Monday, December 7, 2015

Perceptions of cancer

After living with cancer for so long, I think I have a slightly different perception of cancer than many others.

On Saturday I had a table with a craft show. I started chatting with the couple at the next table. The husband said something along the lines of  'if you have your health, you  have everything'. To which I replied, well I don't have my health. He said he didn't either because he had had cancer three times. I asked him what kinds (because if you are a cancer person, you can ask other cancer people these questions). He said he had had prostate cancer and then basal skin cancer in two places.

My first thought was basal cell skin cancer? Is that very bad? Is it life threatening? Could it become life threatening? I don't know how bad it really is. I do not mean to dis his medical history but basal cell cancer doesn't strike me as being that bad. I think he was just more scared of the word 'cancer' than me at this point.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, a group of us used to joke about what the worst thing a doctor could say to us. That we had cancer. But since we had all previously heard this, there was nothing worse they could tell us.

I have since learned that being told you have chronic, incurable, progressive diseases, cancer still is the worst thing you can be told but other things can come a close second. And I am not sure how I would react to another cancer diagnosis.

I am watching GMA as they talk about how former president Carter just announced that his melanoma which had spread to his liver in brain this summer, is no longer detectable after treatment. How does that sound? Cancer which had previously metastasized is no longer detectable? So is this a cure? Or has it become a chronic disease and not a terminal one?

So why does the word cancer continue to be so scary to some people? I used to work with a woman who would say that once she heard the word cancer, she would write people off and  consider them done for as cancer was such a killer. I felt I should speak up to her and ask if she would write me off since I had cancer twice.

It is time our perceptions of cancer changed. Yes it is a killer still and will still continue to kill until a full cure is discovered. But now many people live for years and decades after a diagnosis. Before there were treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, it was a death sentence. But now there is hope.

And we need to remember that.

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