A diagnosis of cancer can have many implications – physical, emotional, and financial. But often overlooked is the spiritual impact of this disease. In my practice, people often ask me questions such as –
“I have always been a good human being. How could something as ‘bad’ as cancer happen to me?”
“Am I an evil person to contract an illness like cancer?”
“Could this be karma at work? Am I paying for sins I committed?”
While I cannot claim to know the answers to these questions, one of my roles as a caregiver is to help my patients find empowering answers. A clinical explanation – “There is no known medical cause for your cancer – it is just a random genetic defect in one of your cells.” doesn’t help answer existential dilemmas.
One thing is for certain – Cancer has existed since time immemorial and is certainly not restricted to people who engage in evil acts. Some of the noblest souls like Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa died of cancer. The belief that one must be ‘bad’ to develop cancer can be harmful and invites unnecessary misery into an already difficult situation.
Over time, most people with cancer overcome their internal struggles – and some of them like to discuss what helped them cope. In fact, after some years, a few visit me for social interaction rather than medical reasons! I find that each person finds solace in their own philosophical approach, but there is a common thread – people who successfully overcome challenges approach each challenge as a teacher.
Even if one believes in the concept of karma, it can be viewed as a teacher and not as a punishment. All humans suffer from time to time. But isn’t it true that suffering very often brings some form of growth for an individual or for the world as a whole?
Seen in this light, whenever a challenge presents itself, one can always choose to feel like a victim or to rise above it. Hidden gifts can be found in every challenge, including in cancer. These gifts may not always be obvious on the surface but deeper introspection can help unearth them.
Many cancer patients and survivors report finding happiness and positivity in their life after their diagnosis, including:
- Connecting more deeply with family and friends
- A renewed sense of appreciation for life and the desire to live more fully
- Ability to drop undue stress, grudges, and pettiness more easily
- Greater capacity to feel gratitude, love, and compassion.
- Discovering new and meaningful priorities
- Developing inner strength
Answers to difficult questions are often found retrospectively after the storm passes and the silver lining to the cloud is more visible.
Some questions remain hard to answer.
Some questions may not even have answers.
Some questions may have answers but only within oneself.
It is OK to ask those hard questions!
The right answer is the answer that empowers someone to evolve through their suffering.