“And if you have a minute why don't we go…Talk about it somewhere only we know? This could be the end of everything, so why don't we go…Somewhere only we know?”
-Keane “Somewhere Only We Know”
What is the mythology of cancer? I classify it into these three statements-each one said to me from various and sundry people at different times during BOTH my journeys. “Oh, they caught it early-so it’s the good kind, you’ll be fine.” “You’re a tough cookie and so brave and strong and positive, you’ll be fine.” “You’ll look back on this as a gift, you’ll be fine.”
No, no, and no.
Early stage does not mean you’ll be fine-because even if you are fine physically; your life will never be the same. Just because you have a great outlook does not mean you’ll be fine-cancer doesn’t pick and choose based on personality alone. And by no means is cancer a gift.
Telling someone they have the ‘good kind of cancer’ is like saying there is a ‘good kind’ of nuclear war - you know, just a small bomb, one little country, no biggie. There is no ‘good kind’ of cancer, breast or otherwise. If I had been diagnosed with pinky toenail cancer-I would still be crushed. But when I hear people say this I try not to get all bent out of shape. Obviously, they are naïve to the diagnosis. Most likely they haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, nor have they had someone close to them battle it either. Sometimes it is said out of plain discomfort or because they just don’t know what else to say. People often want to find something positive to say about something so truly awful.
Tough? Well, yes, but stubborn might be more accurate. Strong? Yes. Positive? Depends on the day. But brave? Uh-uh, I’m just living day-to-day doing what anyone in my situation would do. I take my meds, I go to my appointments and I listen to my doctors - even if I don’t feel like it. Choosing to put your life in jeopardy to help others that’s bravery. I never chose this. Cancer is unpredictable and the statistics can mean nothing. It’s ignorant think that only upbeat, positive people who are diagnosed early can handle the atrocities of a serious illness. Doctors look at the statistics to gain some understanding of the typical path of any one cancer, at any one stage. But statistically, I should have never even gotten cancer once (never mind twice). So I throw all statistics out the window. Cancer is a crapshoot. There is no ‘good kind’ and there is no rhyme or reason as to who will get it and who won’t. Heredity plays a role-but it is not always the rule. Cancer cells aren’t that intelligent.
I know so many survivors…and even more warriors. I don’t know who they were before the disease - I only know them as they are now. Each one fights in their own way. Each uses whatever coping mechanisms they have relied upon in the past. Each one has good days and bad. I know some very long-term survivors that were diagnosed at stage four. They will remain in treatment most likely for the rest of their lives; always staying one step ahead of the cancer, trying new drugs as they become available, or until, miraculously, there is ‘no evidence of disease’ (NED).
For me, I’m grateful for each day that I wake up, feel good, have coffee with my husband, kiss my kids, and pet my dog - even if the first thing I typically do upon waking up is utter expletives and give the middle finger salute to my alarm clock. A morning person I am not.
I can roll with the above statements though. I understand cancer is not the most comfortable topic BUT the one phrase that chaps me every time is when people like to say that this is a gift. A cosmic joke maybe. A kick in the teeth definitely. But a gift? I’m not exactly sure what some people may have received in the past for their birthdays but if you consider cancer a gift - you must have really gotten some pretty crappy presents growing up. I could never, ever consider the pain and suffering I went through - and in turn put my loved ones through a gift. But that’s not to say that cancer has allowed me something I would not have ever had otherwise…a sisterhood of survivors that I am honored to have in my life and call my friends. These ladies absolutely know that you don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. They live it every day.
These amazing women have become a big part of my daily life. Had I not moved into Cancertown, I would never have had the privilege of meeting them, they get me and I dedicate this week’s blog to my sistahs. The ones in the trenches trying to hold on, be tough, fight for their lives, and stay strong for their loved ones. We may have all come from different places, different backgrounds, social standings, ethnicities, religions…whatever…but somehow we all ended up on cancer’s doorstep. And like being invited to a huge dinner party where you only know the host; we stepped out of our comfort zones, met, laughed, exchanged numbers, looked each other up on Facebook, compared war stories, flashed our scars, cheered for each other when the follow-up scans were good, and rallied around each other when they weren’t. These are my fellow survivors and warriors, the only women I can truly sit down with and talk about “something only we know.”