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Walls We Build In Cancer Land

Walls we build in Cancer Land help no one and potentially harm many.

How many times have you heard it said that no one understands what you’re going through unless they’ve walked in your shoes?

We hear this all the time and not just in Cancer Land, of course. But in Cancer Land, I read it and hear it said often. And for some reason, it always bothers me.

Do you feel the only people who truly understand you are the ones who have also had a cancer diagnosis?

If you are metastatic, do you feel the only people who understand you are others who are metastatic as well?

If you do feel this way, that is totally fine. And I am not implying I do not feel this way myself at times. Maybe even most of the time.

However, I also feel we should be mindful of how we might come across when we say such things. Perhaps we don’t need more walls, even in Cancer Land. Maybe especially in Cancer Land.

Maybe it’s true that no one else can fully understand your path or mine. This is true with or without throwing cancer into the mix. No two lives are the same. Again, with or without cancer. No two cancer experiences are the same either. No one’s experience with anything is exactly the same as someone else’s.

Maybe it’s true that those who have not had a cancer diagnosis cannot truly grasp what we deal with after a diagnosis. Or maybe it’s not.

And does it even matter?

There are a lot of walls in Cancer Land. There are a lot of divisions. (Too many)

Obviously, there are all the different kinds of cancers.

Remember that cancer ribbon chart that often gets pulled out?

Then, there are all the divisions within breast cancer itself based on the types and sub-types. Sadly, there are even rifts between early stagers and those with metastatic disease. Each group seems to have its own corded off space where it stays separate in a sense from all the others. More walls.

Next, there are the age divisions. There are support groups and organizations for young people with cancer because they have different issues. Which is true enough, but somehow this particular wall always make me feel as if my mother dying from cancer wasn’t as bad a deal because she was ‘old’.

And then, there are men with breast cancer. And the hereditary cancer group. And let’s not forget the different types of advocates/survivors out there. Some of us call ourselves kick-ass warriors (not me), some of us slather up with pink, some of us now despise the color (again, not me), some of us do this and others do that. There are those who choose reconstruction and those who opt out. And those are just some of the divisions.

Sometimes it feels like we’re supposed to choose sides within the breast cancer community itself.

Is this not just more walls?

Of course, we have always had walls of all sorts. Walls are part of life.

Do we put up walls to keep ourselves in or to keep others out?

Remember high school?

Yeah, me too.

It’s human nature I suppose to have some walls around us. It’s a survival thing. A safety thing. A being with others like us thing. Such walls are probably good, maybe even necessary.

But if we build too many walls and/or build them too high, won’t we just end up alone?

And there’s already enough isolation and loneliness in Cancer Land.

I’m not sure there’s much to be accomplished by telling others they can never understand me unless they’ve had a cancer diagnosis. Maybe they can. Maybe they can’t.

What does matter is empathy. 

Cancer or no cancer, it boils down to being empathetic toward others does it not?

And I do believe others can empathize with just about anything another human being is going through, if they choose to try. Fully understand? Maybe not, but empathize, yes.

Regardless, cancer or no cancer, perhaps we might all be better off (and get lots more done) if we practiced empathy and understanding, instead of building more walls.

After all, we are all together in this thing called life.

Do you think only those who have walked in your shoes can truly understand you?

Are there too many walls in Cancer Land? If so, how do we “tear them down”?

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Walls We Build In Cancer Land #cancer #breastcancer #MBC

Meredith Clark

Wednesday 9th of February 2022

There are many wise, insightful comments here. What must also be said is that some of the walls are erected by friends and relatives who silently disappear after our cancer diagnosis. I do not/cannot have empathy for cowards.


Tuesday 15th of February 2022

Meredith, I hear you. Boy, do I.

Christina Jue

Wednesday 9th of February 2022

How do I avoid building walls and avoid getting hurt at the same time? One person said that I got metastasis because I didn't want it to live enough. Another person said that all of the doctors are wrong and all I needed to do was intermittent fasting.

I'm still involved in all of my cancer groups from before my recurrence, but the words hurt more than the treatment. More than the biopsies, more than the surgeries, more than the iv drips or the hormonal musculoskeletal pain or the nausea and hives from my targeted treatment.

Maybe I just need to be more resilient. I dunno.


Tuesday 15th of February 2022

Christina, Gosh, people make some crude, out-of-line comments, don't they? Ignore them. Or try to. Or else let them know how hearing them makes you feel. You don't have to keep quiet when offended or hurt. Of course, I realize sometimes it's not worth the energy it takes to respond. Regardless, it's not on you. You don't need to more resilient or more of anything. You are doing the best you can. Be real. Be you. It's enough. Thank you for sharing.

Linda C Boberg

Wednesday 20th of October 2021

There ARE many walls in Cancer Land. The one I feel the most is the AGE wall. Even my doctor plays it. I asked about oligometastatic cancer (cancer in one spot only) and she told me that she had one patient who was YOUNG that she was sending to someone who specializes in this area of cancer. WHAT??? I may be in my 60s but I deserve the same chances. Another instance: there's a magazine out there written for young people who have cancer (below 50). My thoughts are not important to them, I guess. Anyway, back to my nonexistent walker.


Sunday 24th of October 2021

Linda, Yes, there are a lot of walls. Some of which are unnecessary and even harmful. The age wall is certainly one of them. I'm sorry you felt like you didn't matter as much as that younger person. I hear you about that magazine too. I recognize different age groups have different challenges, and yet like you, I also believe that mutual understanding and support can come from and possibly apply to any group. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the walls in Cancer Land. Thank you.


Thursday 5th of November 2020

This year I've noticed a wall between those who have had lower staged breast cancer and me, the big MBCer. And I think the wall is erected jointly. I want someone to share my misery and the woman I'm thinking of doesn't want to have anything to do with my pain. She's trying to protect herself and I hope she succeeds!


Friday 6th of November 2020

Linda, That's the wall I was writing about. Well, one of them anyway. I think you're right that the wall is put up jointly. It's sad there's a woman out there who you'd like to share your pain with, but she is unwilling or unable to handle that. It might be naïve of me, but I do think we're all in this cancer boat together, and it is one for all and all for one - or should be. Thanks or sharing.

Nancy L. Seibel

Monday 18th of November 2019

This provoked a wonderful discussion on an important topic. Thank you for writing it! I suspect the barriers or walls we encounter within Cancerland reflect what goes on in our larger society. And how we respond to those walls or barriers perhaps is like how we respond to them in the larger culture. How do we protect ourselves and our identities without walling ourselves off? How do we acknowledge there are multiple right ways to do, feel and be - so long as no one is being harmed? How do we address the reality that the experience of cancer often is not well understood or empathized with by those fortunate enough not to have experienced it? I know that upon my diagnosis I learned so much so fast about the emotional, spiritual and financial costs of having cancer - I just didn't know what it was really like until it happened to me. And I'm a pretty empathic and responsive person -- most of the time, anyway!.


Friday 22nd of November 2019

Nancy, Thank you for chiming in on this one. Yes, it raised an important discussion here and on Twitter recently. You raised a lot of good questions. The larger message I was trying to put forth in this particular post is that no matter what type of cancer or what stage a person might be, we should all support one another - an "I've got your back no matter" what sort of support. I do feel there are too many walls. And the division that appears to exist in Breast Cancer Land between early stagers and late stagers continues to baffle me.

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