15 Shitty Things #Cancer Has Taught Me #breastcancer #womenshealth #advocacy #cancersucks

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.


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.


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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15 Shitty Things #Cancer Has Taught Me #breastcancer #cancersucks #womenshealth #advocacy

166 thoughts to “15 Shitty Things Cancer Has Taught Me”

  1. I just found out that I have breast cancer. I’m 30 years old and did. It even think of getting it. It was very awkward to tell my family and now they all have to get tested. So first day of meeting with the surgeon, I’m on a clinical trial, and getting genetic testing. I’m exhausted just thinking of what’s next. I do feel alone already. So this is nice to read that people are going through similar things. And we are all on agreement that this sucks.

    1. Kelsey, Yes, it sucks! I’m sorry about your diagnosis. It is exhausting on so many levels, but you aren’t alone. My best to you as you navigate this stuff. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Holy moly…. just finding this blog 4 years post-dx. Sorry for those lost years, LOL!

    Shitty things: losing friends who don’t know how to show up… including one who badgered me to insist on an irrelevant tx (that her dad had for colon cancer?), refused to let it go, and then never called me again after I told her I was overwhelmed and too upset to talk about it anymore…. and my “best friend” from high school, who never even acknowledged my notes until he finally just said he didn’t know what to say and was too ashamed every time he thought about me, so just never bothered.

    Shitty insurance, which locked me into the lowest-rent oncology clinic in town: seriously, shabby, worn furnishings, rude staff, couldn’t get a call back…. and the rudest oncologist ever. When I was able to change plans, got the “best oncologist” in town, who described herself as “integrative” because she had a psychology undergraduate degree. She was completely uninterested in the side effects of tamoxifen, and told me (literally) that I should just be grateful that I’m waking up every day, and not to focus so much on feeling like shit all the time. (And she had the nerve to be offended when I met her the one more time, and told her how unhelpful I found that attitude.)

    Shitty information sharing; having to do so much research/advocacy for myself. Biggest one: nothing goes back “to normal”. Fucked up.

    Bright sides: LOVE finding my ladies who curse! 🙂 I’ve certainly never felt like cancer “made me a better person”; I didn’t even know what to say when someone actually said that to me once. It has made me even less willing to put up with bullshit, though.

    Right now, that means grinding out any options to AIs that don’t disable me. Or, taking an early disability retirement and being a couch potato for 4-7 years.

    So grateful to have found you, Nancy, and your tribe!

      1. I always think you hit it right on with your attitudes about cancer, no sugar coatings, definitely no pink ribbons! I hate the pink ribbon thing, as if cancer is really just a thing we do and then it is okay and we are totally normal again. We will never be normal or fear free again, that bubble had been burst. And metastatic bc means treatments forever that will end only when nothing at all will work. I find most people don’t know what MBC is, they ask how many treatments i need. They are of the mindset bc is always curable and you can be done with it. I think oncologists can hear about so many side effects from their patients they become jaded and forget how important it is to assess each case because managing side effects is part of any possible quality living with MBC. Thank you for saying out loud the things so many of us are thinking and going through!

  3. Loved reading your story. One of the most difficult things I found during breast cancer was discovering who were the “fair weather friends”.

  4. omg i could have written this myself coming to the end of my chemo and radiation for lung cancer and if one more person tells me how brave i am or how strong i am i will scream~ i’m not brave i wasn’t given any chances and i am not strong i’m just putting one foot in front of the other…….

  5. Nancy,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this!
    Shitty: getting side eye when I can’t answer for certain regarding reconstruction. I don’t qualify for implants and would need DIEP. Its a hard call. “Still?” is a word I hear often.

    Shitty: Carpal Tunnel from Anastrozole

  6. Sandy,
    THANK YOU for saying that! I agree that the worst thing to tell someone with cancer is how brave or how strong they are! The fire I’ve walked through is NOT by choice! NO ONE with cancer chooses this!
    And to the author of this post, kudos for publishing this! Sarcasm and humor are sometimes the only ammo we have against this wretchedly horrid disease! The one shitty thing cancer has taught me is that tomorrow is promised to no one. It’s a sad reality.
    Prayers to all the cancer patients out there having to worry about Covid, too!

  7. Such a great post! Thank you!
    Cancer is shit. And the people who you’d expect would be there to help you through, aren’t. And you realise how very alone we are in our experiences. You realise that cancer is hard to be around, and so it’s easiest for others to just slip away…. while we have no choice but to stay and face the music!! It makes it very difficult to want to continue having ‘normal’ relationships with them AFTER cancer because it’s all good and well that they got to opt out – but you’re a different person now.

    1. Jody, I’m glad you appreciated my post. Cancer is indeed shitty. I hope there are a couple people in your life who’ve stuck by you. Relationships do sometimes change and unfortunately some also end in part anyway due to cancer. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment to. I hope you’re doing alright.

  8. Well, since last year I’ve learned two things:
    – that cancer really does make you older. For me, this is not a myth. My hair has thinned out, my skin is absolutely awful with my psoriasis getting much worse and my nails … I can’t even describe how thin, how striated, how much they chip. I’m assuming this is due to cancer medication, but I can’t get anyone to tell me that I’m right. I used to think I looked okay, but now I look OLD. Covid hasn’t helped.
    – Cancer is UBER expensive. I’m going into the Donut Hole (I wish someone would blog about that , explaining it to me). My understanding is that because I’ve already used so much of my insurance as a senior, I will now have to pay the total costs of my medication until I reach the Catastrophic level. So…$20,000 this month? But then nothing the rest of the year since that will fling me right into the next level. WHO DESIGNED THIS PROGRAM? A cancer hater, I’m sure.

  9. Nancy, great post as always. Aside from the bilateral mastectomy which nearly caused me a nervous breakdown, and the chemo and the reconstruction which sucked, I think the hardest thing has been not being able to talk about it to former friends. They just didn’t get it, couldn’t understand, tried to help me find the bright side when there wasn’t one to be found, and said things that I often found to be hurtful. So it’s been a lonely disease for the most part with the exception of my husband, my sisters, and one good friend who went through some of it herself. And of course this site and some really great books such as Cancer Was Not A Gift…. by none other than Nancy Stordohl. That book may have saved me! Maybe I am quite fortunate after all. But to quote a good friend, Cancer Sucks!

    1. Donna, It is hard, isn’t it? Many do not understand, often through no fault of their own really. I blame it on Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land talk that’s managed to paint breast cancer as not all that bad. Don’t get me started on the push to find that bright side. Thanks for sharing and thank you for the kind words about my book. Much appreciated today as I just read a review in which I was called rude, negative and bitter. So, totally agree with you that some cannot or will not accept viewpoints other than the standard, very stale narrative that keeps being touted and pushed on all. And yes, cancer sucks for sure!

  10. Love this post as I do all your posts Nancy! The shittiest thing is not being able to go back to your old normal. Unlike some maladies, medicine or surgery can undo or control the problem. and you can go on with your life. Not the case with BC….its a heavy piece of luggage you literally lug around with you forever. If you have early stage BC, you must worry about recurrences and the possibility of metastasis.

    If you’re already metastatic, like me, you have to worry about progression, if you’re lucky enough to be in remission, or that your meds will stop working and eventually you run out of options. And don’t get me started on AI’s…..letrozole the past 10 years has given me carpal tunnel syndrome so bad I had surgery on both hands, have had many bouts of tendonitis in various body parts, aches & pains in joints & muscles daily, stiffness in both as well, hot flashes & various other symptoms of menopause (changes in hair & nails, etc).

    Just keeping it real!!

    1. Carol, Yes! I love your heavy luggage analogy. I might have to borrow that sometime. I am sorry you have to deal with all the constant worries, not to mention the nasty side effects of ongoing treatment. All shitty things and then some. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment too. Hope you’re doing alright and staying safe. x

  11. I’m a lung cancer patient and definitely “get” your article. You have pretty much nailed everything but I like that others have noted that friends seem to disappear. People always told me who they knew who died of my cancer. Not what I wanted to hear.

    1. Heather, I haven’t really experienced friends disappearing, but lots of people do. And yeah, most cancer patients don’t need to hear about all the people you know who’ve died from your type of cancer. Come on, people! Thank you for reading and commenting. Hope you are doing alright.

  12. Hi Nancy, your words are very true, Cancer is shitty and I am 7 years in remission. I don’t think I have ever felt like I did pre The big C days. I Look so much older, Can sleep anywhere, anytime and am in pain 24/7. Its life but not the life I wanted!!

  13. Thank you Nancy for your blog! I agree the people have no clue until they experience themselves. Some may be more sensitive than others and then there are many who just aren’t. My personal fav was when I was told breast cancer is entirely preventable…… Yup.
    I also thank every day that I live in Canada and have access to amazing health care without going broke. I really wish the US had a similar setup. It breaks my heart when I hear about the financial burden Americans endure while trying to get medical treatment.

    1. Denyse, You might be right about people having no clue. I like to think empathy is attainable for all though. And yes, some are definitely more sensitive. Yeah, that perception that breast cancer is entirely preventable is hogwash. Sure, a person can lower her/his risk, but prevention is another thing. Words (and headlines) do matter. Glad you’re happy with your Canadian healthcare system. The US needs to get with the program. It’s coming. I hope. Thank you for taking time to share. Stay well.

  14. 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.

    1. 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.

  15. 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

    1. 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.

  16. 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

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