Wednesday, December 12, 2012


My blogging friend Nancy over at the always-insightful Nancy's Point is revisiting the ever-present query of whether or not cancer is a gift. That got me thinking. Is cancer a gift? 

My Big Fat Cancer Adventure began two years ago, when I really did get
Cancer for Christmas. But I'm not seeing that shimmer (or is it glimmer?) of warm and fuzzy light at the end of the proverbial cancer tunnel. Every time I round a bend on The Big C Highway, there's a new roadblock in my way, another hurdle to climb over, another hoop to jump through. It is never ending and, as the great Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna character famously quipped, "It's always something."

But back to the concept of cancer being a "gift." Is cancer an opportunity to live your life differently? Yup. But don't we all have that option, every single day? (Yup.)

Is cancer a wakeup call? Yup. Like stepping into the path of an express train could be considered an eye-opening event, cancer stops us smack in our tracks. Many of us live to tell the tale; many of us do not. All of us are maimed. But am I thankful for the train that is trying to run me over? Nope.

Let's try a different analogy: Does the deer being hunted in the forest think the rifle is a gift? Nope.
(Copyright © CamoGirl_18)

I'm here to tell you that getting diagnosed with cancer is akin to having crosshairs tattooed on your back. You will forever be a target of The Big C. And like the deer, you will try very, very hard to outrun this enemy. You'll attack it with your arsenal of surgery and chemicals and radiation and years of hormone-surpressing pills. You'll fill an emotional moat with your tears. You'll find out all too quickly who your real friends are — and you will take this realization like a bullet to the heart. You'll need a nap every day and be unable to fend off your fears in the darkness of night. You'll experience "scanxiety" any time you have to take any kind of medical test. You'll develop PTSD whenever you walk into a doctor's office (especially at a cancer center) or when you notice a new ache or pain. Of course you'll become an expert on nutrition and additives and the many, many things that are harmful in our environment and you'll try to live a cleaner life. (Good luck with that.) You'll exercise less and eat more. (And then you will exercise more and eat less.) You'll pine for the days when you could remember details quickly, concentrate easily, and be motivated in general. You'll curse the necessity of being your own health advocate 24/7, and appreciate your hands-on WedMD degree. You'll wonder how the hell you ever had time to do anything besides go to the doctor and monitor your own health.

Because in the end, it all comes down to this: Cancer is hiding like a hunter in a blind deep within the woods, holding a loaded rifle with its sights set on you and me. 

And that ain't no gift.


  1. dear renn...of course any life threatening illness is not a "gift"...i don't think people mean it in that sense. nor is any devastating event in ones life (loss of a loved one, loss of home & other cherished items, loss of self etc...)a "gift".

    its extremely arrogant for someone who is not the person going through the horrible event to call it a gift....

    however....i do think...if you are the one who is going through this terrible event....then your own state of mind might surely affect your spirit, your attitude, your feelings, your mind, and ultimately your body..... then it might be possible to stand back and accept this devastating "reality" with some perspective that might open a door for some (and i know you hate this word) gratitude.

    it's not "tricking" your mind....or pretending to be grateful, or making believe that this illness has been a "gift".....(like stewart smalley looking into a mirror and saying, "i'm worth it!") our insides know when we are faking it....

    but it might be about making a "choice"
    i think with some perspective, and it might just be me....i find that everything i have gone through....ultimately is part of the picture that makes up my life....just as it is today (good & bad)....and in that sense, because i can count my blessings...i can feel grateful and accept my circumstances....

    therefor allowing only me, only me, to consider my pain as a "gift". and, for me, how i choose to see things...affects my insides (easy for me to say, since i am not aware of a devastating illness within my body)

    sending you all my love and respect,

  2. Hi Renn, This is really good. I'll be sharing it soon on my Facebook page. (are you on there yet?) You are right on!

    Interesting comment there above. I admire this person for being so accepting. I really do. I agree that all of our experiences make up who we are. I agree it's all about choice - we move through the challenges of life in the best way we can. I am grateful for the people I've met, (like you, Renn), and the new paths I've discovered since my diagnosis, but the words "cancer is a gift" will never come from my lips. They just won't.

    Thanks for letting me go on a bit. And thanks for writing. And thanks so much for mentioning Nancy's Point! You're a dear of a different kind! ha.

  3. If breast cancer is a gift, I'm not exactly crazy about the wrapping paper. My "gift" looks like a two year old wrapped it, then sat on it.

    Since I have cancer of the terminal variety, I can't think of it as a gift. Three years ago, I was blissfully ignorant of my mortality, imagining my son's high school graduation and future weddings. Now, I am making lists of things I want people to have after my death, and who knew I had so little to, I do appreciate my remaining life more, without a doubt. I am able to ignore the pain more because I still want to enjoy what's left for me to enjoy. I am glad I am able to let me family know they are precious to me. I am glad to know that my fear of death is not overwhelming and that I am able to function and laugh, knowing time is short.

    But, is cancer a gift? No. Cancer is a disease. Learning that I am strong enough to handle it may be a gift, but I also could have learned about my strength without having paperwork that says I have a year to live.

    Maybe by changing a tire or something.

  4. Renn, this post is extraordinary. Cancer is certainly no gift, in my opinion. It's a horrifying disease that robs, steals, maims, kills....

    My life is richer after cancer because I realize how precious life is. But that was because I was open to an attitude and life change. I did that, not cancer.

    I love this posting; the deer hunter analogy is horrifyingly true. All the things you said really hit home with me. Thank you for writing this piece. I will be sharing it.

  5. I've always thought of it as the Stalker. xoxo, Kathi

  6. You nailed it. It's no gift. I lost my husband, mother, sister-in-law, and aunt to cancer all within 1 year. My 3 children were robbed of their father and other key people in their lives before my youngest was even in school. People constantly told me how inspiring we were, lucky to be given the opportunity to find such wisdom, etc. Seriously? Lucky? We made the best of the time we had, but we always felt those sights on us, always felt the hunter's presence even when we were laughing. That's no gift. The true gift is never facing cancer, remaining blissfully ignorant of it. Thank you for saying it straight out.(I blogged similar thoughts when a close friend was diagnosed as my loved ones were in decline:

  7. dear renn thank you for understanding my intentions...and friends of renn...thanks for educating me more and more with each new blog. i think, with not being in your shoes...i struggle with wanting to make things better in some small way...and since there is absolutely nothing i, as an outsider, can really do (except to listen, really listen)...i shared what i, myself, do when faced with my own version of horrible times. i hear you...and i love you... and i pray, wish, and visualize for your healthy, healed, happy wonderful self. always your kindergarten friend, m

  8. Renn, this is so well written from the heart, so very honest...


Your comments are encouraging — and encouraged!