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 eye brows 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).
I found comfort in a strong faith in God. Many friends and caring medical professionals have also helped me on my journey.
My cancer treatment
I had an aggressive form of cancer, so the treatment was intense. Life was a physical struggle on a number of 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
No fun. Yet, everything in life has a lighter side - even cancer. A sense of humor and exasperation at the ridiculousness of certain aspects of cancer treatment has 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 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 that why hair is still missing from most of my body, including my eye brows, 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 met acquaintances I had not seen in a whiIe, I could play the "Do they know who I am?” game. Some people did not recognize me at first with a toque on my head or short, straight hair and no eyebrows.
For the first time, I got to experience ailments that afflict other humans like digestive problems and constipation. People, you have my sympathies.
I always had something to do during the week: going to the hospital for drug therapy or every test under the sun such as biopsies; CT scans; MRIs; mammograms; sonograms; heart echos; and giving enough blood to keep a blood bank well stocked. 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.
I met an interesting cast of characters with cancer in the oncology waiting room or chemo treatment room, where it seemed to take the staff at least an hour to get anything done. I met the most 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, so 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 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 certain 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 her family member) 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 awful. 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 recently had another cancer scare in August, 2013. when a lump appeared on a lymph node during a mammogram. For six months, I have been 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.
In spite of it all, my prognosis looks really good so far. My main survival tool is to keep positive and use my sense of humor when I can.
© 2014 Carola Finch