Thursday, May 19, 2011


With so much talk of the terrors of cancer, I sometimes daydream about an imaginary person who is suffering from a severe form of cancer, but who continues to surprise friends with his talk about what he calls the “gifts” of his illness. I wonder if there could actually be such a person. In my imagination, he is enduring long stretches of intense pain, his body is sometimes pale and almost spectral, the doctors have taken all hope away, and yet he smiles more than frowns, and often speaks of the gifts the sickness has bestowed on him. He speaks like a person who is lucky in life rather than lost and passing away. In my imagination, I hear him say, for example, that he is grateful that he’s been given the opportunity to help so many people. He says his illness is giving nurses and doctors and other caretakers the opportunity to put into practice their commitment to serving others. He says they truly love their work, and his condition is making it possible for them to do what they most love in life – assisting those who are sick. They live to help others, and his need of help is providing them with that opportunity. My imaginary person says – and he admits this sounds strange – that he sometimes muses about the thousands of acts of kindness his “so-called” (his words) tragic illness will call forth from health-care workers, family, and friends. “How,” he says with a smile, “can something that’s tragic produce such wonderful effects?” He also smiles (in my make-believe story) when he speaks about the gift of courage the illness is giving him. He says he has always been a somewhat scared and anxious person, but his illness has slowly helped him see that courage is far stronger than any illness. Courage, he realizes now, is not a material thing that can be weighed and measured, and therefore it has no boundary line – no place where it is used up and comes to an end. He says courage is like a never-ending sky or a sea with no shores: there’s an everlasting amount always available to fight a “paltry” (his word) illness like cancer. I must admit that it’s far-fetched to imagine a supposedly dying man making more smiles in a conversation than grimaces, laughing about his situation rather than finding fault with it. I don’t really understand my little fantasy, but I have a puzzling kind of confidence in it. I suspect there are more of these surprisingly grateful cancer warriors than we realize.

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