There’s a cancer narrative you see a lot. A noble individual is struck by the terrible disease, with which they do battle. After righteous struggle, the fighter emerges victorious and reclaims their former life. Now gifted with the wisdom of the saints, they remain above the petty daily struggles that mire mere mortals.
It’s an appealing story. It gives meaning to a dark chapter in anyone’s life. But it’s a little hard to live up to, said Jessie Quinn, a four-year survivor of acute myeloid leukemia. “There’s an expectation that you’ll be a beacon of hope, a Buddha of wisdom. I felt none of that,” she said.
Staring your own mortality in the face, it turns out, doesn’t also confer a peek into some grand universal plan. Surviving cancer also does not bring a magical immunity to the burden of non-life-threatening daily struggles. Survival instead often brings unanticipated challenges.
Quinn was just 35 when she was diagnosed with AML. Happily married, engaged in an active outdoor career as a wildlife biologist in California and just getting her parental sea legs as the mother of an 18-month-old daughter, she saw her life unfolding along a happy, rewarding — and healthy — path. But cancer sent her life spinning down unexpected and uncharted byways.