Based in Pittsburgh, PA, Cancer Experience Expressions is an online space for the sharing of cancer stories. 

health in progress

The essence of mankind and health mutually implicate each other. To better know one is to better know the other. 


Something about cancer can throw a person forward, face to face with their core. In this existential confrontation, the person is alone—no matter the surrounding support system. Death is a driving force of cancer’s mystique.  That we somehow are drawn to the mystery of it all says something about the essence of life.

Something necessary about life is that it shows up as negative space, where death is not. The existential digestion of this reality of impending death splits us open.   

The meaning of impending death for a particular soul does not fit neatly into the operative logic of modern medicine and the scientific authorities that be. The capability of language is limited to address the self and the something that is beyond the self. So any definitive dichotomizations are inevitably in peril of paradox, and that is where the beauty is.  

What can be said about no other being than human? Pain? Joy? Creativity? That which resonates with the essence of mankind implicates human flourishing and being-at-home. The holistic conception of health I take up here is intimately intertwined with the essence of humanity. The most edified version of life is intimated by the essence of life.

Considering healing and health as a vibrant flavor of human experience, I suggest better understanding of the latter will help us with the former, and vice versa.  Philosopher Fredrik Svenaeus’s characterization of health and illness as homelike and unhomelike being-in-the-world[1] fills this out in-depth, considering home as a feeling in tune with our essence.

Regarding the core of human experience, I have been deeply moved and convinced by Husserl’s characterization, in his later works, of the soul of man as called to a reflective response through reason.[2] Viktor Frankl echoes by saying, “each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible…responsibleness [is][3] the very essence of human existence.[4]

So this is not necessarily in the sense of paying rent on time, but instead a reasonable response to environment—no matter how bleak.  This is about loving yourself enough to trust in the choices we make in response to situations faced every day, and to listen to the inner guiding voices that let us know when we are out of balance.  The more you engage with this bodily imagination that something cool and fresh for lunch sounds good, and would make us feel good---would hit the spot—the most refined that sense becomes. There is no perfect balance. Still, developed sensitivity of how far and in which direction this imbalance stands, our correcting responses gain precision.

This awareness faces resistance from the archetypal idea—adopted assumptions—of illness as something that comes from the outside, something that happens to us. implicates our societal faith in technology. There is a handing over of the night to a hero figure, the medical system, with eyes covered and hand extended. But to be there, showing up with steady and responsible reason—as a member of your own health care team—is a triumph of the will.






[1] Svenaeus, “Naturalistic and Phenomenological Theories of Health.”, 232-233.

[2] Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, 340.

[3] My addition.

[4] Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 109.

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