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Good or Bad? With Cancer, It May Be Hard to Tell

Knowing that my sister gained remission gives me an immense bias, but ask the question, “Good or bad?” now and my answer may just be, “hard to tell.”
PUBLISHED January 18, 2018
Kim is a nursing student who is hoping to find her place amongst the phenomenal oncology nurses and doctors who cared for her sister. She loves reading, volunteering and enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.
Today marks two years since my sister received her bone marrow transplant, and since then I have done a lot of reflecting. Each time I looked at the clock, I found myself thinking back to what was happening the same time on that day and how I felt back then. My mind drifted and I began to think about the presence of cancer in our lives and all that came with it. I heard a parable this past week and it goes as follows:

“There was once a farmer in a village. One day, his horse ran away. So, the villagers came up to him and said, ‘That’s bad.’ He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Hard to say.’

The next day, the horse came back with seven wild horses. The villagers came to him and said, ‘More horses, that’s good.’ He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Hard to say.’

A week later, the farmer’s son was riding one of the horses and was thrown off and broke his leg. The villagers came up to him and said, ‘That’s bad.’ He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Hard to say.’

A month later, the King commanded that all able-bodied men enlist to fight the ongoing war. The farmer’s son was not enlisted as he had a broken leg. Now, the villagers came up to him and said, ‘That’s good.’He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Hard to say.’”

I feel that this parable sums up my experience with cancer quite well. As you go through the journey of a loved one having cancer, you constantly face new forks in the road. Nothing is predictable and everything seems to be ever-changing. But in retrospect, I know that my life is vastly different than it otherwise would have been without cancer in my life.

It is easy to think about all the PET/CT scans that she was given and label them good or bad, or to recall all the people who we are so lucky to have met and say that they are the good that came from cancer. But in truth, we do not get to pick and choose in life. The same is true when it comes to cancer.

I am never going to say that I am grateful that my sister was diagnosed with cancer. I would do anything for her to have not endured years of pain and hospital stays. That does not mean that I am not grateful for all the friends that I met along the way, nor does it change that I am not sure that I would be a nursing student without her diagnosis. Life is not a la carte. It is a journey that unfolds regardless of our hopes, wants and desires.

When I was making decision for my sister while she was sick, I used to obsess over whether or not I was making the right decision. If we could take a step back and try to see the bigger picture every once in a while, I think we might have better perspective. If we could set aside judgment and fear, we may see something that was once unseen from a difficult choice that we are facing.

And thus, this takes us back to the parable above. Good or bad? “Hard to tell.” In that question lies a huge life lesson that I think can be applied to many things. We do get choices in life, but I think we spend a vast amount of time trying to decide if they are good or bad. Had somebody asked me two years if cancer was a bad thing, I would’ve said no without a moment of hesitation. Knowing that my sister gained remission gives me an immense bias, but ask the question, “Good or bad?” now and my answer may just be, “hard to tell.”
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