What Is It You Plan To Do?
At risk of sounding at best cliché, and at worst, utterly insensitive: find the good in your or your family member’s cancer diagnosis.
When my first husband Ahmad was diagnosed with Stage IV bladder cancer, I felt rage every time I read an article by some cancer survivor about how cancer was a gift that opened their eyes to the beauty of their life. That sounds great for anyone who survives cancer but how can you possibly see it as a gift when the prognosis is very poor?
A chance to see life with new eyes
I don’t think cancer is ever a gift and to call it such is like a slap in the face to patients who are suffering and enduring a lot of pain and harsh treatments. I do think, though, that even the worst prognosis can be a chance to see life with new eyes.
Ahmad died four years ago from metastatic bladder cancer. During his illness, all the daily and ordinary concerns of life went to the back burner. I simply didn’t have the bandwidth for them. We’re trying to save my husband’s life here, please don’t bother me with a cable bill or traffic.
Less caught up in the "shoulds" of life
Four years later, I still find myself far less caught up in all the “shoulds” of life than I used to be. Yes, saving money for the future is important. But once you’ve seen a future cut very short, can you really take it as seriously as you might have in the past? Not to say we should have a license to be reckless with money, but after being a cancer caregiver, I have a greater fear of failing to enjoy my life while I’m healthy than I do of outliving my money.
Expending enormous emotional energy on people and situations that make us unhappy or conflict with our values is something that after a cancer experience, you simply don’t have space for in your life.
Urgency about living well
I think urgency – about living well, about spending time with people who matter most, about doing things you love – may be a perspective that comes after cancer.
If I had to choose how I leave this world, cancer would not be it. I want to be one of those people who pass quietly in the night. No warning, no pain, no suffering for the person or the family. Cancer is the anti-thesis of that because it can inflict so much suffering.
But it offers you time. It offers you the chance to say things, to do things, to live in a way you choose. Even if you and your family members are not able to talk about the possibility of death, you still are spending time together in those days of uncertainty and hopefully, appreciating each other in ways big and small. It’s very hard to appreciate this perspective when you are in the middle of treating cancer, especially if the disease is causing lots of pain and has overtaken your life.
But it is the warning sign, the reminder, the red flag telling all of us – sick or well – your time here is limited. We can’t tell you how much time you have – sick or well, we can’t promise you anything. But your time is limited.
To quote writer Mary Oliver: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?