When Does Cancer End?
[Guest Post] As I move myself to the other side of cancer treatments, I find the following post on the theme of "do you always have cancer", both timely and relevant. Kerri Morris has kindly allowed me to include her reflection.
"Do you believe that once you have cancer you always have cancer? I guess I'm "one of those" who does. "I was at a social gathering a few weeks ago, a group I’m new to, and the conversation turned to concern about someone who hadn’t participated in the group for a long time. From what I could gather, this woman is suffering from depression and is rarely leaving her house.
One of the women said, “She had breast cancer a few years ago, and she’s one of those people who believes that once you have cancer, you always have it.”
It was clear that this woman doesn’t approve of that perspective. I don’t know if she’s had cancer or not—I think she may have—but she’s one of those people who can move on and who believes that others should, too.
As I was sitting there listening, I realized that I’m one of “those people” who believes I’ll always have cancer. The experience of cancer is woven into the tapestry of my identity. It has shaped me profoundly, and, in some ways, I’ll never move on.
However, I have great respect for folks who do move on, who shed their cancer identity as soon as treatment is done. or who never embrace it in the first place. I believe these people have resilience and a great capacity for living above life’s slings and arrows.
Still, it hurt my feelings to hear her say this. I felt defensive. I felt like defending the absent woman. I wanted to tell my story, but I knew I’d sound angry because I was feeling angry. Her comment felt so dismissive, even though I don’t believe she intended it to sound that way.
I kept quiet, and I’m glad I did because it has allowed me to think about the situation and to be curious about my own reaction. I’ve been able to sort through my feelings and thoughts. This is what I’d want this woman to know:
Cancer is more than a disease of cells gone rogue. Cancer is also a catalyst for depression and anxiety. For people who have already struggled with these, cancer can intensify them. In fact, much work is being done with regard to Quality of Life issues after cancer treatment, because so many are suffering from depression and anxiety.
Cancer is not a singular disease, nor a singular experience. Some folks are diagnosed, treated, and are able to return to their former lives without impairment. Others suffer from side effects of treatment and surgeries. Chemotherapy can cause hearing loss and neuropathy. Surgery can prevent a person from functionally physically as they did before.
Cancer follow-up testing makes it hard to move on. Those of us with bladder cancer, for instance, will be tested every year for the rest of our lives. Depending on the type and severity of the cancer, tests can be frequent, painful, and stressful.
Cancer impacts our personal relationships. Unfortunately, many of us suffer the loss of friendships and strained relationships with family. Isolation is a common side effect of cancer, a sense that we can’t live out loud because openness about cancer can make other people uncomfortable.
Cancer is a community, and once you join the community you meet people whose cancer returns and metastasizes—even10 years after “successful” treatment. It’s hard to move on from cancer if you’re an active member of this community. You live in a place where people are suffering and dying, or just struggling to cope.
If you’re the kind of person who feels that once you have cancer, you always have cancer, I urge you to reach out to a support group and to find a good counselor. For every one of our challenges, we have resources to support us and strategies for coping. Being alone in your home is not a good way to recover and to live life fully.
And for every one of you who judges those of us who feel like once we’ve had cancer, we’ll always have it, I urge you to reach out, to listen to us, to risk being uncomfortable, and to learn about how we’re feeling. You have no idea how life looks to us, when we’re alone in our homes and afraid to come out."
Please check out Kerri's blog: Cancer is Not a Gift at http://www.chicagonow.com/cancer-is-not-a-gift/.