Why Cancer Sucks, or Why I Stopped Hating Cancer and Decided to Love Life Instead

Cancer sucks because it is the most ineffective parasite I have ever known. Science and doctors might not view it as such, but I do. Why? It finds a host (somehow), takes over its body, then kills it. What kind of disease is that?

Cancer hurts those affected by it forever. It changes your perspective on life in ways you’d never even imagine. It burns images and conversations into your brain that should never be there in the first place. It destroys relationships and it revises your tightly-held values forever.

Cancer forces people to change – there is no choice, there is only cancer. It turns strong people weak and weak people strong. It brings out the best in friends and the worst in family. There is no option – only pure, brute force.

Cancer challenges you to question everything you ever held close to your heart. Memories you forgot are suddenly remembered, revised, analyzed. Did you do enough? Why did you react that way? Why weren’t you better? Why did you try so hard?

Yea, cancer doesn’t feel good. It takes away, it murders, it invades, it rapes and pillages the village  of your life that you built in your mind. The effects last forever and you never completely rebuild your life the same way as before you met it.

And that’s why it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Cancer let me finally choose how to live my life. Cancer allowed me to let go, to be a better friend, and to recognize my own strength. It opened my eyes and I got to see my parents in a whole new light. I often say I didn’t have a choice, but I did have a choice.  I could choose to be bitter, and I could choose to just…not…be bitter. When I heard those scarring words spoken by my mother (“I only have two weeks to two months to live”), something in me – I still don’t know what – immediately responded with, “Well, I know that no matter what happens, I won’t let your death make me bitter”.

What would bitterness do? I would be stuck in my grief – those endless, endless nights where you wake up crying because memories you never knew you had come flooding back in your dreams – and would be angry. Angry, so angry, and virtually useless to myself and to the world. I’d be alone for sure. I’d be everything my mother didn’t want for me.

I hate cancer for what it did to my life and I hate what it does to the lives of those around me. But in the pain, I found that I could still move forward, away from the grief. I learned from others, I opened myself up and learned my limits. I finally learned to admit my mistakes and to admit that I just don’t know. I discovered that what I love most in other people are the qualities that I will always love in my mother. I seek these out unknowingly – I find myself inexplicably drawn to those people who radiate life.

I remember how angry I was when people would change things around in the house (my mother died in her bedroom at home, just like she wanted), not major changes, but small things. Moving a shirt she wore would kill me, and the idea of throwing anything of hers out broke my heart into a million pieces over and over again (it was already decimated at that point so breaking it again just pulverized what was left). I wanted to leave the house exactly as she left it but my circumstances (luckily) did not allow for that at all. The worst part was that I had zero control over anything that was left after she died. It took a good long while until I finally accepted that I also didn’t have control over anything while she was still alive and fighting cancer.

Lesson learned: The only true thing I could control was me. It took a lot of counseling and a lot of soul searching to realize that holding onto every little physical piece of evidence would not bring her back. The first year she died, I thought she’d magically appear at Christmas. That’s all I wanted. I dreaded Christmas that year because I truly thought she’d show up and I’d have nothing to say except, “Please come back” and “Don’t go yet!”.

Through cancer, I learned that sometimes one moment is never enough and sometimes it’s the only moment you’ll ever get. Sometimes you never actually know what to say  or do. Sometimes you don’t want someone you love around ever again because it’d be too painful to watch them leave. No amount of time would ever be enough.

I would not be where I am at today if it were not for cancer. I can only speculate but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have my job, my best friend and perfect match, my new attitude, my friends, or my car (silly, but I only  mention it to highlight the triviality of life and how someone’s death can change all decisions in your life). For that, I am thankful. I learned my lessons and fought hard – mostly on my own, but with a few great friends beside me – and I am grateful more than I can express. I wouldn’t have what I have now if it weren’t for cancer.

Tragedies leave a person shattered and oftentimes, with nothing left. I had nothing left. My mom was my best friend, and at times, my only friend. She loved me like no one else will ever love me in my life. Unconditional love was a gift I only appreciate now (young people tend to forget these things…). No one will ever replace her or take her place in my heart. But now, her death – thanks to cancer (I hate you, cancer) – brought me closer to her than I have ever been in my life. Cancer taught me to grieve, to listen, to understand others. Cancer taught me to forgive – myself, my mom, my family, my friends.

Since I obviously can’t control everything in my life, I can now control how I react to my grief and help others. Two years ago, I had my mom. Now, I don’t. Not being close to any family except a few of my mom’s cousins and my mom’s mom made me more careful in choosing new friends.

My pain and longing for my mother will never go away, but I’m not carrying a torch for her – her light is in me. Just like so many of you who have been touched (or steamrolled) by cancer, it’s an indelible mark on an otherwise perfect life (and yes, I never realized how perfect my life was – life isn’t perfect, but when you do the best you can, it’s perfect for you). But it’s a mark that you can edit and shape into any new life you want. For the first time, you can admit how weak you are and that admitting your weakness is the biggest indicator of strength.

So, I hate cancer but without it, I wouldn’t be here, writing to you, and trying to make a difference. Through cancer, I have read some amazing blogs and communicated with the most intelligent, thoughtful, unique, and beautiful individuals on discussion boards related to the disease. I have had my mind completely blown by the pain and terrible struggles other people are going through, and my heart breaks for them…but I’m glad these resources and outlets exist for them. Mostly, I’m glad I can finally show something I never could before: compassion.

I sincerely hope that all of you find something good to hold onto through your cancer journey, whether as a patient, survivor, or loved one. The pain of loss is immeasurable and the politics of mourning are complicated, but I learned to just ride the waves of your grief, tears, and frustration since these truly do pass. They might never go away, but you can allow them to transform you in a powerful, positive way, and you may be stronger than you could ever imagine.