Last year I had cancer. Receiving the diagnosis was the worst experience of my life, yet after the shock subsided and I accepted the necessity of treatment, the six months of my illness became a kind of utopia: both a ‘no place’ in which I learned to live with uncertainty, and a land of love and miracles: the weight of a decades-long depression lifted, estranged relationships healed, and physically I had ‘a complete response’ to chemotherapy – my tumour disappeared, and minor surgery revealed no trace of disease in my affected breast or lymph nodes. With impeccable festive timing, I was pronounced All Clear on 23 December. Now, many celebrations and a month later, even though a decade of follow-up treatment lies ahead of me, I cannot wish that I had never been ill. Motivated to eat well and exercise more, grateful for every blessing life has granted me, and closer to the universal power I call Spirit, I feel healthier and happier than I have for years. It’s possible, in fact, that cancer was the best thing to ever happen to me.

Yet, in a more common post-op patient reaction, I also see the frightening shadow of the disease everywhere I look. In the tactful euphemism of Cancer Research UK, one in two people in the developed world ‘will be affected by cancer’– though if half of us get the disease who will remain unaffected? And that’s not the half of it. Although it’s a suspect cliché, I can’t help but feel that the world itself has cancer: in the systemic, destructive, lethal growth of the disease I see also the nihilistic spread of global capital and its grave threat to the biosphere. My own peculiarly positive experience, though, leads me to believe that both the alarming statistic and the controversial metaphor can be turned to advantage. In fact, if any achievable paradise on earth must incorporate the existential realities of illness, mortality and conflict, cancer could be the key to utopia.

The rest of this article is only available to subscribers.

Access our entire archive of 350+ articles from the world's leading writers on Islam.
Only £3.30/month, cancel anytime.


Already subscribed? Log in here.

Not convinced? Read this: why should I subscribe to Critical Muslim?

Elsewhere on Critical Muslim: