The Unexpected Joy of Cancer


My colon cancer diagnosis significantly dwarfed all my other problems.

Image of a person holding a smiley face.

Ferrier focused on the joys cancer brought and gratitude towards life.

It was a strange sensation, to feel even a small gratitude for my colon cancer diagnosis. I was certainly grateful for many things during my treatment: my amazing care team, my wonderful partner, my unflappable son, Medicaid and, not least, my own stubborn will to go on existing.

But grateful for cancer, one of the worst, most life-altering diseases that exists? Absurd. In almost every way, my colon cancer was just what it seemed: a huge pain my butt (literally) and a significant threat to my health. Who would be thankful for that? Unexpectedly, however, it also caused a profound shift of perspective on my own life.

In the months leading up to my diagnosis, I was not doing well emotionally. I was worried about money, housing, the rising cost of living, my son’s education, my partner’s chronic illness and more. All of that was on top of a heaping helping of COVID-19 pandemic fatigue from the last three years. I was depressed, I was anxious and getting dangerously close to hopelessness.

And then came the colonoscopy.

I had been having some annoying, persistent, bowel-related symptoms and as a preventative measure, asked to be scoped just in case. Fearing nothing worse than a tear or maybe colitis, I was instead informed that I had a nasty, malignant tumor growing in my sigmoid colon. I had cancer, and I needed surgery and possibly chemotherapy.

I expected to be a mess — to cry, yell and curse. What else is a person supposed to do when they’re already at their limit and then told they must face up to the worst health challenge they’ve ever had? Wasn’t that my lowest point? Wasn’t I supposed to feel lost? Adrift? Unmoored?

Strangely, I felt relief instead.

In receiving the diagnosis of cancer, I received an unforeseen clarity along with it. I wasn’t just given one more problem to add to the pile, I was given the biggest problem of all. So big, in fact, that it dwarfed every other concern I had been fretting over to that point. In one day, all those anxieties were swept away because there wasn’t room for them anymore.

Now, did my cancer completely prevent me from worrying about money, my family and all my earthly problems? Of course not. It did, however, release me from the stranglehold these things had on my attention and my mood, because only one thing deserved my full focus at that moment: getting treated.

From the day I was diagnosed, through surgery and chemo, I discovered a peace of mind I had been missing before cancer. I took walks just to look at the trees. I went with my partner to the pond just to watch the ducks swim. I watched silly videos on YouTube with my son just to be near him. I was present in my own life again in a way that had eluded me for years. I went to my appointments, I took my medicine and I lived.

That’s not to say life was easy going forward. Recovering from abdominal surgery was slow and painful. Fatigue and nerve damage from chemo still haven’t completely gone away. I was tired, I was sick and I hurt.

There was plenty of misery, and I certainly wasn’t happy. But when I recall how I felt in those moments of peace-amid-the-struggle, I also remember these lines from “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula LeGuin: “Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing you can’t earn, and can’t keep, and often don’t recognize at the time; I mean joy.”

Against all expectations, I was given joy by cancer. A joy that pulled me back to the center of my own life. A life to be grateful for.

This post was written and submitted by Joseph Ferrier. The article reflects the views of Ferrier and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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