Universal Myth: C*ancer is a gift meant to make us better people.



I’ve just finished reading Tom Brokaw’s book part memoir part cancer chronicle. We share similar attitudes toward living with c*ancer, and in the final chapter he says he doesn’t know if living with cancer made him a better person.  He believes that epiphany is for others to judge. He says he still feels lucky and blessed.

I agreed, my head nodding as I read the lucky part, and silently saying me too. I know I am lucky, and super blessed.

The universal assumption swirling around purports that once diagnosed, once the c-word passes the lips of a doctor, it holds enough magic to transform the recipient into a new and improved version of who they already are.  Craziness.  The proof of this myth is alive and well on Google.  I’ve seen, read and had wild things said to me since my diagnosis. And that doesn’t include all the crazy shit that runs through my own head. My mind has never been the safest haven long- term, so living there is not always a picnic.  A nurse told me this week about a local volunteer group asking patients to share what gifts c*ancer had bestowed that changed them for the better. My reaction was– “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Does anyone ask others if they are better people because of any other illness?  “How has your ALS or multiple sclerosis made you a better person?”

From my current vantage point c*ancer is not transformative.  It is US when faced with any life altering experience, who hold the ability to transform our experience into something manageabe, something we can live with day to day. It’s our human resilience not the life changing event that is meaningful and transformative.

Here’s what I have noted so far: There appears to be an “expectation” that we need to learn some great life lesson by having cancer descend upon us, because in certain ethereal belief [daisy clad-unicorn riding] circles, it was US who attracted or manifested our c*ancer. Then the “everything happens for a reason” crowd who are fellow ugly stepsisters to the “cancer is a gift” gurus imply that we must experience a great epiphany, or at least be struck by sudden enlightenment.  It makes an eye catching [blog post] headline, but will never be my truth. AND yeah, maybe it’s all just semantics, except that words matter, so those will never pass my lips.

I can’t say I’m a better person post diagnosis, because I’m not.

Here’s my truth.

I’m still a hot mess. I’m full of quirky flaws. I have days when I’m pissy, teary and impatient. When I’m tired I let expectations get the best of me. Every. Damn. Time.  I do have a time frame for pissedofedness (I made that word up. It’s staying.)  I don’t allow myself to wallow.  I also like my made up term “mind fuckery”– we all have different levels of this without c*ancer. I like it because c*ancer is the mother of all mind fucks. And maybe none of this is how I’m supposed to do this c*ancer gig.  I’ve said it before, I have no idea what I am doing. I recently told my friend, who works at the health food store, that some days it feels like I am just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks– we laughed and hugged and she said she knows how I feel. She does know, she’s beat c*ancer three times. I felt like that many days prior to my diagnosis.

I’m already not the same person. And, I’m still the same. Not better, not worse.

Except that, I have an all time low tolerance level for small talk, and fake people with the look of pity in their eyes and prying questions. Less patience for bullshit,  less likely to bite my tongue, and more ability to know when to.  My clarity and intuition are laser sharp. I value and respect time gathered in special moments. I enjoy noticing the minutia of my surroundings. I see people through a detailed lens, paying closer attention the details of their words. I am learning a lot.

I love the same as always. My motto is: Too much is never enough when it comes to LOVE.


The reality is that before c*ancer, some people are kind; some are jackasses, and others somewhere in between. We can all run that spectrum, so I don’t think that changes after a diagnosis.

We all get to speak what is true for us–so for those who believe that their c*ancer was a gift,  good for them.

I will not be grateful to a disease that took my mother over fifteen years ago, and has taken so many others I care about. It’s impossible for me to give my power to a disease that might yet take me down.

My family, friends, relationships, my health, yes I am healthy, are the gifts.  The thankfulness to enjoy another day, smell roses in my garden, and laugh…these are the gifts that create thankfulness and joy in my lucky world.

The truth is, there is nothing like a life altering event to make you want to slow down, smell more roses, re-work your life map or whatever…because after any life changing diagnosis everything changes- dramatically.

There is no going back to the way things were before…that’s not exclusive to c*ancer.

Life altering does not mean life defining. I will not be defined by a diagnosis.

I have told many over the past months that I don’t believe c*ancer is the worst thing that could happen to me. I have a more complex view of life and cancer, but to assume that because of c*ancer I have or need to become a better person… that feels like an unwelcome obligation for an already full plate.I am who I am. You are who you are. We are ALL blessed no matter what happens to us.

C*ancer or no c*ancer, chronic illness or no illness…we are all just people; uniquely flawed living the best we can.

With or without illness, we are all just people, beautiful in our own way, because each life is a gift.

There is no way in hell we should give c*ancer or any other illness credit for that.

I believe people are gifts. Something c*ancer will never be.


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Leave a Comment

  • Elizabeth MacLeod May 22, 2015, 9:10 pm

    Amen sister. xoxo

  • Faye May 25, 2015, 11:52 am

    You nailed it girl!!!

  • Sue Ann Gleason May 26, 2015, 2:11 am

    There are so many nuggets of beautifulREAL wisdom in this post I don’t know where to begin so I’ll start with your response to the nurse who told you about a local volunteer group asking patients to share the gifts c*ancer had bestowed upon them that changed them for the better, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I can almost see the benevolent look on her face and the incredulous look on yours. I’m with you in the human resilience camp, Dana. Keep speaking your truth; we need your words. xxoo

  • april May 27, 2015, 5:50 pm

    thank you so much for writing this, dana – it truly speaks to my heart. i never thought of my beloved mom’s cancer as a gift – in any way possible – and i still have a hard time understanding that concept. in fact, it annoys me – no, it actually makes me angry – to give this horrible illness that label. you are right – life and people are the gifts. thinking of you.

  • Michelle May 27, 2015, 10:55 pm

    God, I just love how you say it as it is. Spot on, sister. Spot on.

    You were a treasure before. You are a treasure now. And you will continue to be a treasure.



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