Can Cancer Change a Personality?
Malignant Melanoma, Stage II in 1997 -16 Years Cured!
If you introduced people I knew before 1997, my year of the cancer, to those who know me now and asked them to discuss my personality, many would think they were actually discussing two different people. Sure, there would be several consistencies across the two groups, but current acquaintances would be tossing out words like aggressive, frank, and no-nonsense, while the other group, now scandalized, is using words like quiet, unassuming, non-confrontational. Knowing this, would it be a fair observation that I now exhibit a different personality than I did before having cancer? Or is it more accurate to say, that having cancer, changed my priorities, my behaviors and my outlook- thus affecting the perception of my personality?
Those who have, are fighting or have fought and beat cancer will tell you that the experience will certainly change a person. One of the first noticeable changes is usually seen in how they prioritize their life. As a cancer patient, regardless of the severity, you are instantly assaulted with the reality of your own mortality. What may seem to others to be an unhealthy obsession with death, is actually the first step in the fight for survival. Confronting death is the catalyst to the realization that trivial things aren't as important as family, faith, security or health. Prestigious jobs, lots of money and winning a popularity contest aren't what life is now comprised of for the cancer patient. This epiphany can cause the patient to become less tolerant to facades and more interested in choices and decisions that directly affect their life, their loved ones and their reality. Suddenly, it seems, they don't really care what the Jones' bought, where the Jones' went or what the Jones' think of them. Did their personality change? Or did the re-prioritization of their life simply allow them to circumvent the clutter of social niceties and expectations evolving them into a sanitized yet seemingly harsher version of who they always were?
This new and improved person, the cancer patient, now moves on to a new stage in their recovery from the frightening cancer conflict- behavior modification. The realization of what things are truly important in life, now becomes a motto to live by-a mantra, a purpose, a need or a want to wake up those around them so that they too, may become enlightened with this life-altering knowledge. They wax on prosaically about the virtues of this knowledge and become some of the bluntest people you have ever had the privilege of being near!
Do these jeans make my butt look big? - Yes, yes they do. So? Don't you like you the way you are? Is your butt size really the most important thing we need to consider today?
It seems that the revelation of what's important perverts itself into a state irritation with society and people in general who are not buying what the cancer patient is selling. They don't get it, so eventually the patient moves on, believing that while they know what it is that is most important, it is not worth non-reciprocated attempts to convert the heathens. They now, just say what they want, when they want, point out what they see, and basically, just don't take any crap from anyone anymore! Why? Well, possibly two reasons. One, life is suddenly too short to bother with sugar-coating things, and two, the patient now has something to focus on besides dying! Did their personality change? Or did their behavior simply become modified in an effort to cope with the changing world around them? Did they simply just start saying what they really thought instead of just thinking what they really thought?
Now, the patient makes a decision. This decision can be an unconscious choice, but it's a choice none the less and it is based on their outlook of the present and the future. Fight or flight? I'm either dying or recovering, how do I want to spend the rest of my days? Have I settled into my skin and plan to continue to hold nothing back- fight? Or, am I unhappy with myself now and choose to revert back to my previous self and live out my days as the exact same person everyone knew in 9th grade- flight.
No matter the final choice, those who have supported the cancer patient, those who have loved them and those who have witnessed this supposed change in personality, must realize an incontrovertible fact. Cancer has affected everyone's lives, it's a monster, a beast.....it deserves to be destroyed and triumphed over! It is also a fulcrum, a turning point- an unscheduled mid-life crisis. Accept your friend and loved one for who they always were; the cancer didn't change their personality. The cancer gave them new priorities, new behaviors and a different outlook on life, but they will always be the person you knew and loved deep down....the person that used to lie to you, and tell you those jeans made your butt look perfect- while plastering on the sincerest fake smile they can muster; or the person that now tells you to hurry up and change out of those jeans before your rear end is mistaken for a small continent which a plane will land on at any minute-while smiling a secret smile filled with love!