The Easy Cancer

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and came across an update from a friend who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her update is irrelevant for the sake of this blog post but it was something related to her impending treatment. What really got me was one of the replies. It read:

“Hope yours is the easy one.”

When I read this, I whipped out my iPhone and furiously typed out “MUST DEBUNK MYTH THAT THERE IS AN EASY CANCER!”

You see, I had what is probably considered the “easy” kind of breast cancer. But, nothing about treatment or survivorship has been easy. I think a comment like this minimizes everything from the diagnosis, the fears, the feelings, and the strength we draw upon. Cancer is cancer is cancer.

I so totally get that people don’t exactly know what to say when they learn a friend has cancer. So this person’s reply is actually a very typical response. My problem is that it’s rooted in misconception.

There are tons of variables when it comes to a breast cancer diagnosis. Hormone positive breast cancers are thought to be the easiest to treat. Patients with hormone positive cancers have more treatment options and long term hormone-blocking therapies. The prognosis is better for women with hormone positive cancers and thus survival rates are better. Easier to treat does not equal easy.wendy-nielsen-breast-cancer-101-final-01

Comments

  1. Exactly!People would say how lucky I was that I had the “best” cancer. BEST? When they say “You have cancer,” everything that comes after is about surviving. I was accused of being cavalier about my diagnosis but nothing could be further from the truth. I was just well-informed, and had excellent medical advice, something that gave me confidence in the decisions I made (choosing to have a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy also seemed to give people the impression it wasn’t as serious). It’s my nature to be matter of fact and take bumps or landmine in this case, in stride, nevertheless, nothing about it was easy. I found myself beginning to resent the attitude that I was breezing through treatment. Which was almost as annoying as those who made comments about me being so brave and heroic, um, no. I’m a patient not a soldier. I was fortunate that I had good insurance, live where there is high quality medical care and have a large loving support system of neighbors, friends and family. Those things made life easier, not having cancer easier.

    • wendy nielsen says:

      There are so many truths in what you just shared, Lynne! Also, I’ll be featuring another month of stories about life after cancer during October. Did it last year and would love for you to consider being part of the 2014 edition! Email me at wendy@wendy-nielsen.com if you are interested!

    • Di Shepherd says:

      When I was diagnosed in November of 2012 with Breast Cancer, I too was told by the very medical staff who would treat me that “if there was a good cancer to have…I was the lucky one…it was caught early (@Stage 1), so I would be fine…” I kept the diagnosis my secret from my husband and family, friends until I knew my course of treatment and had gathered all the facts as my ammunition for survival. That was never a question! I face life head on and when the going gets tough – I just get tougher! I have a great attitude, faith in God and strong, positive spirit. After two lumpectomy surgeries and the many experiences that go along with and before that; then 36 rounds of radiation…I even now at times feel guilty; distracted from what I had faced …because I “shouldn’t feel”…with such an “easy, good cancer…” -Di

  2. Sometimes I’m glad people haven’t got a clue – I’m happy for their innocence in that area of pain. Other times I want to grab them and let them see inside my head for just a minute to understand and know better. But there is no easy cancer. There is no easy emotional or physical trauma of any kind. ~Catherine

  3. I’m thrilled you wrote this. None of this is easy for anyone, no matter what stage or age or choice of treatment. I think we all share similar fears, similar pain and to separate it out takes the power out of that.

  4. I do try to keep in mind that people don’t know what to say, but this is NOT the thing to say! I had people say some pretty stupid things when I was diagnosed.

    • wendy nielsen says:

      Yes, I am totally cutting this person some slack because people never know what to say. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have the conversation about changing the way people view certain cancers.

  5. Michelle says:

    I had breast cancer at 24 and people would tell me that I was “lucky” to have it so young because it is easy when you are younger. At 24, I was married. At 24, I had babies. At 24, there was nothing lucky about having cancer. And certainly nothing was easy about it.

    • wendy nielsen says:

      Thank you for commenting, Michelle!
      I would love for you to consider be part of my October series where I have women share their stories about life after breast cancer. If you’re interested, please email me at wendy@wendy-nielsen.com. :)

  6. While this kind of stuff makes me nuts, it also makes me realize that it’s true that people have NO idea what to say when a friend gets cancer. I think it’s frustrating because you’re right, there is NO easy cancer… My mom had an “easy” cancer… but even though she didn’t have to do radiation and chemo, she still had to have a double mastectomy, had tamoxifen jack up her system, her teeth, her hair, her emotions, has no feeling in her new breasts and lives in fear of getting cancer again.

    yup, super easy.

    • wendy nielsen says:

      Yes, yes, yes… that fear of metastatic disease can be crippling. I certainly have my own struggles with it! I think I need to write a post about things people should say when they learn a friend has cancer. I know there is probably one or a million out there already, though.

  7. Hi Wendy,

    I have been following your blog and this post just made me “need” to add my comment.

    I just completed radiation and the end of treatment after a very long year, for Inflammatory Breast Cancer, triple negative. This being one of the most rare and most aggressive types of breast cancer with a fairly low survival rate. So supposedly a not easy one without many treatment options. However the “best” kind that respondes well to traditional treatment. So does the “easy” kind make it any better? NOT!

    You are right cancer is cancer is cancer and none of it is easy mentally or physically. All treatment is hard on our bodies and minds. We are all strong to get through it because we have to be not because we want to be.

    Karin

    • wendy nielsen says:

      Amen, sister! I am so glad you follow and felt compelled to comment today!
      So, do you feel like you are wearing a lead vest now after finishing radiation? I was nearly broken by physical exhaustion during that treatment. It goes away though..just remember that! Also, you might have seen me mention it.. I’d love for you to contribute to my October series about life after breast cancer. If you’re interested, please email me at wendy@wendy-nielsen.com and I’ll get you added to my list of contributors!! xo

  8. From this side, it’s so hard to know what to say. That’s why I’m so thankful there are people like you educating the rest of us. It’s so important.

  9. Thank you for speaking my mind!!!

  10. Are they kidding?! What an awful thing to say! As a Type 1 Diabetic, I get, “Oooh, that’s the bad kind, right?” while yes, I do keep myself alive artificially,& type 2 or 3 you may still make your own insulin, the other types are not GOOD, either!! All I can figure (& hope??) is that people mean well, they just do not know what to say when they hear someone is ill or has conditions.

  11. While I agree with most of what has been said here, I have to say that during my treatment for breast cancer one of my coping mechanisms was to tell myself that while yes, I have cancer, at least it is not a hard one to treat – my cancer didn’t make me ill (except for the chemo side-effects obviously) unlike lots of other cancers that are often only detected after the person affected has become ill, and my tumour was relatively easy to remove, unlike other cancers which could be much deeper in the body. I would never say that my treatment has actually BEEN easy, I have had some horrible times over the past 9 months but I would say that the whole experience was not as bad as I feared it was going to be when I was first diagnosed. Personally, the phrase I hate most when talking about breast cancer to people is when they say” oh no, my Mum/Auntie/Gran/neighbour died of that”. I do agree with Lynne, above, about being labelled as brave because I was to the outside world apparently coping really well, I would argue that going into a burning building to save someones life is brave, all I have done is go through treatment with a determined look on my face instead of pulling the duvet over my head! I too feel fortunate that I live where I could receive prompt and excellent treatment.

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