The Lighter Side of Cancer
There is more to surviving cancer than physically overcoming the disease. It takes a sense of humor and a positive attitude to survive.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2011. I started my journey as a bubbly, 50-something woman with a mass of thick curly hair that was the envy of all my girlfriends. I ended up as a subdued bald woman with a straight hair wig and no eyebrows or eyelashes.
I have been through it all. The constant hospital visits for tests and treatment. The six months of worry that the scar tissue showing on my MRI was an incurable and inoperable bone cancer (it wasn’t).
My Cancer Treatment
I had an aggressive form of cancer, so the treatment was intense. Life was a physical struggle on several fronts:
- The chemo side effects that forced me to stay in bed with every symptom in the book
- The mutilation of my body during cancer surgery and ugly scars
- The radiation that made me swell up like a balloon and burned my super sensitive skin to a crisp
- The wretched reconstruction surgery that painfully rearranged my torso
- The chronic fatigue that has plagued me for the last few years afterward
No fun. Yet, everything in life has a lighter side - even cancer. A sense of humor and exasperation at how certain ridiculous aspects of cancer treatment were helped pull me through. I could have wallowed in self-pity and basked in people's prattling sympathy. I chose not to do that. My sense of humor and a positive outlook came into play as I underwent treatment.
Take my hair, for example. I have always had thick, naturally curly hair. I was upset during my wig-wearing phase when people complimented me on how "good" I looked in my straight-haired wig because it was so different from the real me. I hated it. I missed my messy, curly locks. The whole “your hair will grow back thicker” after chemo thing is not always true, though my hair does seem to be getting thicker as time goes on.
One thing that mystifies me is why hair is still missing from most of my body, including my eyebrows, yet the three annoying hairs that grow under my chin are sprouting vigorously.
As my hair fell out because of chemo, I considered the advantages:
- I saw my bald head for the first time (whoopee)
- I did not need to buy and use shampoo – an unused shampoo bottle sat on a shelf for over a year
- I did not have to shave anything
- I saved a fortune in haircuts
- I wore a wig that saved much muss and fuss
- I did not even have to try to have a Mohawk (not that I was trying for one) when my hair started growing back - my thick hair stood up on end in the middle of my head like a lions mane while the sides took their time coming back
Advantages of Cancer Treatment
There are other advantages to going through cancer treatment (warning: my tongue is in cheek as I write):
I could explain any memory lapses as "chemo brain."
When I blame a memory loss on chemo brain in a light-hearted way, it tends to make people chuckle. Any tension seems to dissipate
I always had something to do during the week
- going to the hospital for drug therapy or every test under the sun
- CT scans, MRIs, mammograms, sonograms, and heart echos
- spending hours waiting to see doctors
- giving enough blood to keep a blood bank well stocked
I met some interesting people
No one can say I did not have an active life. I meet lots of new people at the Oncology Clinic, from feisty Irish seniors to young kids with iPad buds dangling from their ears.
It seemed to take doctors and staff an hour to do anything, so I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms at the hospital. I met an interesting cast of characters with cancer in the oncology waiting room or chemo treatment room. I met a diverse cancer patient population when I traveled to a cancer center for radiation treatment every day Monday through Friday for about five weeks. I got rides from Canadian Cancer Society volunteers, bless them.
We often had two or three patients with us who had appointments around the same time. We ended up chatting away for the half-hour drive and during the long waits for everyone to finish their appointments.
One patient had to share every obsessive-compulsive behavior she had, including her fear of eating potentially contaminated foods in restaurants. Others had funny quirks and characteristics that made the half-hour ride and the tedious hours in the waiting room more pleasant and entertaining.
I had great stories to tell
One of my favorites happened the second time I had a specific chemo drug. I had just started chemo when I turned beet red. I locked eyes with my nurse as I started to feel dizzy. She promptly went into action. Another nurse pulled a curtain around me and soon, my oncologist showed up. I had had an allergic reaction to the drug. This one always makes good drama, though it was not fun to be stuck there with an extra Benadryl drip for four hours.
Another story I enjoy telling is an interesting encounter at my oncology clinic with a woman whose family member had cancer. I never met this person before, so I was taken by surprise when she leaned toward me and said, "Don't believe what the doctors tell you. He (pointing to the man next to her) was told that he had terminal cancer and had six months to live. That was seven years ago." Wow, that was what I needed at the time.
Cancer is a horrible disease and treatment is an awful experience. I spent many days in bed sleeping or writhing in muscle pain. I had to train my family to clear out of the bathroom on demand. I still have some annoying symptoms even though my chemo treatments finished back in November 2011.
I had another cancer scare in August 2013. A lump appeared on a lymph node during a mammogram. For six months, I was intensely monitored with sonograms and exams. I thought to myself, could I go through this treatment ordeal again? The answer is yes. I value life too much to give up now. I could depend on my sense of humor to pull me through again if need be.
People often ask, "How do you get through something like this?" My answer is, anyway I can. I believe that life was meant to be enjoyed and I am going to treasure every moment of it.
Fortunately, breast cancer did not occur again. My main survival tool is to keep positive and use my sense of humor when I can. I can sum up with my conclusion to some of my speeches about cancer: "I do not want to be put on a pedestal. It is cold up there. I just need to keep my feet on the ground and be near a washroom.”
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2014 Carola Finch