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