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?



28 thoughts to “Is Cancer a Gift? A Follow-up”

  1. I can’t believe a year has passed since I told youI would write about this from the other position. I am working on it now and will post before Christmas. Trust me when I say that it will not be an argument, but my own, deeply personal unpacking.

  2. Like you I can’t even fathom saying cancer is a gift? Seriously who really thinks that? Oh I know there are many who do and will carry on with what seems to be this enlightening epiphany, a sense of new found self discovery. Suddenly the have evolved from this nasty miserable bitch type to someone grateful at being given this new opportunity. Really? Well who were they in the first place then? It doesn’t say much for the person they were does it.
    I hate cancer under no uncertain terms would I ever in this lifetime call it a gift. Give me a bloody refund please It’s a gift I can do with out!!

    1. Nancy and Alli reflect my own views exactly. Who was the giver of this gift that took away my breast,altered my relationships with everyone from my boss to my children and catapulted me into a sorority I never wanted to join? Oh sure, I am less judgemental, thinner and more philosophical now but I like to think I was evolving in those directions anyway. I try to choose my battles but tell me that cancer is a gift and I morph into a monster worthy of the best horror movie. 19 years later, I’m still on the refund line.

      1. Bonnie, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – and not just because you agree with me! Ha. I would sort of like to see you morph into that monster…It’s so great to hear you are 19 years out on the other side. That’s wonderful. Thanks again for commenting, Bonnie.

    2. Alli, I agree with you. I must admit, sometimes I feel guilty for not seeing myself as being transformed into a “better” person. I know I’m not. Cancer is no gift IMO. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love your passion.

  3. I call cancer a ‘gift that keeps on giving’ in a very tongue in cheek manner as it has dominated my life twice now. I have to think of it in this way as there is no other way. But is it a gift as in something I wanted and enjoyed and made me a better person? No.

  4. I totally agree that cancer is certainly not a gift, Nancy. I believe, however, that it has shown me the many things that I do have to be grateful for. I like to think that I would have eventually figured these things out without cancer as the catalyst, but it certainly accelerated that self reflection.

    1. Molly, I’m not sure I really needed cancer to show me what to be grateful for. I like to think I was a person of decent character before cancer. In fact sometimes I think cancer has made me head in the other direction if you know what I mean…Does cancer cause considerable self-reflection? Yes. It does. But I don’t feel grateful for that. I always go back to that great quote of Rachel’s in my post. That’s how I feel too. Thanks so much for commenting. I appreciate hearing everyone’s thoughts on this.

  5. I suppose for me nothing is so uncomplicated about cancer for it to be called a gift. Have I learned from it? Yes. Have I done things I wouldn’t have done? Perhaps. Are there things I would have changed…oh yes! I love the refund request. I am up for that too.
    I recently called a blog “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” It’s a phrase that passes for optimism for a Scot! And it’s a dig at the “cancer is a gift” mantra but also recognises that coming through the process can be life affirming and that it can awaken us to wholly investing in our lives and futures whatever they are. But usually it’s a whole lot more complex and I agree if all we say is “it was a gift” we do so many a grave injustice. Thanks for opening this discussion. It’s made me think too…..

    1. Audrey, I agree with you that there is much to learn from cancer or any traumatic life experience for that matter. You make a good point – it’s a whole lot more complex – that might be the main problem I have with the simplistic statement saying cancer is a gift. Thanks for sharing your insights. I must visit your blog soon and read that post!

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. Nancy,

    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!

    1. 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.

  9. 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!

      1. The thing that sticks out for me is that my “Christian” family treat it like I don’t have it and in doing so that will keep it away. I appreciate that, however sometimes I need to share and let it out and at least feel that people really do care and understand. I went to 16 chemo treatments with a new neighbor (bless her heart) but no family. I went to 33 radiation treatments by myself. I did not complain so I guess nobody asked to go with me. Of course, they assume I went with somebody? I remember when I first discovered the lump and told this to two of my bible study friends and they said nothing and not even –“lets pray”. The whole thing is weird. Thank goodness I did have God to speak to. And now that my treatments are over my family think it is ALL over with. They do not realize there is still so much more to this. Just losing my hair (and it is not coming back so far) is a biggy to me, even if not to them. My nails are horrible. Scars are still healing and look awful and I have a hole from cancer taken out.Lots of things pop up to deal with– it seems like every day. Now I have this medication I am supposed to take for 5 years and have to deal with those side effects.

        1. Carmen, Sometimes it’s hard for others to realize that an end to treatments doesn’t mean it’s all over. Hopefully, there is someone in your support you can share with openly and help them to gain a better understanding about your feelings. We certainly understand here. Thank you for sharing. My best to you.

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