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!

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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!

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!

End of an Era

Even though everyone is celebrating, it's very odd to be done with something as big as chemo.
Even though everyone is celebrating, it’s very odd to be done with something as big as chemo.

QUESTION:  I only have one more round of chemo. I’m happy I’m almost done but I also have mixed feelings… did you feel that way at the end of treatment or were you completely happy to finish? – MIXED UP

 

Dear Mixed Up,

It’s a weird thing, being done with chemo. Because on the one hand, obviously, YAY no dying! On the other, this is a huge thing that has taken up a significant portion of your life/energy/time/effort over the last year and having all of that back suddenly is a jolt. It’s the same for any large project really (my closest comparison for non-sick people is musical theatre shows – they eat your life), but cancer is something that’s much much bigger and scarier to deal with.
It’s over, but it won’t feel over for a while. You won’t be able to comprehend the fact that yes, you CAN do that thing that all your friends are doing because you won’t have to go to chemo that day. It will take a while for your hair to grow back, so you may not be able to ditch the wigs immediately, but there will come a day when it just looks like you got a cute buzz cut and you don’t need to worry about it anymore. For a while after the end of chemo, I would take a picture just before bed every night to watch the progression of my hair growing back in.
My big thing was that I wanted to study abroad and the most likely time to do that is Junior year. So when I finished chemo in March of sophomore year, I was proud of the fact that I’d stayed on schedule and would be able to study abroad as planned. It wasn’t so much happiness as satisfaction in a job executed as planned.
Then, once it’s over, you have to start thinking about how this whole huge experience will fit into your life. Will it define you? Will it move you to activism? Will you push it to the back of your mind and forget about it? Will you tell new friends or boyfriends? There are a myriad of questions that may not have occurred before. Which is why I’m here to help 🙂
(I recently read a post by Shannon Cox that addresses this same issue for breast cancer patients. It may also be helpful.)

 

How did you feel when you were finished with chemo? What was the most surprising thing about being done?

 

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!

Just Say No

I will never smoke or do drugs because I don't want to go through this again if I can help it.
Why would you voluntarily give yourself cancer?

QUESTION: My best friend smokes. I’ve asked her not to because I don’t want her to get cancer, but she won’t listen. How can I explain how awful it is and get her to quit? – WORRIED FRIEND

 

Dear Worried Friend,

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to “make” your friend quit smoking. You can offer the various nicotine patches , you can show her all of the disgusting images from health class, you can have her read this blog to learn about how cancer can affect you, but at the end of the day, it’s her choice.

Having said that, I personally have not and will never smoke. I have never done drugs (the illegal, non-prescription kind), and I never will. I try to eat healthy overall and stay out of the sun (failing at that one, tbh). Cancer, of any variation, is a horrible, painful thing to deal with and I will not subject myself to it again if I can help it.

My recommendation would be to be very open about your experience with cancer (or if someone else you know had cancer, talk about their experience). Don’t be too harsh or judgmental, since that may make her not want to hang out with you, but small consistent reminders of why cancer is bad could snowball into a compelling argument. However, there are many reasons why people start smoking in the first place. If you know why she started, perhaps that could help you both understand how to help her quit.

 

Since I’ve never dealt personally with smoking, is there anyone who can offer better advice on this question?

 

Have you been close with someone who smokes? What is the best way you have found to help them?

 

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 my Facebook page, or following me on Twitter!