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.