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!

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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!

Details Don’t Make Everyone Feel Better

Some people do research to show they care.
Some people do research to show they care.

QUESTION: I’ve recently been diagnosed and have started chemotherapy. My two sisters, who are a bit older than me, have gone crazy researching all of the various treatments and options and science behind my cancer. But I really don’t want to hear it. The doctor explains the best option in a way that I can understand. It makes me really anxious to hear about all the statistics and things. Is it bad to just trust my doctor? Do I NEED to know all the details? – CONTENT PATIENT

 

Dear Content,

You should absolutely trust your doctor. They have been involved in the fight against cancer, in various forms, for years and know all the tricks of the trade to make things go as smoothly as possible.

However, it is also a very good idea to question your doctor’s decisions. They’re only human and have a large workload. Also, all parts of treatment have trade-offs and risks, which might be more important to some people than others. Your doctor has done a risk/benefit analysis of the various parts of treatment, but their calculations might be different than yours.

For example, blood transfusions can be essential and save your life when your counts are getting low. But, there are several major complications that can occur due to blood transfusions. Obviously the risks are minimized as much as possible while the blood is being processed, but there is no way to eliminate the risk entirely. Is that a risk you are willing to take in order to increase your counts? Maybe you’re more willing to take the risk when your counts are really, really low, but not as willing when your counts are only a little low. Or maybe it’s really important to keep your counts as high as possible and you’re willing to get blood transfusions more often in order to ensure consistency. Personally, my parents were adamant that I minimize the number of blood transfusions that I received. (*DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. This is not medical advice.*)

It sounds like your sisters care very deeply about you. It sounds like they want to make sure you are getting the very best care that you can. They love you and are worried about you and this is a concrete, useful way for them to express that concern. If you’re comfortable having them sit with you while you talk to your doctor and have them voice their concerns directly, it might get you the best of both worlds. That’s what my parents did. They argued with the doctor and then I did as I was told. It worked out great for everyone.

That being said, if they’re stressing you out, it’s perfectly legit to tell them to stop. You have enough to worry about and you’re not really in top fighting form, so asking them not to add to your stress is totally acceptable. If there is another way for them to show their love (like making lots of cookies or finding you wacky hats), you could suggest that.

Cancer is one of those things that people don’t know how to react to. A lot of people bought me stuffed animals, pretty things, or delicious-smelling soap. Some people came to visit me during every single hospital stay. Some people prayed for me. My grandmother arranged to have me blessed by a priest. All forms of support can help, it’s just a matter of which one helps the most for YOU.

 

Did you do a lot of research when you were diagnosed? Did you agree with all of your doctor’s decisions?

 

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!

Chemo is the World’s Worst Weight-loss Program

Seriously, chocolate can cure anything.
Seriously, chocolate can cure anything.

QUESTION: I’m in the middle of chemo and everyone seems to be worrying that I’m not eating enough. Yea, I’ve dropped some weight, but the doctors don’t think its unhealthy. Why is everyone else stressing out? – TOO SKINNY

 

Dear Too Skinny,

The same thing happened to me. All of my friends, and my mother, thought that I was getting too skinny and they kept making me eat treats. Not that I minded, cookies are delicious, but it did get annoying to have to keep telling them that NO, I was NOT ANOREXIC.

Really, they are all just worried about you and the weight loss is the most obvious external consequence of chemo. Once you have lost your hair, you keep getting poisoned and it keeps affecting your body, but no one can see it anymore. What they can see is that you are getting skinnier and you’re getting more tired and since those are the only things that they know how to fix, they try to fix them.

It helps to remember that you’re not going through this alone. Your friends are going through it with you, as much as they can, and they want to help, as much as they can. So, if it makes them feel better to make you eat a cookie… eat a cookie. (I mean, why would you NOT want to eat a cookie?) They’re right in that your body does need as much nutrition and calories and strength as it can muster in order to get to the other side of this.

One thing that I would not recommend is doing too much clothes shopping. I finished chemo in March and then, in May, all of the department stores were having huge sales on fancy prom-type dresses. So, in my brilliance, I went out an bought several GORGEOUS floor-length gowns, that fit me, at a deep discount.

Six months later, after I had regained all of my muscle mass and was a normal weight again, I couldn’t even get them past my hips. Le sigh. So sad. I ended up giving them to a couple of my younger cousins as they were entering high school….. and they were STILL too small. Seriously. I have no clue how I fit into those dresses when I bought them. No wonder people were worried about me. Jeez.

 

Did you lose a significant amount of weight on chemo? Were there any problems when you regained your healthy weight?

 

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!

Working out post-cancer

Cancer makes you a badass. The muscles just show it.
Cancer does not mean you have to stop taking care of yourself.

QUESTION: I’ve been having chemo for a year and a half and I’m almost done. I wasn’t very good at sports or things before, but now I can barely do anything active. How long after chemo finished did you continue to feel this weak? And when were you able to start doing physical activities again? – MISSING ACTIVITY

 

Dear Missing Activity,

Quick answer first – don’t worry, it’ll all come back, just give it time.

Fun story – After I had convinced the administration to let me take a medical underload for the fall semester (instead of taking a year off), I got to school and realized that I had all of this free time that wouldn’t be taken up with classes! Brilliant! I could join some of those clubs that I hadn’t had time for last year! So, I signed up and went to the first introductory  tap dancing class.

That’s right, after 6 months of chemotherapy, I thought it would be a good idea to try tap dancing. 

After being too winded to be able to complete most of the steps in class and lightheaded throughout, I decided this was probably not the best idea. It would probably be much more wise to conserve my strength for things I actually cared about…. like walking from the parking lot to class in the mornings.

Generally speaking, after I was completely done with chemo, things rebounded within a few months. I had worn a wig all during treatment, but stopped 5 months after treatment because I had (what I considered) enough hair of my own. I finished treatment in March and in the following September I went on study abroad in France, where I was walking everywhere and staying up all night on a consistent basis. When I returned, I was able to resume the dancing and activities that I had enjoyed before.

After I graduated, I took up Crossfit. These days I can deadlift 245lbs, I can do 5 pullups in a row without thinking about it, I can climb ropes up to 10 feet. Unfortunately, I CAN’T do pushups very well….. but that’s because that was where my cancer was, in the pushup muscle on my left shoulder. So all the other muscles have to compensate for it not being there anymore.

The point is, once you’re done with treatment, once you’ve given yourself sufficient time for recovery, you can do anything. You beat cancer. You’re already a badass.

 

What sports did you have to give up during chemo? What are you doing now that you have recovered?

 

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!