The Good That Emerges

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

A friend with cancer wrote me to say how she now experiences moments of intense appreciation.

Just walking her dog at Buttermilk State Park filled her with tears. Not tears of sadness, but tears of unabashed appreciation of that gorgeous moment.

The dog, the forest, the beauty. They made her cry.  She said that she never had such intense feelings before her cancer.  Her comments got me to thinking that good often emerges from serious illness.  I asked the attendees at a recent cancer support group if anything positive came out of their disease. To a person, they said yes.

One woman waved her hand around the table and said that she found a remarkable sense of community with others who also have cancer. “We’re in the same boat-we understand each other.” She added softly, “I love that.”

Another person said that cancer builds community because it’s a great equalizer. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. We’re all sick and we’re all scared. I don’t know the name of the person who’s getting chemo in the chair next to me, but he’s like a brother to me now.”

Other people at the support group saw cancer as a personal challenge. One guy said, “Cancer is the scariest thing I’ve ever faced. But I found that I had the strength to get through it. I didn’t think I could, but I did and I’m proud of that.”

Nearly everyone expressed gratitude that they no longer take anything for granted. “I give thanks every day,” said a woman, accompanied by nods from all around the table.

Trust and faith were two recurring themes. So much about cancer is uncertain that one has to plunge forward even though no one knows for certain what will happen. “Trust is hard for me, but I had to trust my doctors,” said one man. “And once I gave that trust, I began to relax a little.”

I’m so often impressed by how people respond to cancer with dignity, strength, and grace. Cancer isn’t good and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But only a person touched by serious illness could have written, “I was suddenly overwhelmed at how lucky I was to be alive; I was experiencing this sunny day in the forest with my beloved puppy and I started crying because it was so gorgeous.”


From the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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