A Jeweler's Eye

Suleika Jaouad
590 words, 6K views, 13 comments

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Of my diagnosis, he had asked, “If you could take it all back, would you?”

The answer I arrived at was this: “The tangling of so much cruelty and beauty has made of my life a strange, discordant landscape. It has left me with an awareness that haunts the edges of my vision—it can all be lost in a moment—but it’s also given me a jeweler’s eye. If I’m thinking about my illness—abstracted from its impact on the people around me—then the answer is: No, I would not reverse my diagnosis, if I could. I would not take back what I suffered to gain this.”

My friend paused after she finished reading, then said, “Do you still mean that? Would you not take it back?”

I understand the skepticism. A month into my diagnosis, or even a year in, I wouldn’t have believed it. In fact, if you’d told me that one day I’d say, “I would not reverse my diagnosis,” I would’ve probably wanted to punch you in the face. When you’re in the trenches of something brutal, reversing course is all you want, and back then, all I wanted was to be a normal, healthy 22-year-old. But there’s a tremendous amount of power in accepting reality. Rather than fighting your circumstance, rather than wallowing in sorrow and anger, you can begin to see it as an invitation. You can begin to interrogate it, to watch new and unexpected things emerge.

And honestly, the unexpected things that emerged for me were countless and invaluable—from the learning and growth I experienced to the love that came from that hardest of passages. Before my diagnosis, I was always thinking of the future and making a plan for how I’d get to where I wanted to go. There is value in having a plan, and gunning toward it as bravely and brazenly as you can. But it’s also important to acknowledge that life often does not go according to plan. My diagnosis forced me to pause, to be present, to meet myself in the now, rather than some aspirational version I was constantly chasing after. It forced me to figure out what truly nourished me, which of course was not a reinvention of the wheel, but a return to the things that had always nourished me—like time with loved ones, like writing.

If it weren’t for my illness, I wouldn’t have had the deep conversations that can only take place when all the artifice is stripped away, when you are your most laid-bare, vulnerable self. I would have been charging forward, chasing some elusive, epic, mountain-top experiences, rather than relishing the small joys that surround us every day. Illness humbled and grounded me. It taught me all my most important lessons—about acceptance, about presence, about love—that I would never wish to unknow. 

And yet, that process can be messy, and it’s ongoing -- the way a situation disorients you, how it forces you into different, sometimes uncomfortable perspectives -- but also how it allows you to see the world in a way as never before. 


Suleika Jaouad is an author, journalist and a cancer survivor.

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