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.