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A “Typical” Cancer Diagnosis, What’s That?

I read somewhere (unfortunately, I threw out the magazine where I read this in one of my rare “cleaning out” moments of the New Year) that a typical cancer diagnosis eats up about a year of a person’s life by the time all is said and done.


Is that all?

What is a typical cancer diagnosis or experience anyway?

I’m not sure what typical means exactly. In this particular reference, I imagine it refers to the period of time beginning at initial diagnosis and ending upon completion of initial treatment(s).

If you happen to be one of the unlucky, atypical persons living with metastatic breast cancer, forget about it. You will never be typical again.

My case is not classified as typical either, so I’m not sure where that leaves me…

My oncologist often reminds me (or I should say, used to remind me as he has since quit on me) of this when we discuss BRCA stuff. In fact at my last appointment when we were discussing my BRCA status, he said to me, “Do you realize just how rare your case really is?”

If we weren’t discussing such serious topics like BRCA and cancer, being called rare might be a good thing.

In this case, not so much.

BRCA gene mutations account for roughly 10% of breast cancer cases, and some say it’s even less than this.

Regardless of the statistic, I don’t believe anyone’s cancer experience is typical.

Also, I don’t think cancer “eats” up a year. It steals it. And it steals way more than a year, even if you’re typical.

Time is quite literally taken from you. It was supposed to be your time. Your life. But somewhere in there, cancer sneaks in like a thief in the night and takes bits and pieces of your former life and self. And sometimes it seems like it’s all a bit of a crap shoot just how much time and how much of your life cancer gets to take from you.

You often wonder if you “caught the culprit” early enough or have put it in its place for good. You spend way more than a year diagnosing, treating, recovering, picking up the pieces, adjusting and then looking over your shoulder more frequently than you’d like to admit.

You never really know if and when the “theft” is completely over. You spend at least moments of the rest of your life on guard watching and waiting for the “cancer criminal” who may or may not show up on your doorstep again.

Cancer is a thief

You remain on guard wondering if you have done all the “right” things to keep the “thief” away for good.

You try to take better care of yourself by eating right and exercising. You go to appointments and have scans and tests when called for. You diligently try to take the drugs you are told will help in this mission, despite their nasty side effects. You try not to worry or complain too much to your family about every little ache and pain you get. You try to make adjustments to living in a body that sometimes doesn’t feel like yours at all. You try to just sleep at night and not think. You try really hard to not get labeled as paranoid or just down right annoying.

Yes, you learn to live again, but you remain on guard forever.

You wonder if you will be one of the lucky ones and just be typical.

You hope and pray you will be and feel guilty when others are not.

A typical cancer diagnosis eats up a year of a person’s life.

Hmm. If only…

How do you react to the phrase, a typical cancer diagnosis?

What has the cancer thief stolen from you?

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Wednesday 31st of March 2021

Hi Nancy, I just wanted to say thanks for re-posting this. I always appreciate confirmation that I'm not alone in my post-diagnosis and post-treatment thoughts and behaviors. Maybe they, all the thoughts, feelings and behaviors, are what is typical, but not the cancer.


Wednesday 7th of April 2021

Leslie, You're very welcome. Always nice to know we're not alone, for sure. And to your last sentence - yes!


Wednesday 31st of March 2021

No one has ever used the word "typical' concerning cancer. "Ugly" was used as a first descriptor and it was really the wrong word. But that's another blog. As is the word "normal." I haven't felt any of these since my original diagnosis and it sucks.


Wednesday 7th of April 2021

Linda, Yes, that does suck. "Typical" probably isn't a good word choice for anything cancer related. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Abigail Johnston

Friday 26th of March 2021

No such thing as typical in the world of cancer and the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis is long lasting and impactful.


Monday 29th of March 2021

Abigail, Typical is not a good word to describe anything cancer related. And yes, the aftermath is long lasting and impactful, for sure. Thank you so much for commenting.

Facing Cancer Together

Friday 12th of July 2013

I remember the nurse saying to me after I was diagnosed, "it's going to be a rough year." We were so surprised. Only a year? Well, heck! We could make it through a year.

And now here things are three years later and I can't quite begin to describe how it feels . .. there are good days, good weeks when it seems very far away - and then there comes and ache, or a bump, or a bad scan, and the anxiety returns only worse because now I’m not a cancer newbie.

One year... I think it's a nice thing for those newly diagnosed to aspire toward; it gives hope and hope is useful. But there is nothing typical or simple about cancer, and how it really plays out cannot be generalized, except to say there's a huge emotional 'kaboom' along with all the other starling changes.



Friday 12th of July 2013

Catherine, Like usual, your comments are very wise. Thank you. And yes, an emotional "kaboom" - that's what it is!


Friday 3rd of February 2012

Thanks Nancy for this post & your blog which I have just discovered while sitting here wondering how long more does this go on for. Thus far cancer has stolen 7 months of my peace of mind and mood stability and this is a cancer that although it was invasive has an excellent prognosis. So throw in some guilt at feeling crap when others have so much more to deal with - well you gotta get the Irish Catholic heritage in there somehow. But it wasn't supposed to happen to me - had I trumped these odds on the lottery I'd be laughing my way to early retirement. And I practise gratitude & as you said good eating & exercise but fatigue & mood swings & now a hysteroscopy to examine what lovely SE the Tamox is having dent the professional Mum trying to return to normal image. It's an inner dent but as I write this it's reduced me to tears. And maybe thats good coz I haven't cried yet. Is it typical? What the heck do I know? xx


Friday 3rd of February 2012

Cathy, You are most welcome. I'm so glad you found my blog and took a few moments to comment. I'm sorry for all you have been going through. It can all be so overwhelming can't it? An "inner dent," I like the way you put that. I'll have to remember that one. I say go ahead and cry. Sometimes a person just needs to. There isn't anything typical about cancer. Maybe you will find a few other posts to be helpful. I hope so. Good luck with things and please keep me posted.

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