Everybody thinks having cancer is all doom and gloom; that survival is the only consideration and occupies every thought and action. Not true, I say!
There are benefits to being the sick one that give you a leg up over all those healthy people running around just living their lives. I can think of at least 5 great things about having cancer.
Healthy people have no idea what is going to kill them. Sure they hear that they have a 1 in 700,000 chance of being hit by lightning or a 1 in 6,696,307 chance of being hit by a bus, but really, how is that sort of information helpful? Their future is, essentially, a mystery. We cancer patients know what is most likely to kill us and, if we’re really lucky, we know approximately when.
Sure we still might be hit by that bus or zapped into oblivion but the odds of either of those happening pale in comparison to the ones quoted to us by our doctors. Personally, I had the benefit of a 95% certainty of shuffling off the mortal coil within two years. Nobody can argue that I didn’t have a distinct advantage over all those healthy people in the predictability department. Now, to be fair, my doctors have gone and messed it all up with successful radiation, chemo and surgery to the point that I’m very close to back in the realm of complete mystery.
I’m sure I will look back on these days in 25 or 30 years and miss the secure knowledge that the hyper-efficient medical profession has stolen from me.
They say a friend is someone who knows how insanely eccentric you can be but still manages to be seen in public with you. I’m more of the belief that a true friend is someone who can guess your internet passwords. Either way, cancer isn’t going to get you those sorts of friends. However, if you’re already lucky enough to have them, those friends will marshal around you like an army of Berserkers ready to vanquish whatever enemy threatens your peaceable existence. Let them love you. They really do care.
The others are more interesting. Your new friends, the people who really didn’t give a damn about you before your diagnosis, suddenly care very deeply and will offer their earnest assurances of their help if you ever need anything. People whom you are pretty sure have never shown any genuine sign of religious belief will be offering their prayers. You’ll have the sympathetic ear of every acquaintance who will listen, nod their heads and pat your shoulder in the most helpful way.
Of the two, the latter are earnest and genuinely empathic but it is the former who will seek out ways to help you cope with your newfound predictability; not waiting for you to ask. Both will appreciate you for your efforts to be a good sport, keep a smile on your face and stay brave in the face of adversity. They’ll admire your amazing strength and encourage you in every endeavour. You can rely on both to lend an ear and all of them will answer your call to help out with a fundraiser.
Even if doubt and frustrations deter you from time to time, take this opportunity to appreciate both sets of friends, develop long-term relationships and connect them with each other in ways that matter. If the doctors’ initial predictions turn out to be correct, you will have left a kindness behind. Encouraging warmth and friendships between people is a legacy to be proud of.
- Free Passes
Cancer comes with a pre-packaged supply of excuses for just about anything. Flaking out on a friend, missing an appointment or even forgetting to file your income tax return is invariably forgivable the instant you claim chemo brain. A wince of pain will get you out of just about any menial task around the house. If anyone calls you on it, you can always puke all over their shoes and apologise profusely but weakly. You’ll be immune from criticism for days!
- Financial Freedom
The pressure is off. When that first doctor says “its stage 4 colorectal cancer, likely incurable”, he or she might just as well have said, you have won the lottery. The Government is about to start spending tens of thousands of dollars a month attempting to keep you alive. The medical interventions like radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery will cost our medicare system more money than 99% of us make in a year. If you get really lucky there will be complications like pulmonary embolisms that will add thousands of dollars a week to the bill. In effect, you’ll be spending so much money every month that you would have to be pulling down half a million a year to afford it on your own.
But that’s not the truly liberating part of your new financial plan. Chances are you can’t work so there’s no pesky union dues or employment expenses to worry about. You don’t have to pay for transportation if you’re not going anywhere. Your household budget just became infinitely more manageable in the same way that a Fort MacMurray bungalow no longer needs dusting. You might be saddled with a pesky Canada Pension Plan benefit for the disabled or terminally ill, but that eight hundred bucks a month shouldn’t prove too worrisome. You will likely never have money worries again. You’ll never have any money to worry about.
- Bucket List Dreams
If you’ve watched The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, you know that people facing deadly disease can travel and explore the world at a whim. Go anywhere, do anything; live their dreams! This has got to be the very best thing about having a terminal illness. As the movie says, “You only live once, so why not die with style?”
The benefits go way beyond building an unlikely friendship with the Jack or Morgan in your world. Patients who realize a bucket list dream return with a renewed joy for life and a determination to fight for survival. The positive attitude and desire to fight can make all the difference in cancer treatment and the benefits extend far beyond the patient. Family members and friends who witness joy near the end of a loved-one’s life carry those memories with them throughout their lives. Instead of the horrors of gradual decline, they’ll remember the smiles and wonderful stories that are usually only captured in the movies.
Ask any cancer patient and they will tell you they can’t wait to figure out how to spend their $45,000,000.00 Hollywood budget skydiving, climbing mountains and travelling the world. It’s exhilarating. Except that it was Jack and Morgan who had that money to spend. For the rest of us, the gift of financial freedom punches some considerable holes in the bucket. If a visit to the local Tim Horton’s for a coffee and donut is at the top of your list, you’ve got it made. Otherwise, bucket list dreams are for Hollywood movies and the independently wealthy.
Most of my own dreams spilled out of that leaky bucket last Labour Day when the emergency room doctor described a deadly stage 4 cancer. Only one dream remains. Whether I am here for another year or another 50, I will leave behind the Canadian Bucket List Foundation. My family and friends will witness the joys, smiles and stories of real people with real dreams realized because we all pitched in to make my last dream come true. That’s enough of a Hollywood ending for me.