It’s different when you have cancer
I really admire Kate Bowler who wrote, Everything Happens for a Reason. As I was diagnosed with cancer, her book hit the shelves and a few people sent it to me. It took me over two years to find the courage to read it.
Faced with my own battle with cancer, I didn’t want to read about someone’s success story based on optimism. I know I am accused of being a perpetual optimist, but I prefer being the realistic optimist. I have a fatal disease and no amount of optimism will change, nor cure that. And that sucks, by the way.
Numerous onslaughts of suggestions about what I can do to save myself, while I believe are really just part of everyone’s love language, have tended to make me feel that my dying is my fault because I’m not doing enough. (Though, some suggestions have been great. Thus, the conundrum.) I was afraid Kate’s book would be just another push: positivism will save my life!
While I don’t recommend this book for everyone, it was very helpful to read the words of someone who has experienced the same thoughts, fears, pain, daily anxieties! One of my favorite lines was her reaction to a comment someone might make at her future funeral to her husband – God, must have wanted to bring her home. Her thought: God, must be pretty sadistic! The idea that everything happens for a reason also suggests a sadistic God. When a neighbor said that sentence to her husband, he asked her to tell him the reason his wife was dying of cancer.
I’d rather believe: shit happens.
I hope people who read this book don’t believe it’s a prescription to help them respond to someone they care about who has cancer or is facing a tragedy because everyone is different, has individualist responses. I don’t believe the author intended to be the spokesperson for the struggling masses. I believe she just wanted to share her experience. That is why I’m writing this blog.
I do believe people reach out to care about others in trouble and don’t know what to do, especially when there isn’t anything they can do. I forgive them for their stumbles. I’d rather they try, rather than do or say nothing. We all say and do things with good intentions and it’s just wrong. Even my responses to people who are reaching out to me can be wrong.
Once I dropped off a wildly unhealthy dessert to a friend’s home after her miscarriage and as I handed it to her husband at the door, I said: I’ve had several miscarriage and eating wonderful decadent treats always helped me so I brought this to you. He said: I’m so glad to hear you’ve had miscarriages. He was aghast immediately. I laughed because I knew he meant: You understand. The nice part of reading Kate’s book was that she understood what it feels like to face the threat of death, even though I didn’t agree with all she wrote.
The truisms that I struggle with? It’s actually the well-meaning attempts to normalize my experiences: Everyone’s tired these days. I can’t remember things anymore either. We’re all dying too.
It’s different when you have cancer. Life isn’t normal anymore. Shit is happening.