Do You Find Any Meaning In Your Cancer Experience?

Any moment of hating, Any moment of lying,

Any moment of resentment, Is a moment of dying.

  Any moment of loving, Any moment of giving,

Any moment of thankfulness, Is a moment of living.

When we are young, fit and healthy — how many of us would ever believe that perhaps … yes, perhaps … that the next few minutes, hours, or days, that “this good fortune” may just reverse?

We all see many people dying or seriously ill, but how many ever “believe” that this may happen to us too?

Most people think that it happened to “them” but it will not happen to me. But suppose that this happens to us, would we ask: Why me? What bad things have I committed to deserve this? And say: God is not fair!

Today, there is a concept in psychology that says there may be something good in something bad that had happened. To know the good, we just need to search for it or experience it. How can this be? I believe that as we are lying on our back in the hospital bed staring at the empty ceiling, that is the time when we begin to realize that we are vulnerable, when life is severely at stake, and perhaps when our money or wealth that we had been accumulating may not mean much anymore. Perhaps this is also the time we begin to ask: where am I going from here?

Though I have not suffered serious illness before, my association with thousands of cancer patients have taught me to empathize with their plight. At times it is heart breaking. I often ask: why must cancer strike this young and innocent child? Why must it happen to a mother and then now, her daughter? Why is life so cruel? I find no answer except to accept that that is the way life is.

In early 2006, we asked cancer patients to write down their answers to this question: Have you experienced any other significant changes in your life as a result of your cancer experience?

Here are some of their answers:

Patient 1: Yes, unlike before, now I only do short term planning. I started to wind up risky business to regain peace of mind and reduce stress. My aim is to enjoy the remaining part of my life — to relax and stay happy. I now concentrate on getting more knowledge on alternative medicine, nutrition and health which I believe to be the missing link to my healing journey.

With the knowledge that I have gained I discovered that other people knew so little about taking care of their health and when they are very sick or told that they have cancer, they thought that their doctors can tell them what to do. This is what that leads them to their downfall.

With the knowledge that I gained I also give help and advice to other sick people — to encourage them, give them hope and teach them to decide what to do. I felt very pleased when I have given them hope. I wish I could give help and hope to more people.

Patient 2: I experienced significant changes in my life as a result of my cancer experience. Positively, my cancer has caused me to stop and think, to pray and know God better. During the period when I was recovering from the painful effects of radiation to my mouth and neck areas, I was unable to talk very much; even a sip of water was painful. The only person I can talk to then was God who provided all the consolation and blessings. On the negative side, the permanent damage caused by radiation to my physical self, has caused me to be socially less active significantly affecting relationships with friends and relatives. The change in my diet to one of only vegetables, fruits and fish is a tall order and my discipline in doing so has made me more reclusive and domesticated. Although I believe that it has helped me in my overall health, I do not quite like the present lifestyle that I have been compelled to live by. I would have preferred my previous lifestyle where I am socially more active and very flexible.

Patient 3: I am a Christian, believing that everything that God has allowed to happen in my life has a purpose. Since I was diagnosed with cancer, I was at first very confused and sad as of why it should happen to me. But I can only do what I can control and surrender the rest to God. Since then I really experience the real meaning of knowing how much He loves me and make me worthy in His eyes. Ephesians 3:17-19. What things happened, it is our reaction that matters the most: either I can cry, question and blame God or any other reason for the situation. Or I still can cry but ask God to help me and direct me the best way to handle the situation. I chose to do the latter. It has been a real soul searching, tremendous learning journey on health aspects and resetting my priority in life.

Patient 4: My cancer has helped me to focus on living rather than dying. It has also helped me change and cope with stress as well as my relationship with others. It has also helped me learn to be thankful for the daily blessings.

Patient 5: I have become very negative emotionally and am not receptive to people who try to help me. I always think that I am going to surely die of cancer and nothing can help me. I do not want to exercise or try anything that other people recommend, e.g. meditation. I always feel scared that the ‘end’ will come very soon.

Patient 6: Life has given me a new dimension and life gives hope in every sense. Many things have a greater clarity and I feel a sense of purpose for the years ahead as they impact on our children and grandchildren — they need us, so the target is to stay alive! We are in God’s hands.

My wife and I have found our Christian faith to be a huge comfort. I have become even more positive in my outlook and take matters as they come.

Understanding cancer, particularly your own, is important. Research is a key factor to obtain more knowledge and understanding of the disease and all the options open for complementary / natural / herbal remedies; to help those less fortunate as a member of a cancer support group in France.

Patient 7: Cancer may have brought me to the lowest and scariest. I know I have climbed out of the pit and am way beyond that. Having beaten / managed cancer, I feel that I can handle much more difficult issues.

Patient 8: Definitely yes. You treasure life more, is more attentive to other people’s view, sensitivities and mood. One tends to show loving feelings towards one’s close relative, children and of course, wife. Negative meanings to life would be the disease which is the top gun for your cause of death but one has time to prepare for it, spiritually, emotionally, physically and estate-wise.

Patient 9: I feel very lonely because my husband had neglected me after I had my mastectomy. He never asked about the treatment that I had or if I was feeling any better — he never did. The feeling of worthlessness made me feel so restless.

Before my cancer he loved me very much. I don’t understand this sudden change in my husband. I hate my illness and the attitude of my husband makes me hate him too.

At present, when I am working, I do not think much of my cancer. I put it in God’s hand.

The only thing is my relationship has changed. After I had cancer, I feel very lonely. I work from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m. — eat, go to sleep and take my medication. I do the thinking and do what is required. My family does not discuss much about my cancer.

I always pray to God to guide me. I pray in silence and I take each day at a time. Dear Chris, I feel better after writing my heart out! Thanks.

Patient 10: It has basically taught me to treat the disease as a ‘gift’ or a blessing from The Almighty. My cancer has made me appreciate the value of a simple smile from my youngest daughter, not to ignore her constant invitation to have fun and play games with her. It has taught me to appreciate how important ‘little’ things are to her — like talking to her Polly dolls, and make believe games.

I cry more over the beauty of the sunset, the countless blue hue of the morning sky, the smell of freshly cut grass, and the sound of rain hitting the roof. I have wasted so much time over ‘big’ projects in the office and at work. I now realize there are so much in life that God wants me to have the opportunity to appreciate in order to glorify His creation – this is an opportunity I intend not to miss.

My cancer has also helped me discover a ‘new’ mindset — that is to make positive thinking a habit until it becomes second nature to me. I now realize that God has given me so many gifts that I have yet to unwrap, and with this new mindset, I am discovering things that I never knew before existed or I was capable of – like how to be happy when everyone else seem gloomy and miserable.

I also learn how to control anger by forgiving others who hurt me. My cancer has been a huge blessing to me.

The responses above clearly show that many people have found the “good” in the “bad”. We encourage cancer patients to look inwards and discover these “gift” within them.