Anything Positive about cancer? by San Diego Therapist: Regina Huelsenbeck, PhD

Illness and loss are some of the most difficult experiences we must traverse in life.

Cancer survivor and controversial author Susan Sontag (1988) suggests that illness is dislocating and confusing for the sick and the well. Sontag implies that illness is similar to a feared foreign country that no one wishes to visit.

Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.

Things once taken for granted are questioned; one’s body, once accepted, is doubted. Uncertainty abounds as one moves through this new territory. The experience for the ill and those close to him or her evokes feelings which are unfamiliar, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

Kat Duff (1993) a woman with chronic fatigue syndrome explains, “There is often a feeling of exile, wandering, searching, facing dangers, finding treasures”. She additionally shares that illness defies “the rules of ordinary reality, [And] shares in the hidden logic of dreams, fairy tales, and the spirit realms mystics and shamans describe” (p. 13). One can have vivid dreams, visitations in fever-induced states, and experience isolation and reflection unlike any well time in their life. The experience can be scary, but also expansive and growth producing. When viewed from Duff’s perspective, illness sounds almost mystical. This territory is wide open for exploration.

I wonder if there is anything that could be gleaned from this wide open there something to be seen here, some value in being ill?