Cancer With Benefits: What A Survivor Hopes She Has Learned

Cancer has a silver lining, too. Breast cancer and melanoma survivor shares hers.

Getting through breast cancer or melanoma doesn’t make me courageous. Just ask my immediate family. Yet, even several years out, someone meets me and says something like, “Wow, you’re brave/strong. I’m not sure I could have done that.” As though I had a choice? I don’t have a medal, and I am not a member of some wonderful club. I simply did and do what I need to do to get through my cancers. Right?

Cancer isn’t a badge of honor. It is a disease. Still, I won’t deny that having had cancer has had some benefits. In other words, even the big “C” wasn’t all bad and there really was a silver lining. Here are some aspects of the silver lining. If you are new to your cancer diagnosis, I hope you will give yourself patience and time to figure out your own silver lining, and if you are an experienced cancer survivor, I hope you will add to these thoughts.

As survivors, we can make a choice to try to make some of the negatives of our circumstances into positives. Here is how cancer helped me improve some things:

Better able to listen, really listen. I wanted to be heard when I was frightened and worried by my diagnosis. Sometimes a cancer patient just wants to be heard. After cancer, there is an opportunity to choose to be a better listener. Cancer survivors are sensitive to that.

More willing to help others. After going through a life-changer like cancer, survivors become more aware of other people’s problems, especially if it is a cancer diagnosis. This makes a survivor willing to leap in to help instead of hang back from uncertainty. We remember those who reached out to us and are often happy to return the favor to newbies.

Greater attention to nature. Going outside or even looking out a window helped me as I processed my cancers. It restored my perspective and connected me to life. As a survivor, I still use nature when life throws me curve balls. Appreciating nature slowed my anxious thoughts and provided much needed distraction and even peace.

Enhanced gratitude. Since cancer, I think I distinguish between wants and needs more quickly and prioritize better. Most importantly, I feel better able to switch to appreciating what I have rather than wasting time being pulled down by what I think I want. More resolve to accomplish now—to seize the day. I no longer wait for retirement to do what I hope to do in my life. I work on my bucket list now. I no longer postpone kind words or compliments I have to share. I try to give apologies as soon as they are in my heart.

Greater notice of small pleasures. These small pleasures include the pretty cloud colors on a gray day, an unexpected hug, a small kindness from a stranger holding a door open. Those events don’t slip away as they may have during my busyness before my cancer diagnosis.

Still, cancer is only one of life’s many experiences—good and bad. We can choose to learn from these experiences. We can share our knowledge with each other. We can remember to practice this hard-won knowledge for our own lives, too.