What Cancer Survivors Want People To Know
Some people’s attitudes and words can make a cancer survivor’s eyes roll or force them to restrain an exasperated sigh. I have been a breast cancer patient and survivor since 2011. I have met many other people with cancer who share my feelings.
First, we cancer survivors get that however people react to the knowledge that we have cancer, most of the time, they do what they do out of love and concern for us. Here is my perspective on some of the top things that I feel cancer survivors want people to know.
There are no “cures” for cancer
As a writer who focuses on health topics, I often come across articles that promote herbs, foods, and exercise as a “cure” for cancer. Now, I am willing to try just about anything to keep the cancer monster from my door. I believe in herbs and alternate treatments, but I find a lot of the claims are far-fetched. Believe me, if there is a “cure” out there, we cancer survivors would go for it big time and the results would be splattered all over the media.
Everyone’s cancer is different. What works for one person will not work for another. I do not mind hearing about remedies, but that does not mean I want the information shoved down my throat. I do believe in herbs and homeopathic medicine, and have found them effective in other areas of my life. I have consulted naturopathic doctors in the past.
However, I was faced with a life-threatening, aggressive, Stage 3 form of breast cancer that required immediate treatment. I chose to undergo chemo in order to shrink the cancer as much as I could before surgery.
Every once and a while, a well-meaning person will send me an e-mail telling me about someone who “cured” themselves of cancer. Now, I am glad to hear that another person has survived this wicked disease, but find it hard to believe that veggies mashed into green glop performed the miracle. I do not like it when people insist that I must take this green glop myself (yech).
I wish that people would stop trying to make me feel guilty for choosing to save my life through chemo and drug therapy. I am tired of the self-righteous alternate treatment enthusiasts who push their remedies and put me down for my choice for conventional treatment while condemning the doctors. I hate people saying that doctors are drug pushers.
My cancer is not my fault
Sometimes, people raise their eyebrows when I indulge in a luxurious desert. Some are even bold enough to ask me what I am eating or if I am getting enough exercise (I am an exercise fanatic if you must know). There seems to be something about cancer that makes people feel they have the right to pry into my personal habits and correct them.
Some people think that my having cancer was a result of my not living on rabbit food all the time or not taking some herbal remedy. I feel like they are blaming me for having cancer because of my eating habits. As if I did not have enough guilt and self-blame over getting this loathsome disease. I do not need this kind of stress while I am fighting for my life.
The truth is that there are many factors that lead to cancer, most of which are totally out of my control. There is genetics, environmental pollutants (remember the movie Erin Brokovitch), and other things that are still a mystery to researchers. It is not my fault that I have had cancer.
Doctors are the good guys
I hear a lot of people bashing doctors for not accepting natural remedies and promoting harmful drugs, but that has not been my experience. I have grown to have a lot of respect for these tireless warriors who helped save my life. Here in Canada, doctors do recommend vitamins and minerals as part of a treatment plan.
The only thing I was banned from eating during chemo was grapefruit, of all things, which has an ingredient that interferes with the effectiveness of chemo drugs. None of my many doctors, oncologists, and surgeons said anything negative about herbal remedies - probably because they know that people will take them despite anything the doctors might say about them. They do ask to be informed, however, when people are taking herbal remedies to ensure that there are no adverse effects from mixing remedies with cancer medication.
Many cancer-related organizations and support groups provide information about herbal remedies and what they do. I believe that every cancer patient has the right to consider options and try them if they wish or reject them without being judged by others. I have the utmost respect to the medical team that saved my life. The chemo I endured destroyed most of my cancer back in 2012, and I have been cancer-free ever since.
Cancer is not always a death sentence
An oncologist recently commented to me that it is difficult for him to give patients a long term prognosis because cancer survivors are living longer than ever before. This is good news. Every day, there are new treatments and drugs available. I have met cancer patients who were diagnosed with terminal cancer and survived long after their expiration date.
Most cancer patients want to keep a positive outlook and to be treated the same as anyone else. I get discouraged when people treat me like I am on death’s door. I am OK with people telling me I look good, but have a problem with the astonished looks that sometimes accompany the comments. Do they expect me to look sick?
I admit that I am not back to where I was healthwise before cancer treatment, but I am getting better every day. I am living a normal life, working and taking care of my family. I want to be treated like a normal person, not a pathetic weakling.
Let me have a sense of humor
There is nothing funny about cancer itself, but some things about testing and treatment can be humorous. A few years ago, I heard a lady give a hysterically funny stand-up routine at a ladies night out show about mammograms, of all things. When I think of it, it is ridiculous to stand naked from the waist up and allow a stranger to squish the daylights out of such a private body part. The female audience laughed until they cried at the picture she presented, yet few tests are more painful for a woman.
I do like to lighten the mood of many conversations by making wisecracks about my state of being. I might joke about my bald head and lack of hair, for example, saying how much money I have saved on shaving implements, shampoo, and haircuts. My hair has come back now, but there is still lots of stuff that is fodder for my sense of humor. I want people to feel comfortable when I poke fun at the consequences of cancer. I find that humor puts people at ease. A sense of humor is evidence that I am alive and kicking.
Don’t put me on a pedestal
Life on a pedestal is no fun. The platform is narrow and confining. How on earth am I supposed to get to a bathroom? Anyway, I do not want people to “ooo” and “ahhh” just because I decided to fight for my life. If they were in the same situation, I am sure they would fight for life just as hard as I did.
My boundaries need to be respected
Everyone has boundaries. We would not think of going up to a person and criticizing their diet or insist upon them trying a certain herbal concoction. We would not blame them for being sick with diabetes or arthritis. Cancer does not eliminate the personal boundaries of cancer patients. Cancer patients have enough to deal with without people trying to interfere in their lives, even though their intentions may be good.
I realize that many people behave inappropriately with cancer patients because they love and care about them. People are scared that they might be losing a loved one or dear friend. They want to fix the situation and make it better. On the other hand, there are people who have strong opinions and push their own solutions.
As a cancer survivor, the number one thing that I want from other people is their respect – respect for my treatment choices, diet, and lifestyle. Love, acceptance, and support also help cancer survivors like myself on the difficult journey to cancer recovery.