This song is about a patient who is dying of cancer, and it is told from his perspective. The patient in the song is in terrible pain, but his primary concern is how much it hurts to leave behind his loved ones. The lyrics describe symptoms that are typical of a cancer patient, such as hair loss, chapped lips and grogginess that all result from chemotherapy treatment.
Twenty One Pilots recorded a version of this for a 2016 The Black Parade cover album, which features a variety of different artists. Speaking with Rock Sound magazine, TOP frontman Tyler Joseph recalled how one of the song's lyrics had a profound effect on him. "When we were approached about covering My Chemical Romance's 'Cancer,' I was really excited about it. But I was also kind of nervous about changing something that felt right and was so simple. The one thing that stood out to me was the lyric, 'I will not kiss you.' It's such a pure lyric, because that person's talking about their family members, like their mom and their brothers. When I first heard the song that was the line that hit me the hardest and stayed with me. So that's why I was excited to approach the song in a new way. It made me feel that I could highlight one of my favorite lyrics and then it became kind of a chorus, in a sense. Hopefully we did the song justice."
Songwriting is an intense experience for Gerard Way, MCR's frontman and lyricist, and sometimes his bandmates worried he was torturing himself for the sake of his art. Frank Iero, the band's rhythm guitarist, recalled in Tom Bryant's Not the Life It Seems: The True Lives of My Chemical Romance: "I remember going into G's room and he had all these signs up on the wall that he had drawn and painted. They were the song titles, and there was this one big piece of paper that said 'Cancer' on it. He was so submerged in it. I remember thinking to myself, 's--t, man. I hope he's not too deep.'" He continued: "There were multiple times in the band's career that I would say to G, 'Hey, you know that you can just write a song? You don't have to kill yourself.' He was always like, 'Yeah, yeah, maybe I will. You're right.' But I knew what he really meant was, 'All right, whatever. Shut the f--k up.' Ultimately, you need to do what you need to do to get the best out of yourself. But I wanted him to know he had an out. I wanted him to know he was allowed to have a little bit of fun.'"
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