Cancer is not a part of my personal health history. Although I have, so far, been spared, cancer has touched my life more than once over the years. I’ve seen the pain it has caused, the struggle that has ensued, and the final results.

I’ve known those who have made it through to the other side of treatment, and who continue, blessedly, on with their lives. I’ve experienced the loss of dear friends and family members who have not survived it. Cancer is an awful word that comes loaded with fear, and knowledge of all the horrors it can produce. For as much that cancer takes, though, it also gives.

Cancer gives the sure knowledge that life is short, and unpredictable, and precious. These are lessons that we might come to on our own in other ways, but a cancer diagnosis is quick delivery.

A life span seems like a long, long time. I remember thinking that my Grandpa, then in his 50s, was a very old man. Anticipating the far-off turn of the century, I thought I’d certainly not be around for it. If I was, I’d be way too old (48!) to notice. The idea that people could live to seventy or more seemed like forever! A lifetime.

As we age, though, we push back that final door. At age sixteen, thirty seemed ancient, old age was unfathomable; we sang, “hope I die before I get old…” By age thirty, another whole outlook presented itself. Thirty was pretty darn young, while I was living it! That has continued to happen, through my life. Old-age is somewhere out there, vaguely in the distant future. Death is farther beyond that.

A diagnosis of cancer brings death’s door front and center. No matter what the prospect of survival, there it is, close and personal. And it’s always too soon. Facing death, we see the value of life. We realize what a transient gift it is, and how quickly it can disappear. This can happen whether the diagnosis is yours, or for someone you know.

Suddenly, the knowledge or insight a person has to offer becomes more important. When my mother knew she had three months to live, she regaled us with stories, most that we had never heard before. She told each one of her children how much we were loved. She reached out to old friends and distant family. She “held court” every day, in her pajamas, from her comfortable chair, as those that knew and loved her stopped in to let her know.

A person given a cancer diagnosis is recognized for the irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, precious treasure that they are. The things they do are more greatly appreciated. Their contribution to the world we share is noted as both unique and priceless.

When cancer jostles our world, it opens our eyes. We see clearly, if we hadn’t before, the wonders that are here for us, for free, every day. Every morning a sunrise! The grass! That tree! The snow! It shows us the value of life.

Cancer helps to define quality of life. What’s the bottom line? What will we endure, to try to get rid of the disease? What is too much? What constitutes a good life? And what is a good death? These decisions have not touched my own life, but I’ve watched and listened as others that I love have weighed options, and made hard choices. Cancer gives clarity.

So, yes, in many ways, cancer gives.

Mostly, though, cancer takes away.


About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

11 responses »

  1. Cancer does indeed open our eyes and change our world–and it mostly takes away. Which is strange because the cells are growing out-of-control fast. Thanks for sharing this post and ((hugs)) to you and all those who have lost loved ones to this disease.

    • Thank you, Kathy! I actually wrote this a couple weeks ago….and it had been simmering for years in the back of my mind (I was imagining an accordion-style art book with hand-made papers and collage elements) for a few years. It was already scheduled to be posted today, when I learned that my friend, Hugh, lost his long battle with cancer the day before yesterday. It is just that common, I’m afraid.

  2. Thank you for writing this, Cindy. It hits close to home and is all so true of the changes in our relationships for the better because of cancer. My daughter-in-law has an incurable type, but has managed to stay with us for five years since her diagnosis. She has shown the rest of us how to live each day as if it were our last. When I suddenly discovered a breast lump back in May, I was terrified at first, but then I asked myself what my daughter-in-law would do. And the answer was that she would just keep on keeping on, loving and celebrating life. Now that I’ve gone through my surgery and radiation, it all feels like just a bad dream. I consider it to be behind me, and in no way does it define or control me.Thanks again for sharing your wise words.

    • Oh, thank you, Martha! I have thought of this a lot, over the years, as I’ve seen how the disease alters our perceptions. My friend Diane opted out of chemo, that likely would not have saved her anyway, saying, “I just want to enjoy one good summer on Beaver Island.” That’s what it had come down to: one good summer. I think of another friend who continued to put on make-up, walk miles with her sister, and dance when she had the chance long after they had given up on any more treatment working. She said, “just because you’re dying doesn’t mean you give up on living!” And of course, my sweet Mom, who reassured us all that she was not afraid, who relaxed into her decline, and set an example of courage and grace that I hope I can live up to. Best wishes to you, Martha! Onward!

  3. I appreciate your perspective. I both nodded and shook my head as I read your words. Life is short. Each of us is a treasure. All that is true. As someone who lives with metastatic cancer, I have also been given uncertainty, physical and emotional pain, and more grief and loss that I continue to experience and feel. Your last line hits home – cancer mostly takes away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s