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The Words That Change Everything

It’s astounding to me still how hearing those three little words, you have cancer, or in my case four words, you have “a” cancer, changes things. Once you hear them, you can’t go back. Your old life, your pre-cancer life, is over. Cancer is one of life’s great divides, at least it has been for me. The words, you have cancer, were first attached to my mother and six years later they were attached to me. My life has not been the same since.

April 29th marks five years since I heard the words, you have cancer, spoken specifically to me and about me. I have been contemplating what to write about this particularly unique, impending “cancerversary” (don’t like that word, but…) for quite some time now. Lots of thoughts are bouncing around in my head and will hopefully formulate into a coherent blog post or two that I will share on other days, but for this day and this post, I will re-share the second blog post I wrote over four years ago in which I wrote about what it was like for me to hear the words, you have cancer, the words that change everything. Five years have passed since hearing those words, so it seems fitting to share them again.

I struggled with taking ownership of the words, you have cancer, five years ago. I continue to struggle with the impact they brought and continue to bring into my life today.

You Have Cancer

If you ask any woman on the street what disease she fears most, she will likely say breast cancer not heart disease, diabetes or something else. No, breast cancer is the disease that conjures up the most fear in a woman and creates feelings of anxiety over body image alterations, illness and even death that no woman is prepared to face.

I was no different…

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How long has it been since you or your loved one heard “those words”?

What’s one way your life has changed since hearing those words?

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you have cancer

14 thoughts to “The Words That Change Everything”

  1. Oh Nancy, I can relate to this. I think most of us do.

    I am happy you are approaching your 5 years. I want you to have many, many more.

    I heard those words in 2011 and it took me a while to call it cancer. I used other words: Pitufo (smurf), malignant, the thing, tumor, the mass. I could not say the words, “I have cancer.”

    A lot has changed ever since I heard those words:
    1) I have no patience for anyone
    2) I am more aggressive than ever before (and I was already aggressive)
    3) I cut people out of my life quickly
    4) I travel more (although not enough, still)
    5) I lost all shame
    6) I am more aware of mortality
    7) Every emotion I feel is strong
    8) I am more sensitive
    9) I cry more (I hardly ever cried before c! Maybe this is due to Tamoxifen)

    Of course, there is more…

    Nancy, to think of it, I think this is how I should have been BEFORE cancer. This is how I cope with the changes in my life (something I’ll write about soon).

    Hugs to you.

    1. Rebecca, I completely understand that it was hard for you to come out and say the words, I have cancer. No one wants to take ownership of those words, or as Beth said, perhaps it’s more about acceptance of them. Thanks for sharing your list of a few changes cancer has brought for you. Some of them are definitely on my list, too, which makes me think it might be an interesting list to compile some time. Maybe. Thanks for the good wishes too.

  2. Nancy,

    First of all, I’m so glad you are NED. And I hope you remain so forever. I also don’t like the word “cancerversary” but I don’t know what else to call it. Before cancer invaded my life, I did fear cancer more than anything, although I was equally fearful of uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer, etc.

    Then cancer really came, and life for me has never been the same.

    You said something interesting about taking ownership of the words “you have cancer.” I’m not sure if we are supposed to take ownership of the words. I guess there has to be an acceptance of these words at some point.

    I remember when I got the phone call — at work — that my biopsy results indicated that yes, indeed, I had cancer. I got off the phone and calmly told my co-workers I had cancer and then continued working. Then I had a breakdown at my desk. I think it took some time for the news to finally catch up with me.

    I like Becky’s list. I can relate to them all.


    1. Beth, Good point about taking ownership of those words. Who wants to do that? It is more of an acceptance of reality I guess. I can’t imagine getting such news while at work. How awful for you. I like Rebecca’s list too. Thank for you reading and sharing some thoughts. xo

  3. I was diagnosed three months ago, have had lumpectomy and immediate reconstruction. Now “my team,” and I’m not sure they are my team or their own, want decisions regarding radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. I am finding that my entertaining the decision to do no more at this point is a game-changer, and those words change everything for them. When you are not keeping your cancer head down and following “standards of care” or typical treatment plans as laid out by oncology specialists, you become an anomaly with what feels like little support. I cannot tell you how hard it is to decide, and how alone I am guessing I might be if I stand firm on no more treatment now. Does anyone know anyone who has chosen that path? I look constantly, and would like to hear how they decided, how they feel now, and if there has been a recurrence. I still have to decide alone, of course, but input would be most appreciated.

    1. Maggie, I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. It is difficult to make decisions that don’t go allow with the widely accepted standards of care. Each person must do what she feels in her heart is best. I wish you all the best as you make your decisions.

      1. Thanks so much. With the Sentinel node pathology report “clear,” I used it somewhat as a beacon of guidance, but continue to gather information. After meeting with the medical oncologist next week, addressing and “outlining” Chemotherapy and Hormone Therapy, the decision is up to me, I guess. Meanwhile, I am in physical therapy for the “frozen shoulder” and hear radiation and “chemical/drug” stories weekly because those ladies are there dealing with the side-effects remaining after they stopped or completed.

        1. Maggie, Have you discussed the Oncotype Dx test? Of course, I do not know your pathology. This test is for ER positive early stage breast cancers. Keep gathering information and do what feels right for you.

          1. Estrogen receptor: Positive (>95% strong) Progesterone receptor: Positive (1-2%, strong)
            Her-2/neu: Equivocal (2+) immunohistochemistry by report Her-2 FISH: Negative by report (HER2:CEP17=1.3; HER2/cell=2.85) Ki67: <5%

            This might be the stickler?

          2. Nancy, thanks so much for asking this question. I thought the Oncotype DX had been run, but it has not. After I read through every report again, it simply wasn’t there and I contacted the Nurse Navigator who also didn’t have it. Yikes! Why did they set up a meeting with a medical oncologist (Chemo) consultation without this??? I’m not even sure I should keep it.

            Every time I turn around, I feel like I’m getting the “standard treatment” appointments, but what if I’m not “standard?” Maybe that’s why I cannot yet commit to Radiation, Chemo, or Hormones.

            I feel like I’m driving a clown car down the cancer lane, and if I dare drive outside the lines, I’m the lone woman careening along on four flats!

  4. Hi Nancy and others, I finally determined by hounding the Med School and the local clinic that the Oncology DX has not yet been run, with surgery and reconstruction five weeks ago. I cannot help but wonder why I’m being pushed to schedule Radiation, meet with the Chemo oncologist, and urged to set up that Hormone meeting when I don’t have the test score. In fact, why am I chasing down the test, getting it ordered, making sure insurance covers it (they do, no questions asked), etc.? Bloggers, is that normal; is that how it always happens?

  5. Nancy, thank you again – so, so much – for the information on Oncotype DX. I am glad I “pushed” for it before going to any more treatment planning meetings. The test is now being run, and results will be in two weeks or less, at which time it sounds like yet another appointment will do the big reveal. Do I get a copy of that report after it’s run, or does it only go to the provider who ordered it? I think I could “read” that report, after all of the reading I’ve done!

    1. Maggie, You are very welcome. Let us know how your test turns out. And I would think you should be able to have your own copy of the report.

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