Thursday, August 27, 2015

The 'joys' and solitude of a second cancer

When diagnosed with a first cancer, we are all gobsmacked, appalled, overwhelmed, stunned, depressed, shocked, awed, overrun, and more as a result. You struggle through treatment and the ensuing body changes and emotions and slowly return to that so called 'new' normal and life resumes.

Then when cancer, the 'gift that keeps on giving', shows up again, you start all over again. It can be a dreaded recurrence or metastases or you can start all over again with a new cancer. Second cancers are not recurrences but new primaries. Such a joy. Not really.

When my second cancer showed up, in some ways it put me back to where I was emotionally but I was better prepared for it emotionally. And I was more proactive in coping with it. I joined support groups, on and off line, got therapy and worked hard at accepting this new health disaster.

However, I was basically the only one I knew who had had two cancers as me. Actually I know one other person in the world who had both breast cancer and thyroid cancer. (I know there are other people who have had these two cancers because it is not that uncommon that they show up in the same person but the only person I could connect to was in Europe.) We were both in the same online support group. She posted a message asking if anyone had had both and I responded.

With one cancer, you can find a ribbon to support you, a group of people like you with the cancer, and you can all bond with each other. Or you find a group of people have had a single cancer and you all can talk about the joys of treatment. But with a second cancer, you become an outlier. Most people only get one cancer. The multiple diagnoses are much fewer.

This is starting to change. New research (because we always need more research) shows that one in five cancer diagnoses are second cancers. In the 1970s only 9% of cancer diaganoses were second cancers. There are many reasons for this:

"About 19 percent of cancers in the United States now are second-or-more cases, a recent study found. In the 1970s, it was only 9 percent. Over that period, the number of first cancers rose 70 percent while the number of second cancers rose 300 percent.

Strange as it may sound, this is partly a success story: More people are surviving cancer and living long enough to get it again, because the risk of cancer rises with age."

So since I was young to get my first cancer, before age 20, and young to get my second cancer, before age 50, am I doomed to get more cancers? But at least it won't be as lonely as this second cancer rate continues to rise.

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