I think there’s an expectation that having cancer is going to make my work, relationships, or goals in life more meaningful or important. But why?
Shannon is going to be a guest on tonight’s Stupid Cancer Show about cancer and the environment. (He’s an environmental lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council). Preping for our interview, I asked – in my best Terry Gross voice – “Did meeting your wife, a cancer patient, reinforce your commitment to your work on the environment and healthcare outcomes?” His answer: “No. Not really. I cared about this work to begin with.” Reason #210 why I love this man.
I guess the assumption is that we’re all just a bit too lazy, unkind, uncommitted, shallow, or careless in our lives and need cancer as a wake up call. But, I think I had a pretty meaningful life before my diagnosis, just as Shannon had a pretty great commitment to public health issues before meeting me. I’m mostly happy for people who’ve gotten more meaning in their lives from cancer. But I’m also a bit sad for what their lives must have looked like prior to cancer if they needed this disease as a makeover.
The burden is on cancer patients to live profoundly meaningful lives because we’ve seen the light. Be shouldn’t we all strive to lead meaningful lives, be good to our neighbors, smell the roses and help old women across the street whether we’ve had cancer or not? Just turn on the news, walk down the street, empathize with anyone who has lost something or someone. Wake up calls are everywhere.
It was a relief for me to hear Shannon say that my cancer was not a wake up call for him. Call me crazy, but I’d like to think that the greatest assets I have to give him are not two malignant tumors in my neck.
Was cancer a wake up call for you? If so, in what ways? If not, why not? Do you ever feel like there is an expectation that you should have become a more whole or better person because of your cancer?
Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to learn more about Greg and other young adult cancer patient who said they’d choose to get cancer again because of the positive change it made in their lives.