Find Meaning in Your Cancer Experience

Having a potentially life-threatening disease like cancer often leads people to examine their lives and look for meaning. In fact, this search for meaning may be the aspect of cancer that most often has a positive influence on life. The fear of death that affects most people when they are diagnosed with cancer, often leads us to think about what we leave behind and what we would like to do with the time we have left.

Tapping into your spirituality may be restorative because having a sense of life’s meaning beyond yourself can help improve your quality of life and strengthen your spirit. If prayer has helped you deal with other troubles, it may be comforting now and help you feel less alone. 


You may find new meaning in your life after treatment by: 
  • Turning or returning to faith, religion, spirituality
  • Helping others directly 
  • Making changes in your personal priorities
  • Savoring the joy and beauty of each moment 


Reactions to cancer vary widely and are shaped in part by a person’s background and family. Even very well-adjusted people have moments of bitterness and doubt. The randomness of cancer can lead to questioning the fairness of the universe and asking, “Why me?” The chance of dying before an expected time can be especially upsetting for those diagnosed at a younger age. 


If you believe in a supreme being who controls the daily affairs of humans, the question, “Why me?” is often directed at your God. What did I do to deserve cancer? It is comforting to feel you have some control over this frightening development. Thus many people look back in their lives for some sin or bad deed that could merit cancer as a punishment. Although some clergy also take this view, most religions view God as loving and forgiving. It is hard to believe that a good, all-powerful God would make only “bad people” sick. Think of the kind and good people who die of cancer daily, and the evil ones who live a long and healthy span of years. It may be helpful to discuss your questions with a member of the clergy whom you trust. Cancer centers or larger hospital often have chaplains of different faiths who have experience in helping people who are questioning their beliefs. Many people come to regard cancer as a challenge to live, and to live in a healthier, more conscious way. 


Another way people look for meaning in their lives is to try to make a difference in the world, on whatever scale. Some choose to work with an organization that helps people with cancer or their families. Others might decide to participate in a research study (a clinical trial). Like everything else on this journey, there is no one right answer to the search for meaning after cancer treatment. Each quest is unique, and each person’s conclusions are valid. 


We reach our own conclusions about why cancer came into our lives. Many seek to learn from the experience, viewing cancer as a second chance, or an opportunity to reexamine old patterns and make changes.

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