Forgiveness and its Role in Cancer

by Jane Ashley

We don’t often associate forgiveness as a part of our cancer experience. Forgiveness plays an important role in our emotional and physical recovery.

Forgiveness And Its Roll In Cancer

Many of us feel anger, resentment, and despair — sometimes, all of these emotions come at once. Other times, these feelings come in episodes — we may think that we’ve regained emotional control, and then, those feelings return.

How does forgiveness play a part in our emotional healing?

As the shock of our diagnosis wears off, we may feel angry. We ask, “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why did God let this happen to me?”

Even after our treatment ends, many of us are still wondering, “Why me?”

These “why me” feelings build up into anger and resentment. Anger and resentment don’t bring us peace of mind. Instead, we feel worse.
Buddha said it best, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Forgiving and “letting go” of the anger over our diagnosis allows us to move on to a better place.

But who do we need to forgive?

You may be thinking, “I don’t understand how my anger can be relieved by forgiveness. I don’t think that I have anyone that I need to forgive.”
Let’s look at the definition of forgiveness to understand better the role that forgiveness can play in bettering our emotional health during cancer:
A conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance
toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether
they actually deserve your forgiveness…Greater Good Magazine

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a person undergoes
a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and overcomes
negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance…Wikipedia

With these definitions in mind, then we can begin the healing process of our cancer diagnosis. Sometimes, the first person we should forgive is ourselves. Let’s look at the various situations or people where forgiveness on our part will set us free emotionally.

Begin by forgiving ourselves

We might blame ourselves for causing our cancer. If we had any of the risk factors that were behavior-related (alcohol, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking), we might blame ourselves for causing our cancer. We must remember that those behaviors are “risk” factors, and not causal in and of themselves. Only 10-15 percent of smokers develop lung cancer. Most people who don’t exercise don’t get cancer. Lots of people have a cocktail (or two) before dinner.

Holding Onto Anger (1)

We might be punishing ourselves for not getting the recommended screenings (mammograms or colonoscopies). We might be blaming ourselves for ignoring subtle symptoms. We may be angry at ourselves for not signing up for the more expensive insurance coverage offered by our employer. We may regret that we dropped our life insurance policy a couple of years ago.

The truth is that we can’t undo the past. What’s done is done — and no amount of guilt or anger will change our diagnosis. We have to forgive ourselves if we believe that we caused our cancer or acted irresponsibly. Each of us is in a different circumstance and cope with our diagnosis in the best way that we can.

Finding forgiveness and strength when asking, “Why me, God?”

Everyone’s faith is different. We attend different churches. We embrace different religions. Some of us don’t believe in God or any religion.
So we have to be lead by our beliefs to find peace of mind when coping with the randomness of cancer. One of my beloved physicians said to me, “The hardest part of my work is that bad things happen to good people.” That’s it in a nutshell — cancer happens to good people as well as the “not-so-good” people.

Physical suffering and maladies are part of every earthly creature’s life, including ours. When we realize and accept that illness and death are part of life, we can accept the reality that no one is “selected by God” to have cancer.

Forgive medical professionals

We all have those horror stories to tell:

• The doctor who didn’t provide the proper screening guidelines based on our medical history
• The doctor who told us our rectal bleeding was “probably hemorrhoids.”
• The doctor’s office that forgot to schedule a follow-up appointment for more testing
• The radiologist who missed our tumor
• The first oncologist who told us that we were incurable

Again, we can’t undo mistakes that were made by the medical professionals that we encountered in the past. We learned from their mistakes, and hopefully, their mistakes haven’t caused us irreparable harm. Forgiveness doesn’t cost us anything — we can still acknowledge their mistakes, but forgiveness allows us to move on with our lives instead of being stuck in the past. We can only move forward towards treating our cancer with our new medical team.

Your friends, family, and co-workers

We’re all experienced troublesome behavior by someone that we know. Do some of these scenarios sound familiar?

You Dont Look Sick

• They may seem to ignore us — they don’t visit us or phone/text us.
• They say, “But you don’t look sick.”
• They ask, “How much time did they give you?”
• They blurt out, “We all have to die of something.”
• They advise you on all kinds of weird/fake cancer cures.

The truth is, unless someone has faced cancer themselves or had a close family member who has cancer, that they don’t know anything about cancer and its treatment. They remember the stories about Aunt Sue, who just “wasted” away and died. They believe fake news on television. They don’t know what to say to you, so they just ignore you.

Cancer is scary for us — our having cancer is scary for our relatives, friends, and co-workers. Our diagnosis scares them because we might be the first person they’ve known who had cancer. Our diagnosis shocks them into the reality that they could develop cancer too.
Forgive them. Let it go. Focus on your treatments and your recovery. You’ll be better for it.

Bless Your Heart

You may have heard the “Bless your heart” meme uttered by many Southerners. In reality, it means that person is kind of clueless about what they’re talking about, and ignorance is bliss — so it really isn’t their fault what they said, so “Bless your heart.” That’s forgiveness. We don’t need to harbor ill will for even a moment. Life is sweeter when we forgive.

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