Meaning and a New Extraordinary After Cancer


Personal growth from cancer is a dumb Idea.

I read some research recently about loneliness in cancer survivors. The conclusion was that for cancer survivors, the pressure to experience personal growth after cancer increases a sense of loneliness.

I can see how the idea of feeling pressured to “grow” from a traumatic experience is isolating.

It assumes a starting point of being less than you should be.

It assumes you’re obligated to lift yourself up and levitate above trauma.

It assumes you have an omnipotent perspective to see the good - even in a threat to your life.

Cancer - your golden opportunity for positive change?

Give me a break.

Cancer is not an opportunity by any stretch. It’s an illness that makes every aspect of your life difficult. It’s an unwelcome, unsolicited reminder from the universe.

So yes, the idea you should derive personal growth from your cancer experience is isolating, and I might add, offensive.

Creating meaning around the hard parts of our lives is a more useful and helpful idea than an obligation to undergo personal growth.

The quest for meaning reflects the beauty of who we are as a species.

The need for meaning is an essential part of being human and if we deny this need, we deny ourselves.

Knowing you’re not immune to hardship is a rite of passage, part of growing up. It’s an inevitible part of being human.

The normalcy of suffering is precisely why we need to give it meaning.

Assuming hardship is yours alone and not an essential part of every human experience is a mistake because you will find meaning in victimhood - it is the very definition.

And victims don’t seek because victimhood is their answer.

I work with cancer patients every day and many will not survive, have not survived, their disease. This work hones my coping with suffering in certain medical injustice. As a witness I have a perspective, a set of thought exercises to justify my - our - persistence to meaning.

It’s mine alone. It changes hourly. Sometimes it makes sense in my head and sometimes only in my heart.

It’s impossible to explain.

It’s hard for you to explain, too, because when you say:

“It’s so hard to find a new normal. It’s hard to accept this has happened to me. I just want to be the way I used to be.”

In your statement, Cancer Survivor, I hear longing, fear and courage, and a question.

“What does this mean?”

I wish I could answer it for you, I really do.

But only you have the answer.

Finding a new normal is more than getting your energy back, recovering physically, or getting back to work and family, back to life after cancer.

It’s creating meaning in who you are today, who you have become, finding your people, taking them with you, and riding a sapphire wave to your next destination.

This is your new life. This is your new style. Your new extraordinary.




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