‘Everything Happens for a Reason’

Posted on: August 2nd, 2016 by

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I have many pet peeves in Cancerland.

During my diagnosis and treatment, people told me to stay positive. Well, this advice harmed me, as I needed to cry and feel miserable. Those who told me to stay positive negated my fears and denied my feelings.

Other individuals spouted that God couldn’t give me more than I could handle. Wrong on two counts: God did not give me cancer, and yes, cancer was more than I could handle.

Enter the next pet peeve that well-meaning people have told me countless times regarding my bad fortune in having cancer:

“Everything happens for a reason.”


This distorted way of thinking is unacceptable.

The subtext behind “Everything happens for a reason” is that a cancer diagnosis is meant to make us chosen lucky ones better people and that cancer is the catalyst to self-improvement.

This trite saying also implies that there was a some divine power involved to give us cancer as some sort of crucible designed to test our mettle. So because I survived thus far, did I prove brave enough to endure? Did I pass this test?

And do people who die with metastatic disease fail the test?

I think not.

This is what I have to say to those in the “Everything happens for a reason” camp. Think before you offer empty platitudes and invent a mythological narrative for a cancer patient.

Cancer is not designed to make us better people.

Cancer isn’t a divine will thrust upon us.

Cancer happens because…..

Well, it just happens.

My advice to those who don’t have cancer is this: Instead of offering harmful platitudes, offer cancer patients what they need: a listening ear, preparing meals or babysitting patients’ children, and, of course, a hug.

It’s enough.


What platitude(s) is your pet peeve(s)?

What insensitive comment(s) were/are you told as a cancer patient?

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14 Responses to ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’

  1. Claudia Schmidt had this to say about that:

    The thing that made me the craziest were all the people telling me that if I only ate a lot of broccoli it would cure my cancer. I would just look at them as if they had lost their minds. Great post, Beth. xo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Claudia,

      Oh yeah, the whole if-you-ate-the-right-diet-you-wouldn’t-have-gotten-cancer routine. Those people who told you to eat lots of broccoli had indeed lost their minds.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Elissa Malcohn had this to say about that:

    That platitude reminds me of this excellent piece by Tim Lawrence:

    My cousin was fond of saying, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” She died at age 44 of morphine poisoning after a years-long addiction. Guess she thought wrong.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Elissa,

      I’m sorry about your cousin. Tim Lawrence’s excellent essay hits the mark. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth — I have to admit, this is one of the worst platitudes I’ve heard. Anything that suggests I need some sort of “lesson” in life is a no-no for me. In fact, it sounds very condescending to me when people make such comments, even when they mean well. I think these platitudes are what make the cancer experience so lonely. It doesn’t have to be, if people would stop blaming the patient and stop being so judgmental. This is also one of the reasons why patients choose to keep their diagnosis private. It was def. one of my reasons until I said, wait a minute! How would anything change if us patients stay quiet? I think the more patients speak up, the more of a chance there is to see a shift in cancerland culture. Now, imagine that.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Yes, this platitude really does insinuate that cancer happened in order to teach us a lesson. People are judgmental by nature, it seems. We as patients need to be more vocal, for sure. Thank you for your thoughtful comment on this topic!

  4. Eileen@womaninthehat had this to say about that:

    Oh, Beth, I just wrote a post about the same thing. The platitudes that get thrown our way are some of the most frustrating and infuriating things to deal with.

  5. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    I’m pretty sure you know my feelings on the cancer platitudes. So many of them are hurtful and also potentially harmful. My biggest pet peeve regarding the platitudes is the cancer is a gift nonsense. And that it somehow transforms you into a better version of your former self. Complete BS IMO. Which is why I titled my memoir as I did. The everything happens for a reason platitude ranks right up at the top of my dislike list too. Ugh…Thank you for addressing this topic. xx

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      Yes, the cancer as gift and making us better people is drivel. I love the title of your memoir; it says it all. Empty platitudes are just that — empty. Thank you for your comment.

  6. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Oh, my, yes. One of my earliest blog rants was on this topic. I don’t know why it’s so hard for people just to listen, but it is. When someone offers unasked-for and invalidating ‘advice,’ it’s always about them, not about you. And that’s the problem. A topic that, unfortunately, never seems to go away. xoxo, Kathi

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Kathi,

      Your point is a valid one — such advice is about them more than the patient. It is, indeed, a never-ending topic. Sigh.

  7. Stephanie Urban had this to say about that:

    Many..too many to relate, don’t want to be negative. Here’s the worse, ‘so if this doesn’t work, what’s plan B?’. Argggg

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