to “Cancer Was Not, Is Not & Never Will Be A Gift…”

  1. So many heavy things, I can so very much understand why you would not consider it a gift. Truth is, I am none to pleased with it either. I do consider it a gift that I get to still be here today, and I guess that’s the aspect I try to focus on. ~Catherine

    1. Catherine, They are heavy things for sure, but then you know all about that… I’m with you – I consider being here every day to be a gift. Thanks for for always being so willing to share your perspectives.

  2. I become very irritated when I hear people say their cancer was a gift… reality check please Cancer can never be equated with the word gift in the same sentence…..Alli….x

  3. I’ve endured too much suffering and seen others suffer and die. Cancer is not a gift; life is a gift. I feel blessed and lucky that I survived cancer thus far, but not without intense pain for the others who didn’t survive.

    Like you, I am changed. It’s weird because I don’t think I morphed into a better person as a result of cancer, yet my life improved post-cancer in many ways because I made some serious life changes.

    I am so sorry about your mom, Nancy. I know that Dec. 24 will be a tough time for you and your family in some ways. I’m so sorry this damn disease exists.



    1. Beth, Not weird at all – cancer is a big wake-up call for sure, but somehow I bet you would have made some of those changes with or without it… The changes you made are things you are responsible for, not cancer. Thanks for the kind words and for always “getting it”.

  4. Cancer is evil. What I do with the cancer is my gift to myself. Cancer gave me permission to do and become many things I would not have otherwise. I am grateful for what I learned and how I benefited, and those are gifts I keep with me forever.

    1. Heidi, Thank you. I don’t mean to leave the impression I haven’t found any peace or any joy. I have. I am also not an angry person, not even close. I do hold onto a bit of anger though, that’s different. Hmmm… might have to explore that further… Thanks for spurring some more thoughts. Wishing you joy and peace this holiday season as well.

  5. No cancer is not a gift. Did I learn things about myself, family, & friends? Sure. Did I learn life lessons? Of course. Have I learned to appreciate life more and worry less about little annoyances? Absolutely. Life & love are gifts. Hope, friendship, and kindness are gifts. Cancer, and any other major illness, is not a gift! So Nancy, I agree with you and wish you the gifts of life, health, & happiness!

  6. I survived non hodgkins lymphoma twice, the second time, I had to get a stem cell transplant. It was painful, kept me from a job I love for a year, left me tired and nauseated, with tons of cavities, heartburn and catching every bug that comes down the road (and I work in a school with kids who have special needs, so I get exposed to a lot of bugs)It had my family scared and worried. It was expensive, even with good health insurance. For heaven’s sake, I didn’t even lose weight, the one positive physical aspect it could’ve left with me. A gift? No way! I consider my wonderful family and friends and all those who supported me the gifts in my life. I didn’t need cancer to show me their worth. I lost some beautiful people to this disease and it left a lot of lives devastated. People get mixed up and confuse the spirit and strength they possess as something that sprang up, that was created by having cancer. We all have that spirit, that strength in us. Everyone has his or her own belief. I believe our Creator bestows that gift to us and it is there for us to use when we need it. I am so so thankful that I am alive and I am grateful for every day. I did not nor will I ever see cancer as anything positive. I will continue to fund raise and raise awareness to get rid of all cancers.

    1. Liz, Gosh, you sound like a very wise person. I completely agree that we didn’t need cancer to show us the worth of our family and friends did we? Plus, I love these words of yours, “People get mixed up and confuse the spirit and strength they possess as something that sprang up, that was created by cancer. We all have that spirit, that strength in us”. Well said. Thanks for sharing your insights with us.

    1. Renn, Yes, amen! Thank you very much for taking time to read and comment on this topic. It’s one that needs revisiting from time to time IMO.

  7. Good things can grow out of bad, but that does not necessarily make the bad a gift.

    Life, despite cancer, is the gift. Many other gifts are love of family and friends, deeper faith, deeper appreciation of the beauty of life, and prayers from people I have never and will never meet (between deployed servicemen and foreign missionaries my church supports – I was being prayed for from Afghanistan to South America).

    But was cancer itself a gift? People tell me I will eventually see it that way. But none of those people who say that have gone through the level of treatment I did for stage 3 IBC. Nor have they metastasized, like me. I do not hear them say that to the young policeman’s widow raising her children alone after her husband died on duty. I do not hear them say that to the person whose house burns down, to the unemployed, etc. They talk about how God will get them through it, about how God still has good things, blessings, ahead for them. But, they never seem to call unemployment or widowhood or any of these other tragedies a gift. Heart attacks are not called gifts, yet they too are life changing illness. So why are people so insistent that we see cancer as a gift?

    Isn’t it enough to have more gratitude for life? To have deeper appreciation for sunsets and flowers and music, and most of all, people? To know God is with you through that deep valley of cancer? Why do people feel we must call this evil called cancer a gift?

    1. Elizabeth, You are so right. You make an interesting observation there about other tragedies not being referred to as gifts. I hadn’t really thought about that. We do learn and grow from bad experiences, too, I agree with that. But to call them gifts; well, I’m not going to be calling cancer a gift. It’s not gonna happen. Thanks for adding to this conversation.

  8. I agreed with your earlier posts then (I think I commented on one), and still do. A shame that the topic almost requires a re-visit, given that the idea that cancer is a gift and improves patients’ outlooks still persists.

    1. Cancer Curmudgeon, Some topics need a re-visit from time to time. The thing I’ve learned since I wrote the original piece, well one thing, is that I will not be quiet about this again if and when someone calls cancer a gift. Of course, I will continue to respect someone else’s right to call it that, but as for me, it’s not going to happen. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    1. Kruties, I am certainly not trying to declare what’s normal or acceptable for anyone else. As for me, I just can’t call a cancer a gift. I just can’t. Thank you so much for reading and taking time to comment.

  9. While I agree with you, and have written a similar post about this subject myself, I still feel that having cancer at 25 allows me to appreciate the best parts of my life more fully. I don’t know that that’s a gift, exactly, just the way things are. I think that I’ve personally benefited from my response to the disease, though this is definitely a cost-benefit scenario I’d largely love to have never been a part of. I’m not in any way suggesting that I wouldn’t have been better off had this never happened to me, but I am saying that I do like some of the perspective I’ve found after the ordeal.

    1. Kevin, Thanks so much for taking time to comment on this. While I agree that perspectives are altered and appreciation for many things and many people does grow, the cancer is still not the gift – at least not for me. You certainly have the right to view your cancer anyway you choose. I respect that. I like what you said about the cost-benefit scenario – and mentioning that largely you would love to never have been a part of it, well – that says a lot. Regardless, you are choosing what to do with the hand you’ve been given. Ultimately, that’s what we all do, right? But as for me and calling cancer a gift, it’s just not going to happen.

  10. Rather than an AMEN I wish to offer another perspective.

    I am a survivor of 3 years now, breast cancer stage 3. I went through an aggressive treatment just 8 mos after we had buried my mother who fought the cancer beast for 32 yrs. Yes, she was 32 when she diagnosed with breast cancer, I was 11. I carry the BRCA-2 gene and have 2 daughters. I have lived with cancer in my life in one form or another since I was 11 years old. I am now 44.

    Is cancer a gift?


    But cancer gave me gifts in life that I would not have received otherwise.

    Let me explain…
    I don’t get offended when others say it is a gift. Because it is so much more than that. And it’s deeper than this surface comment, “Cancer is a gift.” It’s not flippant, although many don’t realize that. Many say it flippantly, but they don’t dig deeper with their words on what this implies.

    I got my shovel, ready?

    Sometimes when life halts suddenly, when you grab onto it so hard and so tight that you can barely stop to breath in fear that it will slip away from you-you need to look at what it does to your perspective.

    To your very soul.

    As you have this death grip on life. Stop. Breathe.

    Is your soul now living in fear every single day? Is their now a fear that you didn’t have BEFORE the big C diagnosis?

    If it is, you have not received “the gift.”

    The gift, whether it be from cancer, from a heart attack, from a near death experience, is one that you take life every single day and you live it to the FULLEST.

    Not because of FEAR. NO. Not because of fear.

    And not because you are trying to EARN the right to be alive.

    You live it because every single day is a gift. :CUE HARP MUSIC:

    Every breath you take is a gift.


    Do we lose our lives to cancer? Of course, but what we lose the MOST is the freedom to live.

    You now have a choice. Live with-in the confines, the bars of cancer prognosis, what if’s and could be’s. Look into your crystal ball and try to challenge it with its outcomes.

    I acknowledge every single morning that I wake up breathing that cancer has not, and will not rob me of the joy I feel living. I will not worry that my life may end at the pole on wheels with poison drips.

    I will not worry that my 4 children will grow up without their mother.

    I will not give cancer that satisfaction. Then cancer has won. I am a prisoner and I ignore the very gift of life dealing with a life threatening crisis offers me.

    Is having cancer a death sentence to living fearlessly? (life before cancer vs life after) I think so. But you have a choice. Every single day you wake up and you make a choice. You accept the gift, or you turn it away.

    I think as soon as the word is uttered in our direction, the fear of dying how our loved ones did creeps in. The memories. The trials. The fear. The fear. The fear. It eats at our confidence. It chews up and spits out our feeling “normal”. New normal. You’ve all heard it.


    I had cancer.


    I might have cancer again.

    I might not.

    I am not in control of this bus. The cancer bus takes its own route. If it didn’t, we would have CURE by now.

    But I will not let the GIFT cancer gave me of seeing LIFE from a different perspective, in my heart, in my soul and to those around me in my life. It will NOT box me, it will NOT confine me, it will NOT define me.

    My mother didn’t let cancer rule her life for 32 years. The # of diagnosis’ were staggering. The surgeries, too many to count. She ran out of chemos to try. But she lived every single day as a GIFT.

    She gave every single day tribute to what cancer gave her.


    Joy to others.

    Joy to everyone she encountered, even on her death bed. She loved. And she loved hard.

    She didn’t grip onto life with a death grip.

    She let life grip onto her!!!

    Please, please do not let that gift sit unopened. Please please do not become bitter when others talk about their “gifts” in association with cancer. Because you are missing the point. You are missing it completely.

    plural noun: gifts

    a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.

    Someone once told me to experience complete and utter joy, you have to experience sorrow so deeply it cuts you to your core.

    My sorrow was cancer.

    My joy: today. 12/20/13

    I write this in memory of my mother. Dec. 23, 2009.

    LOVE YOU MOM. Thanks for giving me that gift. I didn’t know. I didn’t know until I had it myself. I opened the box. I found sorrow. And yet, the joy.

    1. Rachel, Thanks for sharing your perspectives. I don’t criticize anyone for feeling their cancer was/is a gift. I stated that in my post(s). I do think there is a tendency to expect great lessons and great transformations from cancer – is this fair? Maybe, maybe not. Such things may or may not happen for a person. Of course we grow and good things can come from all experiences in life. Personally, I did not need cancer to clue me in about how wonderful my family, friends and living each day is. Do I have more appreciation and gratitude now, sure, but… Also, I don’t see myself as bitter at all. Do I have moments of bitterness and anger? You bet I do. But there’s a big difference IMO. I don’t think I’ve missed the point, which is really your point, but perhaps you’ve missed mine. And that’s fine. Regardless, I’m sorry your mom died from mbc. I’m sorry you had a diagnosis as well. I’m glad you have found a way to look at cancer that works for you. As for me, I will not call it a gift. It has not been a gift for me and my family.

  11. If cancer is a gift, why is it always a final sale-no returns? Life is a gift and the friends I have made as a result of cancer, I am truly grateful for, but this disease has left me without so many loved ones and continues to cause collateral damage. Nancy,you said it very well….”Cancer is not a gift.” Great post!

    1. Susan, There is a lot of collateral damage isn’t there? I’m sorry about all your losses and for all you’ve been forced to deal with. I’m grateful for a lot of people and things too, but calling cancer a gift just isn’t going to happen. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. I’m definitely in the NOT a gift camp. That is not to say I haven’t milked the wretched disease for personal growth and introspection, as I would with any difficulty, but I will never regard it as a gift. I’m 3 yrs post-treatment and still deal with the repercussions of cancer and chemotherapy. It has taken so much from me that it’s probably more appropriate, for me, to regard it as a thief.

    1. Eileen, That’s what I’ve called it more than a few times – a thief. And you don’t thank a thief. Thanks for commenting. Thinking of you on this first holiday without your mom…

  13. Cancer is not a gift. Sure, I’m more aware of how fragile life is but let’s talk about the ones who don’t make it to 45. Let’s talk about the ones who go through painful treatment and don’t make it to 30. That’s called robbery.

    1. Mae, I realize people mean they are thankful for the good things they receive and the people they meet and the greater appreciation garnered for life in general after their cancer diagnosis. But those things and those people are the gifts. Big difference in my book. And it’s not like we can’t grow to appreciate friends, loved ones and life without having cancer. It’s just very strange to consider calling cancer a gift. It’s not. At least not for me and my family. Thanks for adding to this conversation.

  14. I know Nancy. This year I saw 4 wonderful woman pass as a result of breast cancer. They ranged in age from 26 to 82 and it has all been so cruel and bittersweet.

    1. Maesprose, Exactly. How could such a horrible disease ever be called a gift? I am sorry to hear about the four wonderful woman you knew who died from this wretched disease. And the age range says a lot in itself doesn’t it? Thank you for commenting.

  15. I lost my beloved sister Sharon 12 years ago to cancer. That was not a gift. Another sister and myself went through treatment together 5 years ago, that was no gift. I hate cancer and hate that the industry almost promotes it. It is after all quite a money maker. Am I bitter? you bet I am. The real ‘gift’ is getting through treatment and getting on with life.

  16. It is a myth that cancer empowers you to witness the beauty and majesty of life. The gloss we try to put on suffering is that it offers us some insight – existential or otherwise – into life and its mysteries. That the sun is brighter and the air is clearer after a rousing contest with our corporeal being. That the relationships with our families matter more. That we learn to savor the small things in life, the colors, flavors, tactile sensations, a breeze blowing, the smells of flowers. That beautiful music resonates at a deeper, more profound level after we have been blasted from our mundane daily existences. That somehow out of the monumental task of being a cancer patient one deepens oneself and reaches into a repository of feelings, a depth of existence, a mode of being that was not previously expressed, that was hiding in plain sight, that but for the cancer might not have seen the light of day. It does occur. It can happen. But it is not the usual experience, or the common one.-Eric Manheimer, MD

  17. Definitely Cancer is NOT a GIFT or a blessing. Cancer is something that you have to deal with and try and stay positive but anger also comes into it. Why has there been no cure for cancer? Why is there no way “they” can tell you when your cancer is in remission. Cancer is not a journey.

  18. A gift? no way in hell. (Actually your attitude on this is what drove me to signing up for your posts!) I haven’t had anyone say that to me about cancer. But I recently had a new heart doctor who, after just meeting me and not discussing ANY of my medical history say, “You’re lucky!” And I erupted right there in the doctor’s exam room. “LUCKY? HOW THE HELL AM I LUCKY?” Everyone in the room took two steps back from me, including my husband. People need to think before they speak. Especially medical personnel.

    1. Linda, I love how you spoke out after that comment! Good for you. Lucky? Yeah, cancer is not a lucky deal in any way, shape or form. People definitely should think before they speak and you’re right, especially medical personnel. Thank you for sharing and for being a subscriber for my emails too. I appreciate it.

  19. No, cancer is not and never will be a “gift”, but people without a diagnosis often try very hard to spin cancer into something it isn’t so that they feel safer should cancer arrive like a terrorist in their own lives. People who have never faced a life threatening diagnosis can’t possibly understand, and I have stopped expecting them to. We’re in different worlds now and we can never return to our B.C. (before cancer) lives. It’s not anyone’s fault, actually, and I have learned to be as non-judgmental with people’s comments as possible. It’s certainly not easy. What cancer is is a very steep learning curve that sometimes leaves you feeling grateful on a good day, exhausted on a bad day and exhausted and angry on a really bad day. If people are convinced that cancer is a gift, why don’t they want that “gift” for themselves and everyone they love?!!

    1. Andrea, I guess I don’t agree that people who have never faced a life-threatening dx can’t understand. I think people can understand a whole lot of things without experiencing them. Maybe that’s the educator coming out in me. It’s part of the reason I keep blogging. I want others to understand, but admittedly, I have no idea if anyone without a cancer dx even reads this blog. Well, I know a few who do, I guess. But I don’t think it’s that many. Empathy is so important, as is cancer language. As for being nonjudgmental when people say things that are inappropriate, I feel those are personal decisions we all make based on each situation and each person saying the stuff. We don’t have to keep quiet, but on the other hand, we certainly can too. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  20. Definitely not a gift, gifts are something you give someone that you think they may enjoy. I wouldn’t give cancer to my worst enemy. It is not by any means a gift. Thank you for such honest and thought provoking conversation. I finished chemo in December of 2017, although I am grateful to be finished, it always feels like you are waiting on that call in the middle of the night. Hard to shake, but it is now a part of my reality. I watched my wonderful husband die from cancer last year, one of my dear friends also. I have several friends now in treatment, does it ever end? My prayer is for peace and long life for all.

  21. I can’t wrap my head around the sentiment of cancer being a gift. I lost my dear sister to cancer. That was no gift. My Mom, my Auntie, another sister and myself all slogged through treatment and it was no gift. I was angry and annoyed. The only positive was that I survived as did my second sister. Nothing else about it was good. Nothing !!

    1. Candy, I cannot wrap my head around around the idea of cancer being a gift of any sort either. I am sorry to hear your sister died from cancer and that other members of your family have been dealing with cancer too. It sucks. Period. Thank you so much for sharing. Hope you’re doing alright. Your mom, aunt and sister too.

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