Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What Cancer Has Taught Me

I read Leroy Sievers's "My Cancer" Blog every day.  Sievers is an American journalist who's been writing about his cancer experience on the NPR (National Public Radio) Web site.  He's smart, thoughtful, and articulate.  He's developed quite a following of cancer survivors and caregivers who are also quite intelligent and eloquent. 

Last week, he asked his readers to tell him how cancer changed their lives.  He asked them to finish the sentence, "My cancer...", and he received more than 360 responses.

The overwhelming majority of people said their cancer taught them to appreciate life.  I have to wonder about these people. Why didn't they appreciate their lives BEFORE cancer? Sad.

A few very honest people said cancer showed them how callous people can be, how weak their bodies can be, how painful life can be.  Very sad. 

One woman said cancer taught her valuable life lessons, but she'd have been happy to learn them from a book instead.  Another said her cancer stole her children's innocence.  

I didn't write in, but here's my response:

My cancer... didn't teach me very much about life, the universe, and everything that I didn't already  know.  It didn't make me appreciate all the wonderful things in my life any more than I already did.  It didn't show me what a great husband I had because I already knew that.  It didn't make me realize what a strong person I was because I already knew that too.  Cancer didn't teach or show me much that I didn't already know.  Unless you count medical knowledge about the disease itself.

BUT... My cancer seems to have taught the people who know me all of the above about themselves.  Many of my friends have told me how much more they appreciate the little things in life, how much they've learned about the importance of love and faith, how much more grateful they are for everything they have.

I'm happy about this.  I think my cancer has done a lot of good for a lot of people who know me.  And because it's had this impact on other people, my cancer as had a positive impact on me.  I've learned how generous and thoughtful people can be - not just our friends, but mere acquaintances and even strangers.  I've come to see what good there is in people's hearts if only given the chance.  I've realized what an incredible group of friends we have and how lucky we are to know so many kind-hearted, smart, generous people.  

So, to answer Sievers's question...  My cancer has brought some amazing people into focus. 


Anonymous said...

Hey Shin, truly touching.. When I think about it, you are right. I do learn from strong-willed people like you. I wish you all the best on your recovery!

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin,

Everytime I read your blog, I feel amazed by your willpower to live and cheerfulness despite it all.

My granduncle has recently been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, and while I was told it was the early stages, internet readings shows unfavourable prognosis and survival rates.

I hope you've some tips on food and nutrition towards coping with this disease, as I've heard it has been draining to his health at his age. Thanks.

Shin said...

Dear anonymous re: granduncle with oesophageal cancer,

After I was first diagnosed with cancer, I did a lot of research on nutrition. As a result, I went on a strict diet, cutting out meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and most processed food. I also took a number of health supplements and started exercising regularly.

I felt healthier, stronger, and suffered almost no side effects from the chemo and radiation treatments.

But my cancer came back less than a year after my treatment ended. That would lead most people to conclude that my special diet did no good. I don't think that's the case.

I recently began eating meat, dairy, and sugar again because I lost too much weight. I've now stabilized my weight and am slowly moving back to my earlier, healthier diet.

I can't really tell you whether your granduncle should go on a special cancer diet or keep enjoying whatever foods he likes. I think each patient is different. But, in general, I'd say any diet rich in vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds is healthier than meat, dairy, and sugar, whether you have cancer or not.

Maybe this earlier Blog post, "What Causes Cancer" has some information that might be useful to you.

Don't let the statistics you read on the Internet scare you. According to the statistics, I should be dead by now.

Don't underestimate the power of unmeasurable weapons in the fight against cancer: inner strength, will to live, positive outlook, support of loved ones, faith. I know none of these will cure cancer, but they're a powerful aid in the patient's ability to withstand the emotional stress and mental breakdown that often accompany cancer.

I wish for your granduncle, you, and your family to find strength in yourselves and in each other.

If you can, please write again to let me know how he's doing and how you're doing.