The Gift Debate

I’ve never quite understood the debate over whether cancer is a gift. It’s not like one viewpoint is the right answer. Why can’t it be both? Different for different people? Even different for the same person at different times?Pink Gift Box

It’s no secret that the same experience affects various people in a variety of ways. My experience is not necessarily yours.

The way I see it, cancer is like Halloween. It’s trick or treat except far more people feel tricked and ripped off. Even those who find a treat hiding at the bottom of the bag admit it’s one hard piece of candy.

I once had a fleeting moment when I considered the gift thing only to come to my senses. Mostly I’ve felt if it’s a gift, I’d like to return it. I want a refund in the form of the old me. She was more fun, had more energy and didn’t have holes in her brain.

I wish I were in the gift camp. I wish I had whatever they have that turned cancer into a positive thing. If only I’d had some huge life change for the better. I would have liked to make those changes. I’ve tried. After five years of cancer burn-out, I’d love to chuck it all and move to some island with a slow pace, sit on a beach chair and write to the rhythm of the ocean waves. My circumstances have not allowed an exit from life’s stressors.

Cancer tested my perseverance beyond anything I’d known before. It dug deep into the trenches of my soul in the way only a difficult illness can do. I appreciate aspects of this.

All of our lives are an experience of growth whether we view it that way or not. Growth happens as a direct result of experience. That applies to anything or everything. It’s not about being a better person — unless it is that for you. For most of us, having cancer isn’t about becoming a better person, but struggling after treatment to get back to the better self we were.  Cancer destroys and we’re left to pick up the pieces in its aftermath. At least that’s what it’s been for me. Believe me when I say that experience didn’t come with a ribbon on top.

Suffering has its rewards and pitfalls, the latter of which is far more obvious. If there is reward, it’s probably in some airy spiritual sense rather than something tangible. There are degrees of suffering but once a line is crossed, it seems a sacrilege to call it a gift. As an example, I don’t believe rape could ever be a gift under any circumstances. Nor could genocide, the loss of a child, or innocent people being sprayed with bullets by some hatemonger. I’m certain cancer is never a gift for those who are metastatic. Despite the spiritually fashionable trend to put a positive spin on everything, some things are too far over the line to transform into something good. Evil exists. Bad things happen.

Does good come from bad? Sometimes. Just not always. For the phoenix to rise from the ashes, there must be fire and devastation that precedes that glorious flight. When the phoenix spreads its wings and flies, that’s a miracle. That’s something to behold. Not all stories end that way.


  1. nancyspoint says:

    I know some do consider their cancer experience a gift, which of course, is entirely their prerogative. As for me, no way. Not gonna happen. Too many die from this horrible disease, including my own mother. How could I ever consider such a thing a gift?

    • Nancy, I’m with you. As I said, I wish I had whatever it is that makes some people view cancer as a gift, but on the other hand, I think their gift may come wrapped in denial and euphemisms.

  2. I could never call my cancer a gift. To me that sounds self-punishing. It’s almost suggesting that we didn’t know how to do life before cancer, and now that cancer happened, we know better. I lost family members and friends to this disease. Calling cancer a gift is like calling their mortality a gift. Like Nancy stated above, I could never do that.

    Thank you for writing about this topic. Great piece!

    • Ooh, Rebecca, love what you said: …suggesting we didn’t know how to do life before cancer, but now we know better. I wish I could do life as I did before cancer. For me, it’s been extremely destructive which has diminished quality of life.

  3. I didn’t die but the person I was did. And I so wish I could get her back!

    • Oh, Diane, I so relate to your comment and I know many others do too. The more I hear from others, the more I think the gift thing is a myth. At least I don’t know anyone in real life who feels that way. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  4. In my view, it is clear why this debate exists. Viewing cancer as a gift is the socially acceptable reaction; those of us saying “I wanna return it” are often viewed as negative and told attitude is everything, or some such nonsense. So while I and others may agree with “why can’t it be both? different for different people?”, in my experience, reciprocation in tolerating another POV is less common than I’d like.

    • I think you’re right. I just wish negativity weren’t touted at the expense of honesty. Personally, I find that repugnant and I suppose I’m not being tolerant. But seriously, is there any other disease besides cancer where one is expected to call it a gift? I’ve never heard people with diabetes, heart disease or kidney failure call those things a gift. The whole thing is bizarre. Anyhow, thanks for being a curmudgeon. You wear it well and the honesty is refreshing.

  5. Is this a private forum? I have a different perspective but I don’t want to find it on google.

    • Lois, yes, it is a public forum. I use WordPress and I don’t have control over what goes on Google. You’re welcome to message me under Contact if you wish. Or you can comment and I will delete afterward. At any rate, thank you for reading.

  6. Today I read a Facebook post of a friend of a friend who just discovered she had invasive ovarian cancer following a hysterectomy. She (and commenters to her post) went on about this being all in “God’s plan” for her, with her coming across as some kind of happy warrior in carrying out what has been pre-ordained, apparently. I find it really disturbing personally, but I suppose there are some people like her who gain strength from submitting themselves to “God’s will.” Not exactly like viewing cancer as a gift, but still, for me, just as problematic. Your take on it would be appreciated, Eileen.

    • Melissa, I give you my take gladly, although it is just my opinion. People believe whatever works for them to get them through the day. I have a spiritual belief and awareness, but I long ago rejected the idea of a sadistic being who randomly afflicts earthlings with suffering. Why do we blame God? If I were God, I’d file defamation lawsuits against everyone who constantly uses him/her/it as a convenient scapegoat. And why would anyone love a god like that? If we attributed the same things to a parent, we’d report them to child protective services. If a husband were like that, we’d call the wife battered. Earth is a place of suffering and people do evolve from suffering. They also get really damaged and traumatized. Each of our lives is our own and it’s up to the individual to reflect and decide what that suffering means personally and to find coping mechanisms that work for that individual. As for that person’s friends and family, all they need to do is be available in practical ways as their lives allow, express love and support, and refrain from spouting factory-wrapped, candy-coated euphemisms that ring hollow and empty, especially for the person on the receiving end. Wow, can you tell I feel strongly about this topic? 🙂

      • Thank you so much, Eileen! My sentiments exactly. (Only I wouldn’t have stated them so well.) It’s the people who either outright say, or imply, that if your belief is strong enough, God will get you through this and you’ll be cured. Seriously? It makes me angry when I read that. Talk about pressure. I think you’ve said before that people are afraid for their own lives when they see someone young with a life-threatening cancer and try to rationalize why it happened so that they can say “it’s not going to happen to me, because…” This is kind of the same thing, only putting the onus on the cancer patient by making her relationship with God the main focus for her treatment and subsequent “cure.” What if she isn’t cured? Does that mean God doesn’t love her or her faith wasn’t strong enough? Makes my head hurt… 🙂

        • There’s so much b.s. out there, it makes my head hurt too. This topic is a pet peeve of mine. I could write volumes on it. Thanks for commenting, Melissa. It’s always good to know we’re not alone in our perspectives.

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