Break out of Cancer Prison

Fear of cancer returning can keep you in a prison
Fear of cancer returning can keep you in a prison

QUESTION: I finished treatments almost 4 years ago, but I am still struggling with fear. I’m haunted every day by worries about cancer returning. Am I the only one that struggles with fear? Did you go through that? – STILL SCARED

 

Dear Still Scared,

You are definitely not the only one. There are many threads of discussions on cancer community boards discussing this very topic.

It takes everyone different amounts of time and different ways to get through the trauma of cancer and cancer treatment. Some people take up meditation. Some people turn to religion.  Some people throw themselves into non-cancer-related activities, like travel or knitting or sports. They ALL lean on their family and friends to remind them that you can’t live your life scared of something that MIGHT happen. You need to move on.

For me, I know that the statistical likelihood of getting cancer if you’ve had chemo PLUS the statistical likelihood of getting cancer in general as you get older…..I kind of just assume I’m going to get it again. Eventually. The trick is to catch it early enough that you can do something about it. And since I’ve beat it once, it’s totally a problem that I can get past again. So all I really need to do is make sure I keep up with my annual visits and be vigilante and everything will turn out fine.

That being said, I’m a big believer in the effects of having a positive attitude. This may not work for you. A lot of people who go through something like cancer, at any age, become depressed or can experience symptoms of PTSD. Bottling it up doesn’t help. Talk to your parents, your friends, your hospital support group. If you’ve gone this long and are still living in fear, it might be time to speak with a licensed professional.

You can’t let fear control your life. Don’t let the fear win. Don’t let the cancer win. You don’t need to be scared: been there, done that, brought home the trophy.

 

How did you cope with the fear of cancer returning? What did you use to get past the fear?

 

As always, would love to get your take in the comments. Feel free to ask a question and get updates by liking me on Facebook or following me on Twitter!

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Cancer Shouldn’t Get You Dumped

Relationships don't stop because you have cancer.
Relationships don’t stop because you have cancer.

QUESTION: I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and I’m terrified about telling my friends. I don’t know how they’ll react. Particularly my boyfriend – what if he dumps me? He’s my first real boyfriend, so I don’t really know what to do.  – DON’T WANT TO BE DUMPED

 

Dear Don’t Want to be Dumped,

That is a perfectly reasonable thing to be worried about. People react in a lot of different ways when their friends get cancer. Some of them are awesome and keep you sane; others drift away. The trick is to find out who is who quickly, so you can focus on them and not worry about the others.

I was scared of the same thing when I was diagnosed, but my boyfriend at the time, Nate, was really sweet about it. It took him a couple of minutes to process, but then he stayed by my side and supported me through the whole thing. I dragged him out of choir practice to go to the salon with me when I decided to shave my head. He visited me in the hospital. He continued to find me sexy, even when I was bald. He thought wearing different wigs on different days was hilarious… but I made sure to wear his favorite blond one when we were going out on a date.

We eventually did break up, but it had nothing to do with the cancer. We had been together for a year and a half, had grown apart, and both of us were ready to move on.

What would you do if he came to you and said he was sick? You would try to take care of him, right? I know he’s a guy, but give him some credit. You’re dating him for a reason. Or, alternatively, think about it this way: What kind of jerk dumps a girl when she’s just received such horrible news? Why would you want to be dating him anyway?

 

How did your significant other react when you were diagnosed? Were there any reactions that really surprised you?

 

Have a question of your own? Ask Chemo between Classes through the Question Submission Form or by emailing chemobetweenclasses@gmail.com . You can get new posts by subscribing via email in the lower right hand corner, liking me on Facebook, or following me on Twitter!

Friends Show Up during Chemo

Hold on to your friendships during cancer.
Hold on to your friendships during cancer.

QUESTION: My friend just got diagnosed with cancer. I’m so scared and worried, but I don’t want to do the wrong thing and make it worse. What should I do? – TRYING TO BE HELPFUL

 

Dear Helpful,

The good news is that anything you do will be helpful. So many people are very uncomfortable with cancer or don’t want to say the wrong thing that they just disappear altogether. It’s not that they don’t want to help, they just don’t know how and opt to “not bother the patient”. He/she is still your friend, nothing has changed about that, so what do you think would make them feel better? Watching a basketball game? Getting some presents? Playing board games? If you’re not close enough to hang out, send them a physical letter. Everyone loves getting mail.

Cancer can be very isolating – the very best thing you can do as a friend is show up.

When I was sick, a lot of my friends and family from out of town sent me gift baskets full of things like good-smelling soap and stuffed animals. My grandmother came down and had  a priest do a blessing on me. Several of my more religious relatives asked their churches to pray for my recovery. These were all very sweet, loving gestures to show that I was not alone.

My roommates, who did not have cars on campus, found other people with cars and drove the hour to visit me in the hospital once or twice. My boyfriend did the same thing several times, which always meant a lot to me. Best of all, my high school friends, who lived in the same town as my hospital, would stop by EVERY SINGLE TIME I went in for chemo. Mostly they just came and hung out for an hour or two and we would chat or watch movies. But it was SO important to know that I could count on them to be there, that I hadn’t driven people away by being sick.

Your friend is sick, but they’re still your friend. What would you guys normally do together? Do that. It will help. It will allow them to realize that while they have to do cancer treatment for a while, they are still the same person, that doesn’t need to change, and there will come a time when they can move past this.

 

What did you want to do with your friends when you had cancer? How did your friends help you during treatments?

 

Have a question of your own? Ask Chemo between Classes through the Question Submission Form or by emailing chemobetweenclasses@gmail.com . You can get new posts by subscribing via email in the lower right hand corner, liking me on Facebook, or following me on Twitter!

Punching Cancer in the Face

Sometimes it would be really great to punch cancer in the face and be done with it.
Sometimes it would be really great to punch cancer in the face and be done with it.

QUESTION: Why does everyone insist on calling it the “fight” against cancer? – ISN’T THERE ANOTHER WORD?

Dear Another Word,

I really wish there was. If anyone can think of one, please let me know and we will start using it immediately.

The term “fight” is problematic because it implies both a winner and an ending. Neither of these (necessarily) apply to cancer. Even if you “win”, you’re still keeping an eye out for the rest of your life knowing full well it might come back. There is no ending, no conclusion to the fight. If you “lose”, does this mean you didn’t fight hard enough? How can it mean that?

“Fight” also implies that there’s something you can do about it. There’s treatment of course, but that’s not really an action on your part. If I was going to fight a bully, I would take a martial arts class and learn how to punch someone properly and do a lot of push-ups. Then, when I actually undertook the action of fighting the bully, the winner would be determined by who had more strength and more skill.

“Fighting” cancer works in a broader sense, in the sense that doctors and researchers with the skills to actually do something are working diligently at creating more tools in the arsenal. But it fails in the individual sense, because there is very, very little, I, as an individual, can do to contribute to whether or not I win the fight.

Now, of course, there are things you can do to make it easier to win – eating enough healthy food and having a positive attitude seriously work miracles – but the actual fight comes down to the question of do the tools we have work against the problem presented?

There are many great organizations working on better tools. In the meantime, we will do the best with what we have right now.

 

What do you think? How did you “fight” against cancer?

 

Have a question of your own? Ask Chemo between Classes through the Question Submission Form or by emailing chemobetweenclasses@gmail.com . You can get new posts by subscribing via email in the lower right hand corner, liking me on Facebook, or following me on Twitter!

Anything is a Better Conversation Topic than Cancer

Cancer plays baseball!
“How about that game last night?” is always a good way to deflect conversations (about cancer or otherwise).

QUESTION: I’m in the middle of treatment and my cancer seems to be the only thing that people can talk about. It’s not that I’m trying to ignore everything, but I am more than a sick person and I do more things than get chemo treatments! Could we talk about the new Avengers movie? Or the Red Sox? Or anything else please! – MORE THAN A PATIENT

Dear More than a Patient,

You’re absolutely right. It is extremely frustrating when everyone around you wants to talk about the one thing you would rather ignore. It’s hard to maintain a self apart from your cancer when that is what everyone sees when they look at you.

The good news is, they all really care about you. Most people aren’t with you all the time, so they only ever think about your cancer in small increments, which aren’t as overwhelming. When they see you, they are genuinely trying to show their concern and help as much as they can – which is not something people know how to do.

In your case, it would probably be best to just take control of the conversation from the offset. Right when people walk in the door, say something like, “Great to see you! Did you catch the game last night?”. Most people will take their cue about how to act from you. If you are calm and relaxed and talking about baseball, which is probably something they would like to discuss as well, they will follow your lead. Or, if they manage to get in a question about how you’re feeling, you could answer and then move forward, “Same as always. Did you catch the game last night?”. The key is to redirect the conversation where YOU want it to go.

The unfortunate thing is, this will happen for the rest of time. There will be many times in your life when you’ll want to start a story with “This one time, I had cancer and….“, so redirecting the conversation is a valuable skill to learn. Good luck!

 

What would you rather talk about during cancer treatment? How did you maintain your separate, non-cancer identity?

 

Have a question of your own? Ask Chemo between Classes through the Question Submission Form or by emailing chemobetweenclasses@gmail.com . You can get new posts by subscribing via email in the lower right hand corner, liking me on Facebook, or following me on Twitter!