Blessings in the Rapids: Finding Joy and Meaning in the Face of Cancer

Blessings in the Rapids: Finding Joy and Meaning in the Face of Cancer

Guest post by Jeff Stewart

My favorite vacation photo shows an overturned river raft floating down the Deschutes River near my childhood home in Eastern Oregon. The photo is entitled “Running Boxcar Rapids with the Family.” I’m in that photo. You can’t see me. I’m under the raft. The photo is a warning and a story—more story than warning. It’s a good memory.

It’s now a year after my cancer diagnosis. My treatment is done. Maybe. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation may have already cured me. Or I may still die and die quickly. That’s the nature of diffuse-type gastric adenocarcinoma. There were rapids on that river. But it wasn’t all bad. 

The following is an excerpt from my book Living: Inspiration from a Father with Cancer.

“This cancer diagnosis has been a blessing. I’m so glad I got the diagnosis. The diagnosis may have saved my life. The greater blessing is if I die. If I die, the diagnosis gave me time. The diagnosis gave me the will to act. I have been blessed with time to prepare my family, to prepare myself. I have been blessed with the time and will to write this.
“That’s not where the blessings end. The greatest blessing is not just my early diagnosis. The greatest blessing has been the cancer itself. I’m glad I got cancer, all things considered. 
“I have been gifted the opportunity to share my cancer experience with others. They are reaching out. What a blessing it is to hold another’s horrors for them. “I have told this to nobody but my priest and my wife.” What a blessing it is to hear “this helped me understand what my mother went through.” What a blessing it is to calm fear of the unknown. What a blessing it is to sit with someone going through the worst thing in their life. Cancer is frightening, confusing, overwhelming. Explaining my cancer gives new purpose for this time in this life of mine. Explaining my cancer breathes fresh meaning into the learnings and the failures of my life.
“I couldn’t have written this without cancer. So thank you, cancer, for being there. I hope to live to do more, but if the price I pay to do some good is you, your price is cheap.”

I’m not going to lie: The rapids are not easy. The water is so cold you won’t be able to breathe. You may die. I can’t promise your cancer will bless you. I can’t promise you’ll find joy in your cancer. But you may. There is a warning there and a story.

About the author:
Jeff Stewart is a managing director at Syneos Health, scientist, inventor, award-winning playwright, and father of seven. He was a Jeopardy! College Champion and runner-up in the Tournament of Champions. Jeff lives in Cary, North Carolina.
You can listen to the full podcast with Jeff Stewart here.
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