Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happiness In A Storm

Is it possible to have cancer and still be happy? The short answer is “yes”, according to several recent books by women and men who are battling cancer. The long answer is: it takes time to discover happiness in the midst of the storm called cancer.

There’s no question that a cancer diagnosis is one of the most devastating events that can happen in our lives. And fighting cancer can cause not only physical suffering but emotional pain. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I can’t wait for my chemo treatment.”

Yet, Betty Rollin, a survivor of two breast cancers writes in her book, Here’s the Bright Side, “I woke up one morning and realized I was happy. This struck me as weird. I didn’t have all kinds of things to be happy about—love, work, good health, enough money—the usual happy-making stuff… I realized that the source of my happiness was, of all things, cancer—that cancer had everything to do with how good the parts of my life were.”

If the above seems Pollyannaish, listen to what Ms. Rollins goes on to say, “It turns out there is often—it seems very often—an astonishingly bright side within darkness. People more than survive bum raps: they wind up stronger, livelier, happier; they wake up to new insights and new people... they often wind up ahead.”

Facing death has a way of awakening us to what is precious and important in life. There can be a sense of urgency to appreciating and enjoying each and every day. Often, we don’t fully appreciate the good things and people of life until we are in danger of losing them.

One woman with incurable ovarian cancer said, “I treat every day as an adventure, and I refuse to let anything make me sad, angry or worried. I live for the day, which is something I never did before. Believe it or not, I’m happier now that I was before I was diagnosed.”

Those who survive cancer often feel like they have been given a second chance at life. Lance Armstrong, survivor of testicular cancer and winner of seven Tour de France races, wrote in his memoir, “In a way, the old me did die, and I was given a second life.” Another cancer survivor, Fran Lenzo, echoes Armstrong, “Breast cancer has given me a new life. It was something I needed to experience to open my eyes to the joy of living.”

Recurring cancer and its treatments forced Dr. Wendy Harpham to give up her medical practice. She turned to writing about her experience battling chronic lymphoma. She writes in her latest book, Happiness In A Storm, “Without a doubt illness is bad, yet survivorship—from the time of diagnosis and for the balance of life—can include times of great joy among the hardships.”

So there you have it from those who are weathering the cancer storm. Happiness is possible. Even in the darkest times of life, there is light. The name I give to that Light is God.


  1. Robert:

    To borrow Samuel Johnson's quote, ""Nothing focuses the mind like a" cancer diagnosis." In an instant, one is brought face to face with his mortality and the realization that what was so important a few moments ago is suddenly not quite as important after all. Each day is a gift and a new opportunity to enjoy those things that are truly important: family, friends, and the small things that make up daily living

    I'm enjoying your blog; keep on plugging.

    Harry M.

  2. Thanks for the excellent quote and reflection on cancer. I agree completely that "each day is a gift." Well said, Harry.