Why cancer again?


And why not? This was the response given by the husband of my dear friend Patricia´s sister to his wife when they were informed that they were going to have a child with Down Syndrome. The strength and wisdom of that young man, around 27 years old at the time, expecting his first son filled me with awe, although I must confess that, being about 22 years old myself, I did not understand this reply entirely.

First, being in the middle of this crossroads again does not make me neither special or unique, or maybe as much as anybody else, each one of us with their own challenges. We see ourselves in each other anyway; whatever we see in others belong to us. Second, wondering about "why", being a human and legitimate question, may not be as useful as wondering about "what for", according to another friend of mine from Cusco who was a Gestalt therapist. Phena, a mom with two children with autism who took one of the mindfulness and compassion trainings that I was teaching, had the same thought and found it liberating, as described by Jo Marchant in her book "Cure: a journey into the science of mind over body".

"Whys" are not useless; they help us know about things that we fear and we love, where they come from. They also place an obvious limitation in our life perspective at risk of leaning out into the vertigo of never-ending darkness, into things we cannot imagine or, worse, control. I never liked "whys", which tried my friends Quique and Carlos' patience in College because I did not enjoy their long conversations around the "why" of different topics... "what for?", I would ask them.

Third, among genetic and biological predispositions, cultural and personal habits, flaws and virtues, "why" includes the search for guilt and guilty parties. True, this may help prevent others from walking a similar path, but it brings along the temptation to wish the impossible wish that whatever happened had not happened at all. Whenever I ask myself "why cancer for a third time" I am the first one to quickly go from the productive thought about what I could have changed and others could change in order to stay away from cancer, to the oppressive and useless thought about "where I went wrong".

What if I did not do anything wrong? I am not so special nor so terrible to have caused any of this. What if I've done many things right and many wrong, simply whatever I knew best and whatever I was able to do at each moment? I want to say this out loud for all of those who sometimes have or have had this thought, whether we admit it or not (we all know it is not politically correct to express it), whether it is cancer or having a child with Down syndrome or autism. Abstaining from asking too much "why" is the only kind and realistic perspective which does not smother the only search that matters. And this search is for whatever it is that we can improve in the future, which was not right or wrong but no longer serves us. And what is it going to serve us for?

Each one will have to figure out their purpose. This is the only thing truly important, what I can and want to do, starting now, with what I experience, my "what for" which, I presume, is enough for another blog.