Cancer is Not a Gift

As I was Christmas shopping today, I chuckled to myself when I thought about all of the people who have said (in different iterations) to me, “Cancer is a gift. Look at what you are doing now. You would never have done this if you hadn’t had cancer.”  Yes, people have said this. When this happens, my cheeks instantly turn 50 shades of (not grey but) purple. I do my polite smile and take a deep breath before saying, “IN. NO. WAY. IS. CANCER. A. GIFT.”

Cancer does, however, keep on giving. At my appointment last week, my oncologist and I discussed the realistic practicality of a prophylactic oophrectomy (preventing cancer recurrence by surgically removing my ovaries). I’ll do a whole separate post on this topic because it’s (yet) another tributary on this long, pot-holed road that is FBC.

Back to the topic at-hand. FBC is exactly what it has always been: F-bomb breast cancer. It does not have any of the markings of a traditional gift. There is no ribbon. No card. No love. No fun. And it comes with lots and lots of strings attached.

Now, as you all know, I have found an immense number of Silver Linings during my experience with FBC. Maybe this is what people really mean when they use the word “Gift”?!?!?  I don’t know and don’t care to delve into a discussion (argument?) with anyone who thinks that cancer is a gift. I just can’t go there and am not going to “should” myself on the topic.

What I know for sure is that Silver Linings have always provided balance and perspective for me. They have not ever taken away the pain, nausea, sadness or isolation that come with cancer. The Silver Linings that I experienced during my cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery helped me get through each and every day. I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for the Silver Linings but you’ll never, ever, not-in-a-million-years hear me refer to cancer as a gift.

Now back to my Silver Lining: buying Christmas gifts with lots of ribbons, cards, love and fun!



Leave a comment


  1. says

    Wow-some really good responses regarding "our Gift" the one we never wanted but got anyway. Cancer sucks folks but we deal with it as best we can & hope we have the most brillant doctors & staff to help get us through it and the belief that we will get through it as we don't have too many choices- so we do. And now I am called a survivor. Should I celebrate? I do celebrate and thank God & everybody who is/was there for me and plan to be there for them. That's life & life is the "Gift"!! So live your life as only you can and celebrate each morning that we open our eyes/minds to.

    • says

      Hi Joan,
      I know, right? I love everything that everyone had to say on this post. Your life philosophy is beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Tanya Foster says

    Arrgh… If FBC is a "gift" …I'd like the receipt so I can return it to where it came from!
    What I struggled with the most when I was diagnosed almost 12 months ago with DCIS and had a mastectomy and a reconstruction was hearing " Oh… you are just sooooo brave…"
    No…I JUST WANT TO BE HERE IN 30YEARS TIME and I will do whatever I need to do to make that happen..
    Would I change my decision again if I had to? Nope… but I would have been better informed and stopped feeling like I cheated by not having chemo or radiation..
    I was amazed by the amount of love and support from friends and family – and that was a "gift" and its one that keeps on giving…
    My gift on Dec 24th was a phone call to let me know that my bloods were all clear …Now ..THAT'S what I call a gift…
    Hollye – I love your spirit and love that you send thru your page … I can feel it here in Australia every time I log on – Thank you xxxxx

    • says

      Dear Tanya,
      THANK YOU for your your comment and sharing your December 24th gift…what wonderful news!
      I really appreciate your feedback. It means so very much to me!
      Best wishes for a health-FULL 2013!

  3. birdies says

    If someone calls living forever with the dread of the recurrence of FBC, or being so limp you have to coach yourself and rally one-self to get up and go to the bathroom, or instantly develop coping skills against a life-threatening disease, or perhaps the "gift" is that your insurance company getting to rule your life (and potentially limit the treatment that might permit premature death) is it? How about the women, and I know some, that are without insurance and too young for Medicare, and so they are left with Medicaid. They are supposedly "covered" by Medicaid, but can they find a surgeon that will (a) consult with them? (b) Do their surgery? (c) Find a compassionate solution to the dilemma? No, the choice they have to is DIE! I tried, I tried to help a woman get the surgery she needed, and as persistent and resourceful as I am, her only option was to DIE. There is no GIFT in that. How about all the "lovely" treatments that you learn to accept? If everyone who thought FBC was a "gift" could see the humiliation of one's body under knives, diagnostic procedures, and diagnostic equipment…maybe they would find the gift there? How about the way the financial resources of your family is stripped; totally stripped…down to the bone, and how the average person may become homeless, or be dependent on others to provide groceries, or have to go bankrupt because the costs are so astronomical, and the medical folks are so persistent and dogged at chasing you down that it withers the soul — is that the gift?

    People who think all that can ever be a gift, are STUPID and INSENSITIVE. The only possible polite response, I think, is: "I respectfully disagree with you. Please don't pursue this further, as you don't have the insight to determine what is a gift for any person other than yourself."

    People call us heroic or define us as being courageous. How the heck is that so when your only choice is — take the treatment and potentially live, or decline the treatment and positively and prematurely DIE? We don't have courage–at least I didn't. My only choice was to go kicking and screaming all the way, or clamp my jaws shut and go quietly as if to a guillotine. That is not courage. It is white-knuckled fear so pervasive that your only choice is your own attitude about how to react to it. Is that the effen "gift"?

    Individual people may self-identify their experience as having cancer is somehow their personal "gift." But that is only the individual's right. It can not be put upon a person! Only the individual can determine what FBC is them! You think this is a "gift"? Respectfully, I disagree. Please don't pursue this further because the only person you have the insight to determine this for is yourself."

    • says

      Wowsie! Thank you for this awesome response, Birdies. I (and I imagine lots of other people!) will really appreciate this. Thank you!
      Wishing you a happy and health-FULL 2013!

  4. Patricia Lines says

    I totally agree with you – no way this can EVER be classed as a gift. It creeps up on a person completely unawares, scares you half to death, devastates your life, leaves you in pain – have had breast surgery twice – once mastectomy about 15 years ago and then another one about 2 years ago because another lump appeared on the same side. The only thing I found as a Silver Lining was the wonderful support of the nursing staff and friendship and understanding from the people going through the same "problem". But to all going through cancer I say – please remember to stay positive and retain your sense of humour. It really does help.

    • says

      Thank you for your comment, Patricia. I really appreciate it and wholeheartedly agree with your reflections. I'm so glad that you were able to find a Silver Lining in your nursing staff. What great pearls of wisdom. Thank you! Best wishes to you!

  5. Sarah Fenner says

    When I was first diagnosed at age 34 (in 2002) and in the course of treatment I learned that I was BRCA2 positive, I didn't hesitate to have an oopherectomy, I saw it as an insurance policy (silver lining?) that would decrease significantly the odds of recurrence. With a six and eight year old (at the time), I felt like it was an opportunity to see my kids grow up, and one that I could not turn down. Fast forward to 2009, diagnosed Stage IV – what happened to that oopherectomy insurance policy? FBC is certainly no gift. I continue to wrestle with identifying it as *my* cancer, I didn't invite it, it is not welcome, but I have no choice but to accept its ongoing presence (not a present) in my life.

    May 2013 bring us all health and strength to face whatever we must in the coming year, and beyond!

    • says

      Wow, Sarah. Thank you so much for sharing this. GULP. I was actually seeing it as a bit of an insurance policy….though I know that a sure thing does not exist. You're so right: a presence, not a present. Wishing you a peaceful and health-FULL 2013.

    • Shannon says

      Thank you Hollye, well said. I chose to have a Total Abdominal Hysterectomy with Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy at the same time as my radical bi-lateral masectomy. My oncologist was floored at 38 I decided to do so. The risk numbers on that fantastic scale of recurrence dropped dramatically for me. We can never know for sure on recurrence, but my gift is my baby girl, sweetly 3, that I want to be here for. The experience of her life is all I hope for and I want to do it well. No gifts in the FBC. Tomorrow is 19 of 38 radiation treatments. The gift in it??? None. You are an amazing inspiration to me beautiful soul.

      • says

        Thank you so much for your note, Shannon. It means the absolute world to me. I'm so happy that you are happy with your decision. This is the direction in which I am leaning.
        How are you faring with the radiation?
        Wishing you a happy and health-FULL 2013, Shannon.

  6. Carol Buhr says

    I too have heard it called a GIFT. Well, those people that say that must ask for some really weird crap for gifts is all I can think. I'm very happy to be able to feel excited about the holidays this year, last year I got my first dose of chemo on my birthday, December 8. Chemo was not fun, I could go into the gory details about what it did to me, but you all know the side effects and and the risks and have similar stories. I had read several articles after I was diagnosed and recuperating from my surgery, and they were written by women I call the "super" women type, where chemo was a minor inconvenience, it was not so bad, etc. I bought into it, and so after my second dose and I wasn't feeling too bad, I thought, ok, they were right, this isn't so bad…. WRONG! After the third dose, well, all I can say is I was driving that porcelain bus more often than a binge drinking college student,things started to go downhill in a hurry, yuck! So many times I wanted to give up, but my darling hubby kept reminding me that I could do it, I had to do it. Well I made it, it's not something I would ever wish on anyone, and it's not a GIFT. But I will say that I have met some very beautiful people during my past year dealing with FBC (which, I might add, is the most accurate acronym out there)and I wouldn't trade the comradery and the humor when a bunch of us get together and swap tales of our "journey"(I think we need to come up with something else, it makes it sound like a pleasant sojourn or something instead of dipping your toes into the water of hell, which is how I thought of chemo).

    • says

      "Weird crap gifts"…that totally cracked me up! Thank you so much for sharing. I met some of the "super"women types. That was NOT ME. I attribute "superness" to body chemistry. Nothing more. Some people simply tolerate it better than others.
      It sounds as though you have had some Silver Linings during FBC and for that I am glad.
      I also think we need to come up with a better word than "journey". I tend to say "experience".
      Wishing you a peaceful and health-FULL 2013!

  7. says

    FBC is not for sissies! And anyone who calls FBC "a gift" is either f *****g ignorant or mean spirited. I agree with Susan L, Jo, Anne, Karin, Susan E, and stand proudly with all my BC sisters here who have shared their thoughts so bravely and honestly. We are looking for silver linings when life has thrown us a "curve ball" that hits painfully hard. It is not a "GIFT", a "picnic", or a "walk in the park". It is brutal and you live with the threat of a possible FBC recurrence. Thank you SL ladies for all your heartfelt comments.
    Happy Holidays & much love to all my SL sisters!

  8. Jo Shanafelt says

    Cancer is NOT a gift… was hard in everyway and being the little tuffy that I think I am and really am not….I want my energy back, I want my whole body back, to eat a full meal without getting sick, the ability to make a plan and see it through, my hair! What I am thankful for is my life, I still have it. I get to spend lots of time w/my grandson…..reading and working on myself…really the best I can do for now….peace out and Happy Holidays to you all.

  9. Susan L says

    I've been looking at your comments for quite a while, however, this is the first time I've felt comfortable enough to write something. A Gift? ! Find someone who has this at the top of their Christmas wish list and I'll consider listening! Until then, the term Silver Linings is exactly what I've experienced. Susie, your comment really made me giggle, thanks for that! Sites like this are a blessing to read and communicate with other sisters/brothers who have BTDT. Only we "gifted" ones can understand the excitement of another clear mamo, or good blood work, the "clear" colonoscopy like the one I had today. Thanks for this space to be able to see that you are not alone, to be able to talk about the good things that are happening to us because we are lucky enough to be here and to vent when things don't go quite the way we expected. I have to laugh at myself when I stress about the gray hair that replaced what once was blonde..I'm having a mid-life crisis!! How wonderful, how normal! For this I am giggling! Tell me, who else would understand? Happy Holidays, enjoy the moment and to all a Happy, Healthy New Year!

    • says

      Dear Susan,
      THANK YOU for commenting. I'm so happy and grateful that you did!
      We all need to giggle, don't we? I love it when we "gifted" ones give each other the giggles.
      Fantastic news about your clear colonoscopy. Now THAT is a true gift!
      Happy Holidays to you as well, Susan.
      Thank you again!

  10. Anne says

    I agree – I learned a lot over the past 2 years (including 6 surgeries and a year of chemo) and some of the things I learned are Silver Linings – but there is no way I'd consider myself lucky for going through this or view cancer as a gift.

    By the way, I just had a prophylactic total hysterectomy. Can't wait to read your thoughts on the subject.

    • says

      Dear Anne,
      Great to hear from you. Thanks so much for your note.
      How was your surgery? Would love to hear your reflections on it…and your decision making process.
      Take good care and best wishes for good health!
      xx Hollye

  11. Susie E says

    I really have to concentrate on being nice when someone tells me how lucky I am to have had cancer. Yes, it could be much worse, but I'll be dealing with the collateral damage for the rest of my life. It isn't fun.
    My favorite 'cancer gives back' comment is from a friend that says her breast cancer really did give back. She moved her Tamoxifen prescription to a new pharmacy and got a turkey. What a special Merry Christmas greeting from FBC she says with a straight face. I giggle every time I think about it, but I guess you have to have BTDT to see the humor of it.