Saturday, January 22, 2011

Can Having Cancer be Worth It?

I spent a good bit of time with my sister, Ann, over a six day period last week, and we had a chance to catch up on things. Of course, the biggest single thing in her life right now is trying to survive metastatic breast cancer. Stage four breast cancer is not considered curable in general, and in her specific case from day one four years ago, her cancer seems particularly chemo resistant. It is looking kind of grim right now, but she has not given up hope, and she starts a brand new chemo on Monday. It is called Haloven and it has been on the market for just a couple of months. Hopefully it will buy her some time until the next big thing comes along.

During one conversation we had, she talked about hearing from time to time about people who claim having had cancer ended up being a good experience. She and a fellow cancer warrior had talked about this, and Ann said they both agreed that such a sentiment is pretty much crazy. As Ann put it, she can’t think of a single thing she got from cancer that was good, or at least was worth the price of admission.

I’m was a little more hesitant. I said something to her like I had not enjoyed having had cancer, but I did end up learning some valuable things as a result. And I have had some amazing experiences that I might not have had otherwise – Team in Training for one, because wanting to make a difference as a cancer survivor is what got me started with TNT. Ann’s counter was that there was nothing she has learned from cancer that she couldn’t have learned some other way. But also, I survived the whole thing and have been 8 years removed from the misery of it. Maybe I have some things that were worth the misery. Ann, on the other hand, has been dealing with it for four years now: illness and exhaustion from chemo, internal and external third degree burns from radiation, pain from a mastectomy, and all kinds of secondary infections. And none of it has worked. I can’t think of a single thing I could have learned that would have been worth that much suffering.

I guess at the risk of being misunderstood – and hear me now, I am not saying having cancer was fun or a good experience – being a cancer survivor is part of who I am. By the luck of the draw, I got a survivable type, and I was able to parlay some of that experience into becoming a better, tougher, and stronger person. Because I survived it, because it was six months of misery and not six years, because I didn’t lose any body parts: I don’t think I would change who I am today if it meant erasing all that. But for Ann, for my friend Ed dealing with the horrors of melanoma treatment for the fourth time, for my teammate Robin who had most of her right leg amputated this summer, for my friend Judy who died two weeks ago from multiple myeloma: I doubt anything they gained was even remotely worth the horrible price paid.

No comments: