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Please Stop Calling Cancer a Gift!

Can we please stop calling cancer a gift? 

Some topics in Cancer Land are hot button topics for me. Hearing cancer referred to as a gift (or a blessing) is one of them. I have written about this before here and here.

As time goes by, I find myself even more entrenched in my convictions on this one; in fact, I think this just might be my number one cancer language pet peeve.

So, if you don’t want to read yet another rant of mine on this subject; well, I understand.

Once in a while, someone will say to me something like, just let it go. Why does it matter? Don’t pick on someone else for calling her cancer a gift.

Let’s be clear, I am not picking on anyone else. I respect everyone’s views and rights to ‘do’ cancer in their own way. If someone wishes to call her cancer a gift, that is most definitely her prerogative. But this is my blog, and I am free to express my views here as frankly as I choose. (And as always,  you are welcome to agree or disagree any time).

Calling cancer a gift feels like a slap in the face to those of us who feel differently, but more importantly it feels like a direct insult, yes insult, to those who die from metastatic disease.

How could cancer be a gift for anyone if some people die from it?

Most people who call cancer a gift presumably mean their cancer was a wake-up call. They made changes like improving their diet and exercise habits, stopped sweating the small stuff, changed career paths or partners, or whatever it might be. They maintain that these things would not have happened had it not been for cancer.

Cancer can be a catalyst. I will admit to that. This still does make it a gift. There likely would have been different catalysts coming along instigating change because that’s what life is all about, change and one thing leading to another.

Everyone’s life is an ongoing ‘domino effect’ of sorts.

As for me, I did not need a cancer wake-up call. I was doing just fine in my pre-cancer life, thank you very much. I was working on improving my life style habits before cancer, and I am still working on them now. I didn’t need cancer to teach me to appreciate my family or life in general. I didn’t need it to teach me to stop and smell the roses either. No, I did not.

And as much as I love the wonderful people I’ve met since my cancer diagnosis, if I could trade such friendships for a life with no cancer in it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Is that a horrible thing to say?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Last month during all the gratitude talk, I took notice of one graphic in particular that was shared probably thousands of times on Facebook. It said, I am not thankful for cancer, but I am thankful for what cancer has taught me.

This doesn’t work for me either. (If it does for you, again, that’s fine).

I am most definitely not thankful for cancer, and I am not particularly thankful for what it has taught me either.

Much of what cancer has taught me is stuff I would much rather not have known about. Ever.

Sure, I have learned some ‘good’ things about myself and others since my diagnosis. We learn from good experiences and bad experiences too. But I am not grateful I had to learn them.

No matter how we twist, shape and re-shape a cancer experience, it’s still cancer and it still sucks.

Sometimes, things are just bad and sure we cope, we deal, we manage, we maybe even grow as a person; but this still does not mean the bad experience itself was a gift.

Cancer has brought heartache, upheaval, fear, worry, emotional and physical pain, and yes, death into my family and into too many of my friends’ families as well.

So how could cancer ever possibly be a gift?

Cancer did not make be brave, or tough, or strong. I just more or less did what I was instructed to do. That actually sounds more ‘weak-like’ than strong or brave when you think about it.

Cancer is a horrible and too often deadly disease.

How could such a thing be a gift?

Cancer steals in oh so many ways.

I have given up a load of my female body parts and been forced to adapt to an unplanned-for body which sometimes doesn’t even feel like mine anymore, and I am still dealing daily with lingering side effects from cancer treatment. And then there are the emotional scars…

How could such a thing be a gift?

I wonder if most people who call cancer a gift are not brca+ or dealing with hereditary cancer issues… But wait, no, remember Melissa Etheridge’s comments?

I don’t like having to worry about my siblings, my kids (or anyone’s kids), or my nieces and nephews carrying this blankety-blank gene mutation. Cancer’s shadow hovers in families like mine. The threat is part of our past and part of our futures.

How could such a thing be a gift?

Maybe the biggest reason of all that calling cancer a gift grates on my nerves so much is because not that many years ago on Christmas Eve my family was sitting down to open actual gifts, and I got the call which basically let me know my mother was dying. Terribly ironic, right?

How could cancer ever be a gift?

If I sound grouchy, angry or even bitter about this topic, well, so be it. Cancer sometimes makes me crotchety.

Life is a gift. People are gifts. You are a gift. Cancer is not.

Let’s stop calling it one.

Rant over.

How do you feel about cancer being called a gift or a blessing?

What’s your biggest cancer language pet peeve?

Do you want to read more articles like this one? Click here. 


Please stop calling cancer a gift! #cancer #breastcancer #cancersucks #womenshealth


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Donna Funkhouser

Wednesday 9th of December 2020

Nancy, not only has cancer not made me a better person, I think I may have gone the other way. I definitely swear more and eat more cookies!! As far as it being a gift, well, no thanks. I'm not big on bad surprises. The only somewhat positive thing I can think of is that I feel I can truthfully help others going through this mess and I know what to say and especially what NOT to say to them, as I've had some really outlandish and hurtful things said to me. Other than that, no more eye opening or educating gifts of this sort for me thank you very much.


Thursday 19th of August 2021

@Nancy, I really identify with your posts. I am 5 months post diagnosis and have had a double mastectomy and am in the process of reconstruction. I HATE all the words attached to this diagnosis. It’s like many have said, we didn’t ask for this and would gladly return it if possible. I’ll take my 64 year old saggy ladies back in trade for these “new and improved” ones. What I really hate is that none of the legitimate websites talk about the things we all learned the hard way. It’s not just “if you find a lump” (I had 5 masses, 1 that was larger than 4 inches and still wasn’t felt) and “spider webs” from mass to mass. How about that no one tells you, you will never have sexual/or any other feeling (except pain) in your chest area again, ever. I resent the lack of knowledge that I didn’t know prior to this cra-. We need to be more honest and open about all the other things that are related to breast cancer and surgical removal of this part of our bodies. Maybe then people wouldn’t see this as a gift, especially women. I do agree with many that it may wake one up, a catalyst, to what is important or not important to live your daily life.

Thank you for your posts. I feel that you are expressing my thoughts. Lisa


Thursday 10th of December 2020

Donna, Here, here. My tongue has definitely loosened too, if you know what I mean, and I'm guessing you do. :) I may very well have gone the other way in plenty of other areas too. Oh well. So be it. Whatever "improvements" I have managed to make, I don't intend to give cancer credit. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment too.


Monday 17th of December 2018

Thanks for being so open about this topic. My husband lost his father, mother and only sibling to cancer. Then I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and my sister in law with stomach cancer. If this was a gift, I would like to return it. Has this strengthened those of us that remain as a family....yes, but we would gladly go back to the days without cancer.


Wednesday 19th of December 2018

Carol, It's one of my biggest cancer pet peeves. Drives me a little crazy to hear such talk. I'm sorry you and your family are so familiar with cancer. Thank you for sharing.


Thursday 13th of December 2018

I agree Nancy. This was not a gift that I wanted. It was a surprise, yes. But definitely not a gift..


Wednesday 19th of December 2018

Kathleen, A shocker, that's what it was for me. Even with the darn gene mutation. Most definitely no gift. No way. Thank you for commenting.


Wednesday 12th of December 2018

I hate cancer


Thursday 13th of December 2018

Kat, Me too.


Saturday 16th of December 2017

Nancy, Thank you for taking this approach. I really was so appalled by the concept of seeing cancer as a blessing. I did not need cancer, a truck to fall on me, or any disaster to make me better or more aware. Worse than that, despite my faith, I do not believe God gives people cancer, or any other problem to teach them or get them closer to him. This is not the God I know and love. And just because He and others we love may give us strength and support does not mean that was the purpose either. Cancer just happens and there is nothing good to say about it. Further, people's ability to use their own experience to help others does not mean it is good. It is just a testament to the fact that people will try to create good results - even from awful experiences.


Tuesday 19th of December 2017

Mary, I agree completely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

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