A woman stands before a wall holding a sledgehammer, ready to bust it down

What Has Cancer Taught Me: Meaning and Wisdom Follow Suffering

I always thought I was lucky that my life was so smooth. For example, I had a happy childhood with two loving parents, a highly competitive yet rewarding career, and 3 wonderful children with an equally career-competitive and wonderful husband. The word “suffering” was never associated with me, and I didn’t know its true meaning. Just prior to being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer metastatic to the brain 4 years ago, I was living on the top of the world, and then suddenly falling off the top of the cliff. For 3 years, I couldn’t feel or behave “normally”. I was suffering. I learned what suffering means, but what came after suffering has truly surprised me.

Suffering is a pathway to meaning

After disasters happen to us (like cancer), sooner or later most of us are going to recover, at least partially. During the first 3 years of my cancer diagnoses, I was stressed and depressed but abnormally calm. In the 4th year, I felt like I woke up. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when and how I woke up, but I felt that everything seemed to make sense, and a heavy rock lifted from my heart. The things I once thought were tragic, stressful, or unbearable didn’t bother me much anymore, sometimes I even entertained them. I didn’t plan how and when to recover, but I knew when it happened. I felt like a totally different person. I believe there was a reason behind my suffering – it gave me meaning and some kind of wisdom. It allowed me to rethink and reframe myself, and suffering was an essential part of it.1

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Allowing myself to reflect and grieve

It is very important to reflect. I remember when the reality of cancer hit me, I went through a long, dark and painful grief period. Slowly, little by little, I digested and absorbed the suffering. Now I volunteer and speak to various lung cancer patients, who have been recently diagnosed. I see them struggling and feeling devastated just like I had. They desperately want to escape from the suffering. Deep in my mind, I wish they wouldn’t rush and miss this special journey of grieving. I’m not saying that I want them to experience hardship or suffer, but I wish to tell them to embrace the journey, accept it, and feel comfortable with the struggles. I think to feel comfortable about your own suffering and being able to grieve is an important step toward recovery.

Would I trade good health for cancer?

It would be silly to say yes. Who would want to trade their health for cancer? But I’ll say “suffering” is something different. From the day of my cancer diagnoses, I didn’t expect to go through such an incredible hardship yet such an unexpected positive journey. I didn’t know I had such strength in me. I don’t want to remain in a place of suffering, but to live a better and happier life, we have to experience and learn how to handle grief and suffering.

I would say suffering is like a pathway towards meaning and wisdom. Without suffering, I wouldn’t have realized and appreciated the meaning of life. I think, to my own surprise, that I’m happier after my diagnosis. I would say that being diagnosed with cancer has been a blessing to me, but of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t get episodes of being blue.

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