What if I didn’t think cancer was a problem?
What if I wasn’t “fighting cancer” or “battling cancer” or “being a cancer survivor?”
I don’t have cancer (as far as I know), but several people in my life do. One of my dearest friends was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and her response to the news changed my story about cancer forever.
When my girlfriend told me, we were face to face. She knows my history with cancer, and she wanted to be delicate because of my situation. (Can you imagine the beauty and decency of someone just diagnosed with cancer being delicate with me? Sensitive to my sensitivity—that’s a class act. I was humbled).
When she said the words, “They found a cancerous mass,” I felt I was being gut-punched. In an instant, every moment of sadness and loss I experienced came up at once and quickly gave way to anger, resentment and futility.
As she continued with the prognosis—what she knows, how she feels—I listened with compassion, but one question kept circling through my mind: “Why is this in my life again?”
It wasn’t that long ago that a strong, courageous woman in my life who was also healthy by every estimation was diagnosed with cancer. This woman was my best friend, and she also happened to be my mom.
When my friend turned to me, wrapping up her gentle delivery of the news, I asked if there was anything I could do for her—if there was anything she wanted or needed. She simply requested, “Just be someone I can talk to and listen to me.” So simple, so lovely. It is the least I can do.
Then I told her I had something to say, and I relayed my experience to her, “I’m sad. I’m pissed. I feel helpless, and yet I feel a level of excitement. I think because I get to have the experience with you that I wish I had had with my mom.”
She asked what I meant by that, and I explained, “I held back my feelings with my mom. I didn’t tell her how scared I was and how much I wanted her around. I thought I could only tell her happy things because I thought at the time that everything else was negative and would only bring her down.”
To which she replied—and her response changed my story forever: “Tell me everything. This isn’t a problem. This is just the next thing on my to-do list. I am completely confident I will handle this well and be a shining example to others that go through this experience. This is an opportunity to see what cancer is like with consciousness. We may not have control over cancer, but we have complete control over our attitude.”
It made me think—what if cancer wasn’t a problem but an opportunity?
I used to think cancer sucked. I was angry about cancer. I saw it as the enemy. Yet no matter how much I fought cancer, it’s still here, pervasive in the lives of people I love.
Who would I be if I welcomed cancer into my life like I do every other unexpected event that pops up in my day?
I don’t get angry when someone calls me out of the blue, and I have other plans. I don’t lose my mind when I think I am going to be able to see a friend, but she has to cancel at the last minute. I don’t feel futile when I call someone for an appointment and they don’t pick up. In fact, as I am thinking about it, nothing in life ever really goes exactly as I had planned.
I handle each of these events as neutral. It’s just what happens. I don’t resist it or fight it. I am not a “missed-appointment survivor” or “battling last-minute cancellations.” I am just some chick living in a world full of unexpected opportunities.
Each unexpected event is another test of character—another opportunity to demonstrate strength of spirit.
I reflected on my experience with my mom and smiled. My mom’s spirit and character were present with her until the very end. One of my favorite memories that always tugs at my heartstrings was when she was very ill right before Christmas. She was sick from chemo treatments, and at seven o’clock on Christmas Eve, she looked at me and said, “We have to go Christmas shopping.”
I told her what time it was and that all the stores are closed by now. She opened her eyes wide and asked, “Every store?” To which I conceded, “Okay, probably not every store.” She grinned and said, “Good, lets go.”
I drove my barely-mobile mom around until we found the only open store, where she bought hot cocoa kits to put in our stockings. She wouldn’t let a moment go by when she wasn’t giving, no matter how sick she felt.
I am sad I didn’t tell her how I felt about her then. I thought how I felt was a problem. I thought her having cancer was problem. She didn’t see it that way, but I didn’t see that until now. She handled it with dignity and grace, like she handled everything—it was just the next thing on her list.
So here is my opportunity to be there for people I love and welcome their experience. There is no problem. There is nothing to fight and nothing to survive. If what we resist persists, then I am choosing to experience this with loving, open acceptance.
Not I, nor anyone I know, did anything to deserve this. This is not a punishment. This is just another unexpected to-do item giving us all the opportunity to respond with the best of us.
I’m done fighting you, Cancer. It only makes you stronger and stick around longer. Okay, Cancer—come on in, sit down, and have some tea and a danish.
Let us live here together, because the best of me isn’t going anywhere.
Author: Cassie Crow
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina