Cancer as a gift? No, thank you.

5 March 2018

Cancer as a gift? No, thank you.

I walked beside my husband, Gary, with late stage prostate cancer for ten courage-filled years. The experience taught us to pay attention to life and its simple pleasures and the astonishing people who surrounded us in love.

There are numerous folks dealing with cancer who have suggested it is a gift … and countless others who would never refer to it that way. “Would you re-gift it?” someone once asked sarcastically.


Photo by Natalie Collins on Unsplash


But consider this thought from one of my cancer-fighting friends …

… who alludes not so much to the disease, but to the possibilities provided by the challenges: “It was an opportunity to grow, to learn, and to feel love and support like you have never known, which is a gift.”

I recently emailed several ‘experts’—people who have warrior through a debilitating disease and fought alongside their loved ones: What helped you manage the hard stuff? What advice would you share with others?

The responses below are a condensed version of the free eBook offered in the right-hand side bar:

First breathe

“First, breathe,” wrote a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer when her two children were young. “Life feels really out of control with a new diagnosis. There is so much to learn, so many specialists to meet, and so many feelings to process. Seek out as many opinions as you need, and then, once you have a plan of action, things usually start to feel a little calmer.”

“Make time for each other. Listen to each other,” submitted a cancer caregiver. “Listen to the patient – to what he or she wants.”

Learn to advocate

“Know your enemy,” wrote a caregiver. “Study the disease and become a personal advocate for the person in your care. Don’t assume doctors always know best.”

“Put together a medical team that you feel comfortable with,” submitted a cancer patient. “This makes all the difference. I ended up changing my primary care physician. After the cancer diagnosis he seemed cold and unfeeling.”

Let people love on you

My tattered and stained Caregiver Super Hero cape dragged in the mud for entirely too long. Because I didn’t want to bother anyone. Because I could do it all myself. It was my daughter who taught me that I needed to accept the help of others. “Mom,” she said in her raised-eyebrow, hand-on-hip tone of voice, “people want to help. You need to let them.”

“Don’t isolate yourself,” wrote a caregiver. “Level with friends and relatives about your needs. Understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.”

“Let people take care of you,” wrote the mom of a teenager with cancer. “Don’t feel guilty about not being able to give back. Your time will come.”

Practice good self-care

“I would highly recommend getting out and getting some exercise,” wrote a cancer caregiver and the mom of two young children. My friend took thirty minutes several times a week to run alone. “It helped clear my head and allowed me a small window of time that I was not taking care of someone else.”

“Try to enjoy something every day,” wrote a cancer survivor. “This is not a platitude. There may be days when you don’t feel well, when you feel sorry for yourself, or you’re just mad that this is happening to you. But maybe you can find some little thing that gives you joy: a random ice cream cone, calling a friend, or the first buds of spring.”

Lean on family, friends, and faith

When I asked what helped the most, the same three words cropped up over and over. Family. Friends. Faith.


“I think if we can rest in the fact that we are not alone in this whatever-it-is trial, that God is totally and fully aware of what is going on with us,” submitted a young man dealing with multiple adversities. “Take pause to listen to God, to allow Him to guide you.”

“Love is so important, bigger than the trials,” wrote a friend with a devastating diagnosis. “Loving and being loved – it is healing, it is supportive, it is awesome.”


There is this thought from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.

Beautiful people do not just happen.

It isn’t a life of ease that hones bravery in us, that tests our strength, that lets us know what we’re made of. It takes refining. And refining can be painful, overwhelming, devastating, heart-breaking, loss-filled.

But refining can be beauty-making and strength-producing and courage-generating, if we allow it. And to that end, adversity can be a gift.

P.S. If you found this blog helpful, please share, tweet or pin!

  • This is such an amazing resource. I love the real advice given from the front line. Something only those who’ve walked the journey can share. Thank you for putting this together. Keep it up Marlys.

  • Val Ford says:

    Marlys, there is no easy way, whither Cancer or another disease. Once one knows what the problem is, then they can decide how they want to fight it. With Cancer, there are no quick answers, but God has to be first. Once one turns it over to HIM, it allows stress to not disappear, but to be able to handle. If one can actually turn it over to God, and trust HIM to supply strength, it becomes easier. No, not meaning that one does not try to find a cure, but to ask HIM to direct every decision, every step. Peace then, can become a partner, knowing God alone, can help every day.
    Like you, once I did that, then after a few years, Hospice was a wonderful place.

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About Me

Hello, my name is Marlys Johnson. I’m a cancer widow, author, speaker and blogger. I love getting outdoors; would rather lace up hiking boots than go shopping. I have a passion for repurposing old junk into cool new stuff. And an even greater passion for showing people how to navigate life’s challenges. Tenaciously. And with heart wide open.

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