By Anna-Maria Ramzy
Cancer. It’s spreading. During these past few decades the rate of cancer has increased phenomenally. The figures are scary. According to Cancer Research UK more than one in three people in the country will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. Amongst the numerous variations and types of cancer that are diagnosed across the UK, breast cancer is the most common. In 2008, Cancer Research records that around 130 women a day were diagnosed and the rate of breast cancer in women in the UK has increased by over 50% in the last 25 years. Whether this is the result of an increase in the development of cancer in individuals, or whether this is due to an increased diagnosis rate given advances in modern medicine and a greater awareness of the condition, is unclear. Either way, the figures are growing.
Having a member of the family diagnosed with cancer is frightening, painful. It hits you like a slap in the face and sends you reeling. The illusion of immortality is shattered. Since we constantly immerse ourselves in the false assurance that ‘it won’t happen to me’, it leaves us so totally exposed, unprepared and vulnerable when it does since we rarely, in our busy lives, contemplate the end. Cancer comes as such a shock because it is a stark reminder of our mortality.
Mercifully, modern medicine is making great strides in developing cures and preventative measures against cancer, and thankfully, more than three-quarters of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive their disease for at least 10 years or more. The chances of dying from the condition are steadily decreasing. But suddenly, having been so abruptly made to face the prospect of one’s own death, or the death of a loved one, the little voice inside looses the façade of security and says ‘it could be me’.
Morbid and dark as contemplating and remembering death may initially seem, embracing one’s mortality is in fact liberating, enlightening. Though a taboo still hangs over the word cancer, and for a long time, for me, cancer was a barbed word that seemed to catch in the throat, much easier to swallow than utter, since it was an automatic reminder of the eventual outcome, it has in fact served as an inspection on life. Rather like spring cleaning, the spectre of death comes in, and contrary to the popular image of it lurking in the corners, ready to pounce, it in fact renovates the house, getting rid of all the rubbish and cleaning up what’s left. In other words, it puts things into perspective and helps you prioritise. Knowing that you are not guaranteed another sunrise makes you appreciate every one. Knowing that you may not see your loved ones tomorrow makes you more careful in the way you interact with them. Knowing you may not pray another prayer, makes you pray every one as if it’s your last. Knowing that you are not in control of your own body makes you more aware of the One who is.
The Prophet Muhammad is reported as saying, “Remember frequently the thing that cuts off pleasures (i.e. death).” It is a shame that it took the arrival of cancer in the family for me to remember this, and whilst cancer isn’t easy for anyone, I am grateful for its effects, and I am grateful that I have a warning. I will loose someone I love. And at some point I will go too. Life is a loan as well as a gift.
Cancer is not the only reminder of death, but it is a growing one. It is not a death sentence but it is a reminder that we are not in control. And it forces us to incorporate the saying we utter upon hearing of someone’s passing into our everyday lives. From God we come and to Him we will return.
Anna-Maria Ramezanzade is a student of Arabic and Persian at the University of Oxford.
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.