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15 Shitty Things Cancer Has Taught Me

15 shitty things cancer has taught me.

As you likely know by now, one of my top cancer pet peeves is the expectation out there that somehow cancer miraculously transforms you into a better version of your former self. You know, there are all those life lessons to learn.

Sure, being diagnosed with cancer makes you an unlucky soul, but at least your diagnosis also automatically granted you enrollment into the Cancer Enlightenment Program, which undoubtedly, you will benefit from.

If not, why not?

(The above is supposed to be sarcasm.)

This line of thinking sort of implies that somehow you needed this experience to get your priorities straight.

Again, there are all those life lessons to learn and epiphanies to be had.

If the transformation theory works for you, fine. But for me, all that enlightenment malarkey is total BS.

I started working on this post a couple years ago, so t’s been sitting in a folder for quite some time. (This is actually a watered-down version.) I hesitate to publish certain posts. This is one of them.

Why?

Because it’s a push-back sort of piece that perhaps some will not appreciate. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Sort of. Not everyone will appreciate my dry humor. Or sarcasm. It’s okay if you don’t.

Don’t take this post too seriously, okay? Then again…

So, you’ve been forewarned.

Enough with the stalling, here we go.

15 shitty things cancer has taught me:

1. I’ve pretty much failed the Cancer Enlightenment Program. Wait, not pretty much. I have failed it.

No grand lessons here. No epiphany. No re-shuffling of priorities. Still me. Not better. Probably worse. But still standing!

2. Being a cancer rebel is still more or less frowned upon. People tend to prefer conformity in (Pink) Cancer Land too.

Stirring things up is still oftentimes a no-no. Don’t make waves is probably the safer course.

3. If it looks like you haven’t moved on, people get uncomfortable. And judgmental. They might even start giving you that raised eyebrow look. (Have you been given the look? If not, be patient. You’ll likely get it.)

Oh sure, you’re allowed a certain amount of time to get over the messy parts, (like a year maybe) but then, it’s time to get on with it, honey. Same deal with grief, btw.

So, at nine years out now, I’ve clearly missed the getting over it deadline. Just one more reason for my big fat “F” in the Cancer Enlightenment Program.

4. Getting your breasts amputated and getting a “free” boob job is still sometimes considered a perk of breast cancer.

Seriously?

I still can’t believe this one.

You might want to read, Ten Reasons Why Breast Reconstruction Is Not a Boob Job!

5. Embrace the pink sisterhood like your life depends on it or else you are doing breast cancer all wrong.

Be strong. Act brave. Keep smiling. Keep your whining to a minimum. Prove you can still do it all. (like you ever could.) And on and on and on…

6. It’s probably best to keep your non-varnished cancer truths under-wraps.

Most people can’t handle the truth. Heck, they don’t even want to hear it.

7. If you refuse to do #6, you will likely be called negative.

So be it. I’ve been called worse.

8. Cancer makes you old before your time.

It just does. And the medical community sometimes isn’t helpful when they no longer know what to do with you, so they start implying that perhaps your long-term side effects and other issues you’re complaining about are probably just normal aging. And when you start realizing they could be right, you feel, well, even older.

(No wonder the elderly often get frustrated. When you’re old, you’re supposed to just suck it up and put up with shit?)

Of course, all this is still better than the alternative.

9. You will likely think of your life in terms of before cancer and after cancer from diagnosis day on out. Or at least I do. Dear Hubby does too.

For some of us, there was also life with breasts and now life without breasts. Pretty sure, deep down Dear Hubby thinks this way too, though he’s too kind to mention it.

Sure, I’ve got a reconstructed chest, but let me tell you, it is nothing like the real deal. Nothing.

10. Cancer is expensive, and I’m lucky to have decent insurance.

I always knew cancer treatment wasn’t cheap, but until you need it yourself, it’s hard to imagine the financial burden.

And then, there is the career upheaval. Another expense of a different sort.

11. Learning your cancer is hereditary sucks.

Now, I not only have to worry about myself, I also have to worry about family members. Cancer sucks. Period.

12. The blame game is still very much alive and well.

All those “did you” questions still lurk.

And now, there are new ones. I call these the “are you now” questions. Are you eating healthier now? Are you exercising more now? Are you still having that glass of wine now? And so on.

(Like I was living recklessly before with no regard to my lifestyle choices and sorta deserved all this.)

13. It’s never over even though many around you might believe, even insist, that it is. Or should be.

My one-word response, mirrors.

14. Cancer brings fatigue.

No need to say more, right?

15. The shittiest thing of all, of course, is that people you care about die from metastatic breast cancer. And the grief is real for those who die that you’ve never met in person too.

Many don’t understand how you can grieve for people you’ve never actually met. But you do. And it’s heartbreaking. Sometimes, I ask myself why I remain online at all.

But then I do. Because I can’t imagine not.

So, there you have 15 shitty things cancer has taught me. I’m sure there are more, but that oughta do for now. Maybe I’ll write a part 2 sometime. Or not.

If you haven’t yet written down some shitty things you’ve learned from cancer, I highly recommend that you do. It’s therapeutic.

I gotta say, writing this post and then publishing it, too, actually made me feel pretty darn good.

Turns out, the Positivity Pushers don’t know everything.

The Cancer Enlightenment Program be damned!

Now, it’s YOUR turn to share one or two shitty things cancer has taught you.

(If you don’t, I’m gonna look bad.) 

It’ll feel good. I promise.

Ready. Set. Go!

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Share a shitty thing or two that cancer has taught you.

Do you sometimes feel pressured to stay positive?

Do you ever feel like you’re expected to “find the good” in your cancer diagnosis?

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Angela

Sunday 19th of September 2021

I am so happy to have found this site! I've felt so alone with my cancer diagnosis, and hope I'm not an intruder because I have ovarian cancer rather than breast cancer. .. Over the past two years, I've been writing a draft of an email to myself, because, really, who could I send this to? It's what I called "Cancer Truisms" and echoes so much of what you and others have said:

Got a cancer diagnosis? Some things WILL happen:

1. There will be Cancer Swag. Some of it will be awesome. Some of it will be someone's jewelry junk drawer (think seahorse earrings, slightly tarnished). 2. You get first dibs on just about everything. Practice saying "But I have cancer," in the most mournful voice you can manage. 3. You WILL be told to juice celery (hey, at least it's not apricot pits) if you want to live. 4. There are some ghoulish and/or unhealthy people who will be highly invested in you being "woeful." Proceed with caution. 5. There are some putridly ugly scarves, hats, and youtube video scarf constructions that will find their way to you. See also #1, but this is a special category of its own. 6. You will be told frequently to "Stay positive," usually communicated in a tone with a subtext that suggests that the person saying this thinks you are a goner. Smile politely, but plan a rapid escape. 7. Expect to hear "You're so brave!". A lot! And inside your head you may be saying, "Shut the fuck up; I'm not brave and please, just go away!" 8. You will need many forms of escape, as well as a careful grip on your facial expressions to keep from laughing: -from The Time Warpers: well-meaning friends who stop by for "5 minutes" that in real-time equates to 1 1/2 to 2 hours -from those who equate "cancer" with "infantile" and now want you to put puzzles together, believe you need someone to "sit" with you, like a baby-sitter -from people who want to feed you; this may sound nice and can be, but beware the individuals who (a) use it to entrap you, either at their house, or yours (see The Time Warpers above; (b) bring you weird shit to eat -from those who want to spend a great deal of time telling you about their trials and tribulations. This generally does not apply to those who are sharing their own cancer experiences; this does apply to the huge array of misfortunes that can befall a person, from athlete's foot to unexplained medical mysteries that some now feel compelled to share with you presumably to cheer you up and/or give you hope, or to convince you that they suffer too 9. Your cancer and/or treatment may make you quite fatigued. Even if it doesn't, remember that protestations of fatigue or needs for naps can be a well-crafted tool in your arsenal of escape (see 7, above) 10. Some of your friends will feel compelled to suddenly develop the ability to foretell the future. You will also hear, "You GOT this!" And "You're going to be fine." On the opposite end of the spectrum will be those who will feel compelled to ask you, with great earnestness, what your funeral/hospice/coming-to-terms-with-death plans are, even if you were just diagnosed within the last several days. 11. Chemo brain turns you into someone you don't even recognize. Certainly, in the past, you remembered appointment time, and dates, and got something on the schedule right. Or did you? 12. If you're lucky, you have an oncologist or nurse who will level with you about what it's like to die from this cancer. 13. Post active-treatment, every month brings you to the brink of terror of a recurrence, as you wait for blood test or scan results, but you will be expected to be positive, to be grateful for the time you've had, and to not make anyone else hold their breath like you are. This is when you feel the incredible loneliness of cancer. 14. You'll be told "None of know how long we've got. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow." What the hell is up with the bus drivers? Maybe bus driver training needs to be improved, and I'm sick of hearing about this serial killer bus driver that seems to be taking every one out, and we're lucky we just have this ticking time bomb of cancer hanging over our heads. 15. The pre-cancer you is gone forever. 16. You might have to plan for your death, while at the same time implying for the sake of others that you expect to be around for the future. 17.  And if you are extraordinarily lucky, you will be reminded of the amazing and treasured loved ones around you who are being genuinely supportive and helpful, make you feel so loved that it takes your breath away and this will truly humble you. Sadly, at times, these are the people whom you most want to protect and will struggle to be real with.

Nancy

Monday 20th of September 2021

Angela, Thanks for sharing some shitty things you've learned.

Kelly

Tuesday 22nd of June 2021

Thank you for having the courage to write and publish your cancer life lessons. I agree with them. I will never be fully recovered because breast cancer is so much more than physical. Thank you cancer for every little ache or pain in other parts of my body and I think ...... Has it spread? Mind games. I'm on tamoxifen. I'm tired all of the time. I thought it was just me. People do not understand when I need to take a nap or go to bed early. They don't understand that even though I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, my breasts do not match at all. I had radiation on my left one and the skin just didn't recover. Thank you cancer for being able to see the difference every time I look in the mirror. I am thankful to be alive, so I will stop complaining. Have a great day!

Nancy

Wednesday 23rd of June 2021

Kelly, You're right, breast cancer is so much more than physical. Hopefully, there are some people around you who do understand. If not, that's what this site is here for. Remember, speaking your truths is not complaining. We are all grateful, but that doesn't mean we can't also grieve and tell our truths. Thank you for sharing.

Susan Lynch

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Oh, so many of us on this site hear you. Why can't someone say "hey, you don't have to be strong now. Right now you can cry, shout, scream, be weak and pitiful for as long as you need, for as long as it takes, we will support you no matter what!" And when going through Chemo why can't our friends visit with a caserole and maybe not turn up looking so beautiful with their hair all done and make-up and clothes perfect when you look like something that crawled out from under a bridge?" Empathise people, empathase! Stop the platitudes! Just try and understand how we feel Good luck, it does get better...xx

Christine Streano

Friday 27th of November 2020

people expect me to be strong because that is how i lived my life, but now i'm not strong and i am filled with fear and anxiety and grief. i was strong for me and everyone else to get through a double mastectomy. now i'm falling apart 4 months later

Nancy

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Christine, I hear you. It's not uncommon to feel the weight of what you've been through months later. A mastectomy is a huge deal. Be kind and gentle with yourself. No need to be strong, stoic or anything else. Be real. Be you. It's enough. Take care of yourself.

Susan Lynch

Wednesday 23rd of September 2020

Yes, this is a great blog site. I too feel so sorry for people who don't have access to free hospital and medical care. Cancer should not take your bank balance as well. I'm an Aussie and we have free health care also. Going through the breast cancer journey didn't cost me anything and I received immediate top specialist care. We also have reciprical arrangements with England and New Zealand. If we get sick or in accident in those countries when we travel we just show our Medicare Card and all medical treatment free and vice-versa.

Nancy

Friday 25th of September 2020

Susan, I believe the US will get to the point of offering healthcare for all eventually, but gosh, it's a slow, painful process to get there. Sounds like you are satisfied with your care and that is wonderful. Who doesn't deserve top-notch care? That's what I don't get here. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment too. Thank you for the kind words about my site too. Stay safe and well.

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