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Why Am I Alive? A Cancer Survivor Question

By HERWriter
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It’s the question I try to ask myself every day. On my rather extensive journey with cancer, I’ve met so many women who asked, “Why me?” In fact, I asked myself that same question when my ovarian cancer recurred after a long silence. Why me, I wondered, after all I had already been through. But that was the wrong question.

An old friend who was at the end of his journey with pancreatic cancer taught me the right question. Even at the end, after all the treatments had stopped, he’d get up, suit up, and go out to get things done. Why, I asked, wasn’t he taking it easy? Why spend his last days taking on more tasks? Wasn’t it finally time to listen to his favorite music, hold his favorite things, be surrounded by those he loved?

He scoffed. Then answered and his answer changed my life.

“When I was diagnosed,” he said, “I knew it was the end and I prepared to die. Then as I awoke each day, I thought it was weird that I was still alive, that I had been given another day. And, if I was not dying today, what was my purpose for being alive? I started asking myself, why am I alive today? So I get up, get dressed and go out every day because I might discover why I am alive.”

It is the question we should ask ourselves whether or not we have a disease. It is a question that unveils our purpose. A question that should frame every relationship, every action, every intention. And for those of us who have experienced cancer, a disease that brings us to the threshold of life and death, it is the wisest question of all.

So I have learned to ask the question that takes me into the place where I want to be. Asking why I have a disease is a question that has no answer. Asking when or how I will die is also irrelevant. But, by asking why I am alive today causes me to be mindful about each day. I wonder throughout the day, is this the reason I’m alive? Is this the thing I was supposed to learn? Is this the person I was supposed to meet or help or touch? Is this why . . . why I’m alive today? Why I’m alive at all?

Cancer is a terrifying disease to live with even after recovery. And the mind can be our worst adversary or our greatest ally.

Add a Comment3 Comments


Brilliant thinking. And today your friend with pancreatic cancer begins changing even more lives, as more and more people read his answer to you. Thank you so much for sharing it.

I'm in mid-life and have thought a lot recently about what my "purpose in life" is. I think many of us do. But sometimes it seems like something that we wait to be "revealed to us," some grand plan that we will recognize once it's shown to us. The concept of getting up each and every day looking for it THAT DAY is all about life in the moment. It pays tribute to the fact that life is a total of a million little pieces. And that's amazing to remember.

Thank you.

October 29, 2009 - 8:08am
HERWriter (reply to Diane Porter)

Thank you for your insights, Diane. I love the notion that life is a total of a million little pieces. Somehow, I think you're are living your purpose already...

October 29, 2009 - 8:29am
HERWriter Guide

Hi Annette - You've so beautifully said what many people think, thank you! One of the first things that happens with a cancer diagnois is that people say over and over how "sorry" they are, all in an effort to provide comfort. I think that those words can lead to the cancer patient starting to feel "sorry" for themselves, and that leads to the "Why me?" question and attitude. As you said, we get to choose what our attitude will be, and focusing on the future and the purpose of each and every day we have is really at the core of all of us, healthy or not.
A song I really like is Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" * which has these lines:
He said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."
Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?

All we really can do is appreciate every single day, ask why we're here and do what we're here to do. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

Take good care,

* ©2009 cowboylyrics.com

October 27, 2009 - 5:59pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.