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Cancer Enough

There are two words I would have never associated with each other had it not been for a conversation with a bladder cancer fighter’s wife: “cancer” and “enough.” We went to the same church and had been invited to attend a small group gathering at someone’s home. Everyone was chatting before the group got started. This lady brought up her husband’s bladder cancer and asked about mine.

The competition was on

As soon as I said that mine was gone, the bell rang and the competition was on. He was still fighting it. His treatment was horrible. He had lost this and that. His cancer was far worse. By the end of the first round, I felt as if I had not had “cancer enough.” Reading the words, I realize how utterly bizarre they are when strung together. I had not had enough cancer to make it onto her cancer island.

Our culture’s obsession with comparison

I wish I could say that my encounter with her was is an anomaly. It was and is not. We as a people have this obsession with competition. Tell a story, and I will nearly guarantee someone listening will “one-up” it. You have three cars, they have four. You have kids, they have more. Your garbage is collected on Tuesday, theirs is collected on Monday and the truck is new. So it is with cancer, or any disease it seems.

What not to say: “I know someone who has it worse”

Part of it is an age thing. When I was 20 and we got together, we talked about girls. In my 30s, it shifted to kids and their stuff. 40s ushered in work stories and teenager challenges. 50s and beyond, it is health, illness, lack of retirement preparation, and who has died. And so it is with cancer. If I lose weight, people ask if my cancer is back. If I gain weight, they ask if I think it is wise to be heavy with my cancer history. That is followed by stories about everyone they know or have heard of who has had cancer and what they have done to fight it. But all of this spins around a central theme: “I know someone who has it worse.”

An ongoing challenge

When the stories and the competition start, I cringe and try to find some chips and dip. I cannot live this 24/7. I know I have had an easy journey, in the physical sense, with cancer. But the psychological aspect is an ongoing challenge. I have had cancer. I am NOT cancer! I have to distance myself from the cancer abyss or it will swallow me whole.

Cancer and bankruptcy have taught me the most

I choose not to compete. I choose to be empathetic and caring and supportive but not engaged and competitive. Cancer has been one of the two greatest gifts ever given me. The first was bankruptcy. Cancer and bankruptcy taught me more than I would have ever imagined. Because of this, I decided not to stack my experience up against anyone else’s.

The morning after my court date I got up and realized that life was still going on and that I needed to reset my compass and continue the journey. The morning after being diagnosed with cancer, I got up and realized life was still going on and that I need to reset my compass and continue on. On the back of my left hand, I have tattooed a compass so I can always find my true north.

You are alive!

Wherever you are in your cancer journey, you are alive. Celebrate that! No, really – stop reading for just a moment and take that in. You are alive! You do not have to compete and measure up to anyone. You are enough, just as you are. Cancer does not dictate your value or worth.

Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with cancer survivors and fighters, and each one of them has a valid and valuable story. I listen and smile or cry or we share a laugh and if they ask, I share my story, but it is never from a place of better or worse, more or less; it is from a place of knowing a fellow traveler on an often lonely path.

Be gentle with yourself

Be gentle with yourself. Rest when you need rest. Cry when it serves you. Love those who share your life. Life is not a competition, and you are enough just as you are. Celebrate how far you have come and embrace a peacefulness. Cancer is not who we are, it is something we have or have had.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • tsdakota
    4 months ago

    I do not feel the people I associate with have the one up attitude nor do I believe most people do.

  • Sarah Wallin moderator
    4 months ago

    @tsdakota, I’m glad that most of the people you associate with do not have this attitude. It’s not very helpful when someone tries to “one up” or “compare” cancer journeys… it can draw us apart when we should be coming together in support. I think many people do not realize the impact of this mindset on others. Thanks for reading and commenting, Sarah ( Team Member)

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