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Nancy Stordahl

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Is Cancer a Gift?

Posted: 12/04/2012 4:21 pm

Is cancer a gift?

It's the season of gift giving, so what better time to tackle this intriguing -- okay, irritating --question? In a word my answer is no, and an emphatic NO at that!

I have heard cancer survivors, actually quite a few in fact, make the statement that their cancer was a gift. Some people genuinely believe this and aren't afraid to say so. Of course, this is entirely their prerogative and if they feel this way, more power to them. Everyone has the right to their own cancer experience viewpoints. Everyone "processes through it" differently.

As for me, cancer isn't/wasn't/never will be a gift.

On a visit to someone's home not long ago, the hostess showed me a newspaper article featuring a woman who had "come through" her cancer journey and was calling her whole ordeal a gift. I copped out a bit I suppose (sometimes you just have to suck it up and keep quiet, especially when you're the guest) and simply smiled, nodded, read the article and said something like, that's nice.

Calling cancer a gift makes a nice feature story for a magazine or a newspaper article, but it's not reality -- at least it's not mine.

I know it's all just semantics really, but like I say over and over again, words matter. They matter a great deal -- well to me anyway.

I will never ever call cancer a gift. It's just not going to be possible. In my opinion, the two words cannot co-exist.

I know, or I think I might know, what people mean when they say things like this.

They mean they are grateful for their new outlook on life. They are grateful and more appreciative of each and every day and each and every blessing in their lives. They are grateful for a second chance. They are grateful for new passions, new careers, new lifestyles and new friendships forged. They are grateful to be alive. In short, they are grateful.

I get that.

I'm grateful for all these things too. I really am, but I am not grateful to cancer.

Cancer is not the gift. The gifts are those things and those people, not the cancer. In my mind there is a huge difference.

How can I be grateful to a disease that took my mother in a very slow and painful way? How can I be grateful to a disease that has taken others I care about? How can I be grateful to a disease that takes so many that others care about? How can I be grateful to a disease that might yet swallow me up as well?

How can cancer be a gift for me and at the same time be lethal for someone else? What kind of gift is that?

And if something's a gift, don't you have to be grateful to have received it? Well, I'm certainly not grateful to cancer. I'm just not.

The other problem I have with this line of thinking is, as I mentioned in my You Can't Go Back post, it almost seems as if it's expected when a person comes "out of cancer," she is somehow supposed to be better than before.

It seems we are supposed to come out a new and improved version of our former self. The next "logical" step is that we're supposed to "thank" cancer for this. I don't think so.

To me, that's a lot of pressure on a person and a whole lot of misplaced credit given to cancer.

And I certainly don't think people who've experienced cancer are any better or any worse.

People with or without cancer are just people. All are flawed.

Even with the flaws, each life is a gift.

Cancer is not the gift, people are.

What do you think?

Is cancer a gift?

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