The Silver Lining
The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 2 of
Childhood Cancer Survivors: A Practical Guide to Your Future
by Nancy Keene, Wendy Hobbie & Kathy Ruccione, copyright 2000 by
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. For book orders/information, call
(800) 998-9938. Permission is granted to print and distribute this
excerpt for noncommercial use as long as the above source is
included. The information in this article is meant to educate and
should not be used as an alternative for professional medical care.
Many survivors tell heartwarming stories about the positive effects of the
cancer experience on their lives. Often, they discuss in reassuring and hopeful
terms a renewed appreciation for life and an awareness of the value of each day:
Oh, there are a ton of benefits. While I don't think cancer is the best thing
that ever happened to me (although I have a friend who says this), I do have a
clarity I didn't have before. I know myself so much better. I know I can face
anything since I beat cancer. I am very proud of myself for facing it and
surviving. I've met a wonderful group of friends. And I'm much closer to my
family than I was before the cancer.
Today the director of personnel of our company came down to announce we would be
selling our Gulf of Mexico assets and closing this office. Oddly, the human
relations guy wondered why I took the news so well. Heck, I am thrilled at
Garrett's test results and happy after a great family weekend. This is just a
job. Last I heard they can't kill me or eat me. I guess that kind of perspective
is one of the good things that have come from this cancer experience. (But I
would never, ever recommend it!)
A teenager whose brother donated the bone marrow that cured her of AML
My brother and I were always really close, but his sharing his bone marrow
bonded us forever. There is a part of him in me that will always live on in me.
That's an amazing thing to have. He saved my life.
Having watched others battle cancer, and after fighting the disease myself, I
have come to realize how very fortunate I am. The most important life lessons
that I hold as daily guidance are the ones I learned at a very young age. I
learned to never give up, and to keep striving no matter what the circumstance.
I remember vividly one night when I was in the hospital. I decided that I had
experienced enough, and was ready to give up. My mom, however, never lost hope.
She bundled me up in my wheelchair, took me out of the hospital illegally, and
we cruised around the streets of Toronto in the middle of winter. From that
moment on, I looked at life in a different light. I saw how precious life was,
and no matter how tough times might seem, there is always hope. Now, twelve
years later, when I encounter difficulties, I know that I can make it though,
because I made it through much worse.
And her mother speaks with wonder and gratitude about the bond her children
My daughter is great--a very positive and mature person. She has always loved
her brother deeply, but they now have a bond that transcends any sibling
relationship that I know. It's really quite moving watching them interact. She
flew to New York for his birthday and the woman that picked her up at the
airport commented on them interacting when they saw each other. He throws his
arms around her, protects her, etc. She said that she actually felt like she was
intruding on a very magical relationship.
Other parents talk about how their perceptions of their children have changed
during cancer treatment. Many survivors, even very young ones, become incredibly
compassionate as a result of their cancer experiences.
There is a young boy on our street (moved in one week before the beginning of
school) and he has a very bad lisp and appears to be a little slow. (He talks
slow, walks slow, does things very slowly.) But because the other kids have not
had an opportunity to be around this kind of person before, they shunned him.
But not my Lizzy. She said, "Just because someone looks different or talks
different or wears different clothing, it does not make them an animal. They are
still human beings, and Robert from across the street will be my friend. He's
okay, you know, Mom?" I did know that.
We have since found out that the Robert from across the street was involved in a
very horrible car accident when he was little, and hence the speech problem and
slowness. Too bad we can't all get past our prejudices the way Lizzy has.
As we approach the three-year mark, I marvel at my son's ability to proceed with
his life. He doesn't talk about his leukemia. He doesn't use it as an excuse, no
matter how valid it might be. He's busy being a 17-year-old boy going into his
senior year. Stand back please.
A week from today he and I, along with some friends, will leave for our annual
bike ride across Iowa. This ride has been a symbol of his recovery for me for
the last two years. He was diagnosed in July 1995. He rode 450 miles in July
1996 and again in 1997. Once more this year, as he climbs on his bike and heads
down the road, I will give thanks that he is here to participate, just as I will
when he runs onto the football field this fall. I am proud not only of his
physical abilities, but of his resolve and courage. I am also proud of his
compassion and sensitivity to other people, which has become so obvious over the
last three years.
Our experience with leukemia has led us, child and parent, to grow in ways we
never would have guessed. My first coherent thought in the hospital room three
years ago after hearing the word leukemia, was that, "Our lives will never
be the same again." I was right, but at the time, I had no idea of the many
ways--some of them good--that leukemia would change us.
Other survivors stress the positive aspects of treatment for cancer:
I've gained a lot of self-confidence from the cancer experience. Whenever there
is a challenging obstacle to confront, I convince myself that if I survived the
brain tumor, this is nothing! I've definitely become a much stronger person.
As horrible as it was, I wouldn't change the experience for anything. There were
a lot of blessings that came out of it. It's given me a much more optimistic
outlook on life. I don't think my family has ever laughed so much or so hard as
those three years when I was on treatment. Now I laugh all the time--it's really
improved my sense of humor.
There are numerous people who helped my family while I was on treatment whom I
probably would not have met otherwise. The track my life has taken has changed.
I wouldn't have pursued art if not for the cancer. I don't think I would have
been involved in crew in college if not for it. And winning the national
championship was very rewarding. The people that I've met on treatment and while
working as a camp counselor for kids with cancer mean so much to me. It really
changed my life.
Some family members express relief that it's over:
Looking back on all that has happened is hard, but for now life is good, so that
is what we concentrate on, squeezing every last drop out of all the good times.
Treatment is like banging your head against a brick wall: wonderful when it
Others simply say that their entire view of the world has shifted
I do wonder what he would have looked like if he hadn't had to go through
treatment for cancer, but this really doesn't make me sad, nor do I reflect on
it often. The whole cancer experience has changed my outlook so much that I know
these things are not important. I laugh at my old ideas, how frivolous I was!
Who can even imagine that looks are important at all in the large scheme of
things?! I feel I had the luxury back then to be frivolous and petty and, well,
lighthearted. I am no longer lighthearted, but my heart has grown so very much
that I would not trade my old life for my new. I only wish my son hadn't had to
have cancer for me to "see the light."
It's sad to say, but I think my daughter and I are better people for having
survived the cancer experience. I've learned to appreciate things more. It
reminds me of the story about a wheel that lost a wedge out of it. It was no
longer a perfect circle, so it was only able to roll very slowly. But because of
its slow speed, it could smell the flowers and enjoy the beauty of the world
around it. Later, the wheel found its missing piece and repaired itself. Being
whole again it was able to roll much faster. At the faster speed, though, it
wasn't able to notice the beauty around it. So it took the wedge back
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