I admit it-I’m not someone who believes in coincidence. Some people are convinced that we live in a world where random things “just happen,” and we can’t always do anything about them. I tend to fall into the camp that believes everything happens for a reason.
Sometimes this thinking serves me well, like when I realize that I probably contracted a cold because I was pushing myself too hard and didn’t get enough rest. (Note to self: Work rest into your schedule no matter what!) Other times, however, it can be difficult to find meaning in your life’s experiences. Especially if those experiences include cancer.
“Why me?” is a question many of us ask when cancer comes knocking at our doors. I remember thinking that when cancer hit me as a teenage girl. I was healthy, active, and socially involved. Why did I have to go through chemotherapy and operations and hair loss and weight gain and night sweats when most girls my age had concerns no bigger than their hairstyles or makeup choices?
It’s taken me years to find my own meaning in the experience, but I’ve succeeded, and I feel more grounded and on-purpose than ever before. Looking back, I realize that my battle with cancer prepared me to help my father through his cancer journey, which led to my desire to create Cinco Vidas and give back to the entire cancer community. I realize now how my experience with cancer gave me the insight and empathy to communicate with other fighters and survivors, as well as the knowledge that health is a gift, and I must work everyday to protect and nurture it.
Some people don’t need this deeper “meaning” to go with their cancer experience. They realize that cancer can happen to anyone, and when it happens to them, they just figure they were dealt a certain hand and they learn to live with it. If you’re someone like me, however, who looks for the connections and mysteries in life, you may need to spend some time delving into your own psyche.
“How do you make meaning?” asks creativity coach Eric Maisel. “By letting go of wondering what the universe wants of you, by letting go of the fear that nothing matters, and by announcing that you will make life mean exactly what you intend it to mean.”
This is good news. Just when cancer makes you feel that your life is out of control, you can realize that the meaning of the experience is totally up to you. How do you go about finding that meaning? It takes time. For me, it took years. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get started.
David Simon, M.D., co-founder of the Chopra Center, wrote a book called Return to Wholeness, and in it, he suggests that to get started on your quest for meaning, you ask yourself the following questions:
- If I knew that I had only one more year to live, what changes would I make in my life now?
- If I were able to speak directly to my cancer, what positive message would it have for me?
- Imagining that it is five years from now and my illness is behind me, what would I tell someone else in my situation about the meaning of my illness?
- If I were able to speak directly to my God, what would he or she say to me about the meaning of my illness?
Give yourself some quiet time to answer. Journal about it. Talk to a good friend. Maybe the cancer has given you a chance to reevaluate your life in a way you never have before. Maybe this is your chance to make some changes, or to adjust your point of view. Maybe you’re just the person to share your experience in a way that would help others. Maybe the shock of the whole thing will set you on a brand new path to a new future. The possibilities are endless. What matters most is that you find the meaning that suits you.
Maisel tells us to ask, “How do I make myself proud?” The answer to this question, above all, may be the most important one for your future.
Have you found meaning in your cancer experience? Please share your story.
Photo courtesy Frenz64 via Flickr.com.