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On Why Me?

Posted Aug 15 2012 7:03am

I think this question is a pretty common one for cancer patients or anyone facing a chronic illness, traumatic situation, major change or life crisis of some sort. Why me? 

You can’t help but wonder why. It’s human nature to make sense of a situation. Our brains are wired to figure out what’s going on, why it happened and how to change it. How to make it stop. Why it happened in the first place. What we did wrong and what we did right. 

Sometimes – most of the time – we can’t answer that. There’s no logical or rational reason for why good things happen to bad people and why bad things happen to good people. It doesn’t work like that. 

I asked this question often in the beginning of my diagnosis and treatment. I did what I was “supposed” to. I lost 45 pounds, exercised, didn’t smoke, ate well and was a good person. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening to me. Cancer. It’s not supposed to happen to me. But it did. And there was likely nothing I could have done to prevent it. There’s no way for me to control this situation, as much as I want to.

This post came about because I read an article on NPR over the weekend about a writer named David Rakoff. If you’re a fan of This American Life, you’ve probably heard David along the way. David passed away from cancer at the age of 47. 

In his interview, he articulates this question: why me? His response created this visceral reaction in me, the kind of reaction where you breath in harshly and realize it’s a half choked sob that’s trying to escape your throat. My eyes immediately began to tear up and I found myself compelled to share his words. 

On asking ‘why me?’

“Writer Melissa Bank said it best: ‘The only proper answer to ‘Why me?’ is ‘Why not you?’ The universe is anarchic and doesn’t care about us, and unfortunately, there’s no greater rhyme or reason as to why it would be me. And since there is no answer as to why me, it’s not a question I feel really entitled to ask.

“And in so many other ways, I’m so far ahead of the game. I have access to great medical care. My general baseline health, aside from the general unpleasantness of the cancer, is great. And it’s great because I’m privileged to have great health. And I live in a country where I’m not making sneakers for a living, and I don’t live near a toxic waste dump.

“You can’t win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say, ‘Why am I not winning this contest as well?’ It’s random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren’t me? Absolutely. I still can’t make that logistic jump to thinking there’s a reason why it shouldn’t be me.”

 You can’t win all the contests. I love this line. To me, it’s not being cynical or angry, it’s just being truthful. Do I wish it weren’t me? Yes. Is there some other contest that I’m not winning that could be far worse? Yes. Am I a lucky, loved, healthy human being regardless? Yes. 

It’s probably the best articulation of the feelings I’ve felt regarding this disease, diagnosis and experience. There is no answer to why me so I don’t ask it. Gratitude. Realism. Truth.  

Thanks, David, for doing what great writers do. Putting the thoughts that other people feel but didn’t know how to articulate into the perfect, well crafted sentiment. 

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