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Why I Feel a Shred of Doubt When I Say My Cancer Made Me Better

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As I sit in my room at 9:23 p.m. on a Monday night, blowing off three homework assignments that are due tomorrow, a question echoes in my brain: Are you better off?

We are frequently asked this question, both by ourselves and by others. But how often do you truly take the time to consider whether you are or aren’t better off? I ask myself this question quite often, and I have just recently realized that I rarely ever truly evaluate my answer.

I had cancer. Not many people (on a grand scale) can say they had cancer at the age of 15. Of course, knowing lots of other people with cancer comes with the territory, and I often find my perspective is a bit different from theirs. A lot of people would say that cancer made them better, stronger, wiser. In some ways, I think this is true.

But honestly, I don’t know if I am better off for having had cancer. I don’t know if I am better off for having spent nine months in the hospital, I don’t know if I am better off for having had four surgeries to salvage my limb, and I don’t know if I am better off for having lost everything I used to love about my life. Though the gains far outweigh the losses that cancer caused me, I can’t help but feel a shred of doubt when I answer “yes” to this question.

Can I really say that waking up every morning and loathing my scars is worth a bit more strength and maturity? Can I truly believe that losing my blissful ignorance to tragedy is worth feeling like I know something more than my peers? I can’t really be sure. I honestly don’t know if I am better off.

So I try not to evaluate my experience by how it affected me. Instead, I evaluate it by how it affects the way I treat those around me. More than anything, I now understand what it’s like to go through something you can’t fully grasp. When somebody explains the intangible, but lingering, weight they feel as a result of tragedy, I actually know what this weight feels like.

When I look at my friends now, I don’t see what they can do for me or how they can make my life better. Instead, I see how I can make them feel appreciated and less alone. I can’t pretend to know what everybody is going through at all times, and I can’t pretend to know what I’m going through either, but at least I can help them carry that weight, so that one day they may say that they really are better off.

“The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself in regards to a cancer diagnosis. What would you say or wish someone had told you? Find out how to email us a story submission here.”

Originally published: August 24, 2016
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