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Can Cancer Change a Personality?

Updated on June 4, 2013

Malignant Melanoma, Stage II in 1997 -16 Years Cured!

If you introduced people I knew before 1997, my year of the cancer, to those who know me now and asked them to discuss my personality, many would think they were actually discussing two different people. Sure, there would be several consistencies across the two groups, but current acquaintances would be tossing out words like aggressive, frank, and no-nonsense, while the other group, now scandalized, is using words like quiet, unassuming, non-confrontational. Knowing this, would it be a fair observation that I now exhibit a different personality than I did before having cancer? Or is it more accurate to say, that having cancer, changed my priorities, my behaviors and my outlook- thus affecting the perception of my personality?

Those who have, are fighting or have fought and beat cancer will tell you that the experience will certainly change a person. One of the first noticeable changes is usually seen in how they prioritize their life. As a cancer patient, regardless of the severity, you are instantly assaulted with the reality of your own mortality. What may seem to others to be an unhealthy obsession with death, is actually the first step in the fight for survival. Confronting death is the catalyst to the realization that trivial things aren't as important as family, faith, security or health. Prestigious jobs, lots of money and winning a popularity contest aren't what life is now comprised of for the cancer patient. This epiphany can cause the patient to become less tolerant to facades and more interested in choices and decisions that directly affect their life, their loved ones and their reality. Suddenly, it seems, they don't really care what the Jones' bought, where the Jones' went or what the Jones' think of them. Did their personality change? Or did the re-prioritization of their life simply allow them to circumvent the clutter of social niceties and expectations evolving them into a sanitized yet seemingly harsher version of who they always were?

This new and improved person, the cancer patient, now moves on to a new stage in their recovery from the frightening cancer conflict- behavior modification. The realization of what things are truly important in life, now becomes a motto to live by-a mantra, a purpose, a need or a want to wake up those around them so that they too, may become enlightened with this life-altering knowledge. They wax on prosaically about the virtues of this knowledge and become some of the bluntest people you have ever had the privilege of being near!

Do these jeans make my butt look big? - Yes, yes they do. So? Don't you like you the way you are? Is your butt size really the most important thing we need to consider today?

It seems that the revelation of what's important perverts itself into a state irritation with society and people in general who are not buying what the cancer patient is selling. They don't get it, so eventually the patient moves on, believing that while they know what it is that is most important, it is not worth non-reciprocated attempts to convert the heathens. They now, just say what they want, when they want, point out what they see, and basically, just don't take any crap from anyone anymore! Why? Well, possibly two reasons. One, life is suddenly too short to bother with sugar-coating things, and two, the patient now has something to focus on besides dying! Did their personality change? Or did their behavior simply become modified in an effort to cope with the changing world around them? Did they simply just start saying what they really thought instead of just thinking what they really thought?

Now, the patient makes a decision. This decision can be an unconscious choice, but it's a choice none the less and it is based on their outlook of the present and the future. Fight or flight? I'm either dying or recovering, how do I want to spend the rest of my days? Have I settled into my skin and plan to continue to hold nothing back- fight? Or, am I unhappy with myself now and choose to revert back to my previous self and live out my days as the exact same person everyone knew in 9th grade- flight.

No matter the final choice, those who have supported the cancer patient, those who have loved them and those who have witnessed this supposed change in personality, must realize an incontrovertible fact. Cancer has affected everyone's lives, it's a monster, a beast.....it deserves to be destroyed and triumphed over! It is also a fulcrum, a turning point- an unscheduled mid-life crisis. Accept your friend and loved one for who they always were; the cancer didn't change their personality. The cancer gave them new priorities, new behaviors and a different outlook on life, but they will always be the person you knew and loved deep down....the person that used to lie to you, and tell you those jeans made your butt look perfect- while plastering on the sincerest fake smile they can muster; or the person that now tells you to hurry up and change out of those jeans before your rear end is mistaken for a small continent which a plane will land on at any minute-while smiling a secret smile filled with love!



Did Cancer 'Change' Someone you Know?

I know someone that seemed a completely different person after their fight with cancer.

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      Steph 3 years ago

      I googled "cancer personality change" causing this to come up. I was always a nice person but now I am nicer. I care more about people but less about what people think of me. Why not? I need to live my life as ME. Death has no "stand ins" I will die, not some stunt actor. Having c:ancer has caused me to be more genuine with people: I am more open about expressing caring for friends but that might also involve expressing they lose a few pounds for their health. This experience has mad me realize that we forestall awareness of our evetual demise

      , like a wino drinking out of a bottle in a paper bag, unaware that the end is eventually coming. Cancer pulls the bag off of the bottle of life and quickens our aplreciation for our appreciation of existence. I may never hear from my cancer again....or I may die.of it in a year. I simply do not know what, will "get me" in the end but I appreciate the heigbtened awareness of Life itself that I have gained from this.

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      brigitte001 3 years ago

      My husband had cancer and I nursed him through it recurring 3 times, whist bringing up 3 young kids in a foreign country. He amazed me with his positive outlook against a fairly bleak prognosis, and I felt our marriage was much stronger for the experience. I was truly in awe of his determination to beat it.

      But after he recovered he became really selfish, drifted away from his family and perused his own agenda, became intolerant of others and generally a completely different man.

      He eventually walked out on me and our children (after 27 years together) to live with another woman who had also gone through the "cancer experience" and who he claimed understood him better.

      I don't think he is any happier for the choices he has made, and he has certainly left a trail of devastation behind him for his family and friends.

      So yes, I believe cancer does change people - but not necessarily for the better.

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      Anne 2 years ago

      I have the same story as Brigitte001. My husband had a devasting terminal cancer diagnosis. We were told there was no hope. But our oncologist got him onto a trial drug and miraculously, it put him into remission. He's been in remission now, for 9 years and the specialists now say has a very promising future.

      He left me a year ago, after 34 wonderful years of marriage, to be with a woman he'd been having a clandestine affair with for the previous 6 months. I was completely blind sided about the affair and also when he left - as we had the best and closest and most loving relationship of any couple we knew. At least, I thought so.

      He got a quick divorce from me straight after leaving me and married his mistress 2 weeks later. But I've heard from friends that he's not as happy as he was in our long marriage. His new wife wasn't there 9 years ago, fighting alongside him, holding him close in the wee hours of the morning, praying with every breath that her husband would survive. Fighting cancer brought us closer together than ever. While he was undergoing treatment he came home one day with 100 roses in a bouquet that took two people to carry into our house. When I asked what that was all about, he had tears in his eyes and said to me that "these flowers are for all the flowers that I'll never be able to give you after I'm gone." He and I were devastated that cancer was going to do what nothing else could - it was going to separate us forever - we were so close.

      So ... maybe that was his mistress's appeal for him ... she didn't remind him of a traumatic part of his life, and I still do.

      So yes, he changed personality once he had beaten cancer and realised he was going to live. It was like he'd been given a second chance to have a brand new life and to see if the grass was greener, no matter what the cost to anybody else. He turned selfish, self-focussed almost overnight and started to walk all over anyone that got in the way of him looking for a brand new life. His (pre-cancer) personality was the complete opposite of what he is now. He used to be so wonderful and gentle and perfect. He was (and sadly still is) the love of my life.

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      mari 2 years ago

      Yes cancer does changes people perception of life. My cousin was humble not good but a great loving, caring mother and person , than she was diagnosed with cervical cancer 7 years ago. She was a good person but not spiritual. She then asepted the Lord .She too beat cancer and once she realised she was "cancer free". She started going out nightclubing she stop caring became cold. She could be hurting but she egnore her symptoms. She recently got diagnosed again with

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      Lee 8 months ago

      I am a breast cancer survivor and honestly I don't think anyone can comment on the journey unless you have actually gone through cancer yourself. Family and friends say they know what you've been through but they really don't.

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      brigitte001 7 months ago

      Yes Lee, I do completely "get" that nobody can comment on a cancer survivors journey until they have lived it themselves, but this post and the comments are not disputing that fact. Likewise you, and others like you, can not comment on the "journey" your loved ones have gone through witnessing it. I am truly sorry that you had to go through the horrendouse ordeal of cancer treatment.

      However, as myself, Anne and mari have said (and 98% of people who have taken this poll) the cancer survivor's personality DOES change as a result of the experience. Having a brush with his own mortality made my husband seize his life, take risks and persue his own selfish agenda, regardless of the pain it caused to his family and friends. I beleive that the fallout for the likes of myself and Anne, is as sad and as raw as the trauma our husbands went through with cancer treatment. And it's ongoing ....... there's no remission or all clear for us.

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