Anna Donald: Why cancer is humbling

Anna Donald I’ve promised to explain why advanced cancer is humbling. There are many reasons.

Cancer is humbling because it makes you realise how little you really control. I ran around like a self-important guard dog for years, yapping and jumping and fretting, thinking I really made things happen. Cancer plucks you out of that illusion and drops you in a deep and unknown space which you can’t control your way out of. The only way out is to dive into your inner self and start some realignment. It teaches you that outer things are all illusory and that the only reality is the inner life, from which all outer manifestations arise.

Cancer puts you in context. It reveals how much, after all, I am a snippet of a being, living in a blip of time. And yet at the same time a being capable of love and beauty that is at the core of what it is to be human. It’s humbling to realise the awesome fact of that: that you can be a speck of sand and yet a whole world at the same time – and that every other being on the planet is the same.

Cancer is humbling because you realise that there are millions of people around the world who do not have medical care or help with cancer. Many live and die in terrible pain. That for all the trials of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and hormone treatments, they are a great blessing and gift that most people do not have. 

It’s humbling because you realise how many wonderful people died much younger than I am already and never got to live the abundant life that I have lived.

It’s humbling because it makes you realise that living to your 80s is a privilege, not a right.

It’s humbling because I realise how much I used to breeze past people who were slowly making their way through big challenges: disability, mental breakdown, bereavement, conflict, MS, cancer – thanking my lucky stars it wasn’t me and marching swiftly on.

It’s humbling because it brings you before God/the omnipotent (thank you Dr Atheya, see comment on previous blog) or whatever you want to call the transcendental mystery that is intrinsic to our nature.

It’s humbling because it brings you to face death in its great mystery and darkness and unknown.

It’s humbling because it brings you to face yourself: your inner landscape with all its treachery, rage, ruthlessness, fear, lack of forgiveness and self-deception, as well as the high places: your love, compassion, generosity, creativity. Cancer forces you to see the extent to which you harm yourself and others to get your own way, because you know that unexamined ruthlessness drags you down to death and you can’t afford to live with it any more, however much petty power, baubles, or misplaced loyalty it gives you.

There are probably more reasons but that’s enough for now. The oral chemotherapy seems to be working and it remains easy to take. Thank you everyone for your prayers, support and sage advice. It’s working.

Read Anna’s previous blogs

  • Michelle Purcell

    You learn to appreciate good health. You can have all the money and possessions in the world, but unless you have your health, you can’t enjoy anything. It’s so much better to worry less about accumulating ‘things’ – and to take the time to experience and enjoy life, friends, & family.
    You appreciate very simple things – like being able to walk up the stairs or give yourself a bath – and you realize how many people in the world don’t even have that ability.

  • Richard Smith

    A very convincing answer to the question “Why is cancer humbling?” The next question that occurs to me is “How can we learn these things without developing cancer?” That’s not a question for you, Anna, but perhaps others can answer.

  • Sophia King

    I guess the answer to that question Richard, is to listen, I mean really listen, to others who go through it. we are fortunate to have one so eloquent to explain it to us.
    By the way Anna, have you read ‘Converstaions with God@ by Neal Donald Walsh? Curious to know what you think of it.
    Only 2 weeks before I do The Moonwalk. Actually looking forward to meeting and walking with a bunch of positive people touched in some way by breast cancer. Thinking of you.

  • Lams Tom

    “How can we learn these things without developing cancer?”

    I would like to emphasize that we knew these things very well as children but somehow we lose them growing up.

    Therefore, it is more unlearning what we have accepted as the truth than learning something.

    It is letting go of all our stuff (that we think is so important).

    It is true, if we don’t have any problems in our life, we don’t see the need to do that.

    Kind regards,

  • Tom

    Great post Anna, again. Love you and congrats on the apartment.

  • A very well written piece. It reminds me of our priorities in life and remember to appreciate what we have, rather than taking things for granted. I am glad that you continue to share your experience with others. Lots of love. Urmila

  • Ayomide Adebayo

    I’m only just reading your blog for the first time, and I’m really impressed by the sheer humanity shining through the alternating patient/doctor facets of you.

    I can’t say that I’ve had much personal experience with cancer, but I’m grateful for people like you, who through your courage, teach us humility. Thank you.

    I wish you the very best.

  • Michelle Purcell

    How can we learn these things without developing cancer?
    Think about how crappy you feel when you have the flu. You know how happy you are when you are finally feeling better? When you can eat again, and don’t feel exhausted just walking to the bathroom? That’s really all there is to it. To have good health is everything. You could have a house made of gold, all the possessions you ever wanted, etc., but if you’re stuck in bed, there’s not much chance you can enjoy these things.
    The one thing I found most humbling, when I was ill, was being so dependant on people. When I was in a wheelchair, no one would talk to me, only to the person pushing me – as if my mind didn’t work because my leg didn’t. I also discovered that the world is set up for walking healthy adults. It’s impossible to read anything, see over counters, reach things on high shelves. It was very frustrating. I became very compassionate for people in wheelchairs.
    The next time you’re home sick, reflect on how your health is so important.

  • Dr.Viveck Atheya

    “Cancer puts you in context”;
    “It’s humbling to realise the awesome fact of that: that you can be a speck of sand and yet a whole world at the same time”;
    “living to your(?next moment!) 80s is a privilege, not a right”;

    -Anna You could have achieved sainthood much earlier had you substituted ‘Death’ for ‘cancer’ but then m/b your Evidology contributions & concepts wouldnot have benefitted us and scientist part may have been lost-or,who knows?
    Carry on Anna.It may be your cross,but it may be our Salvation.

    Viveck Atheya