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

    • teresa donahue says:

      You have written my story…it isn’t easy, it just needs to be lived… But life will never be the same…medications for years, feeling like I am on borrowed time, joining the ranks of the uninsurable, and even with “just” a lumpectomy the body is different

  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.

  12. There is no easy cancer.I had a 3.5 cm grade3 aggressive comedo DCIS removed from deep,close to my chest wall.It was ”in situ”,I lost over 1/4 of my breast and it is severely indented.Having comedo high grade ,even if still in situ,puts me at very high risk for an aggressive comedo invasive cancer in the same area[near chest wall] within 5 years.I also had a radial scar which adds to my already very high risk of future aggressive cancer.The 3d digital mammo almost missed me,only one pic,one angle showed anything.All the other pics plus 1/2 hour of ultrasound,all done at the hospital,were negative.I was told DCIS in situ can be the best cancer to get but now I am facing a prophylactic double mastectomy ,because not all DCIS is benign.

  13. Teresa Oxendale says:

    My 84 yr. old Father was just diagnosed with breast cancer.
    Men get breast cancer to.
    Nothing with cancer is easy!

  14. i had DCIS in 2010. Five days before treatment, my husband suffered a major stroke.
    Nothing is easy about cancer. In fact, some people told me how lucky I was.
    Funny, I didn’t feel lucky, but am thankful for the fine doctors and treatment I got.
    Cancer is cancer. All is forgiven because those lucky others who never get diagnosed are the lucky ones. They just don’t get it. May they never hear the words, “You have cancer.”

  15. Less than I year ago with the last child in University I did my research and plunked down a large chunk of money to make my boobs “pretty”. Breast feeding was not kind to my body. Today I’m waiting for my masectomy to be scheduled after an unsuccessful lumpectomy. I’m so tired and so angry at (well meaning) people who say things like “in a year from now this will all be over” and “your lucky they caught it early” or “just cut them off…who cares what you look like as long as it is gone”. I don’t feel lucky….these new boobs look amazing…so to lose them now after gaining so much confidence in the way I look just feels like a slap. I don’t feel lucky about taking drugs for the next 5 yrs or any of the things I’m going through. Yes, my cancer (IDC) might be easy to treat…but nothing about this feels “easy”.

  16. I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month ago and all I have been hearing is, “That you are fine” and, “Everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer.” They treat me as if I have a common cold that it will go away. Meanwhile I am scared of what might happen and how I am going to feel after a double mastectomy. I know that I am considered one of the lucky ones because it is considered stage 0, but the fact of the matter is that my breasts have cancer and just because it has not spread to other parts of my body doesn’t mean that I am not still frightened. Currently, I have been going into a nesting mode trying to get as much done as I can before I have surgery. I want to make sure that things are in order for my husband and children, so they won’t have a lot to worry about. There is no such thing as easy cancer because if this was easy I would be feeling a whole lot better.

    • wendy nielsen says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience and fears, Cynthia. Please keep me updated on your health.

  17. I found a great deal of comfort in all of these posts. Thank you! I had a stereotactic core needle biopsy last week and received the news only a few days ago that the biopsy contained precancerous cells. Now I am preparing for a lumpectomy in my right breast, radiation treatments and 5 years of tamoxifen. Most folks don’t even consider my condition cancer as a few friends/family members argued with me that since they caught it early and there were only a few precancerous cells, it isn’t cancer. I was even told I won the lottery of breast cancer since mine was caught in it’s earliest stages. The lottery? Really? Look, I get that I am lucky because many of you have endured much worse and my heart goes out to you all as you all are my true inspiration. I am also grateful beyond words that technology has advanced to the point where it can be detected very early but if not cancer, I’m not sure what else you would call it, “almost breast cancer,” “may-have-been-breast-cancer-if-I-weren’t-diligent-about-my-mammos,” or my favorite, “you just had a breast-cancer-scare.” Are you kidding me….just a scare? A scare happened after the first two mammograms came back suspicious and I was told to go for a biopsy….when they tell you there are precancerous cells it means they found cells in your body that began to mutate into what could become cancer. In my book that is a bit more than a just a “scare” and “nothing to worry about.” I don’t care what anyone calls it, the diagnosis still takes your feet out from under you and throws you way off center. The fear, the feelings, the disbelieve, are all the same and I can reassure anyone who has not sat in my place, you are as scared, shocked, saddened and angry as if the diagnosis were more serious. It is a big deal – to you – it is a very big deal! My doctor is very confident and positive, and the facts all support that I will physically recover fully, but I can’t say I’ll ever be “fine” as I know already that this has changed me forever. I know every annual mammogram hereafter I will be on pins and needles awaiting the results and that now my daughters are resigned to a lifetime of the same. I completely agree…yes, mine may be easy to treat but nothing about it is “easy.”

    • wendy nielsen says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience, LC.

    • wendy nielsen says:

      I’m so glad to read you found some comfort and thank you for commenting. Please keep me updated on your health! :)

      • Lumpectomy confirmed small area of DCIS (<1cm) but since surgery, my 1st visit with Oncologist found lump in left breast during exam. It seems that once suspicious looking microcalcifications were a discovered on the right not much attention was given to the left. Have MRI scheduled for this week with return visit with Oncologist for results…hoping it is nothing but worried it could be more and worse than on right. Just trying to stay positive and keep it together. New lump aside, I fall into the high risk category for reoccurrence so 5 years of tamoxifen which I started this week, and alternating mammograms and MRIs every 3 months for next 2 years then every 6 months for 3 years. Hearing the diagnosis after surgery was totally surreal and emotionally devastating but I find comfort in knowing that I am among the very fortunate as (right now anyhow) the cancer in the right breast was caught very early and considered just stage 0. I am not a warrior or consider myself a "survivor"…I'm just a regular woman with a regular life who was totally blindsided by a diagnosis I never expected. None of this has been easy. But once I surrendered to the reality of what was happening, allowed my heart to break over it all, talk out my feelings with my closest circle of friends and cry myself out, I was able to rise from the ashes with a new strength and feel better able to handled whatever comes next. (Xanax helps too) my hope is this helps another woman who is treading a similar path and let her know it is ok to freak out and be a total mess over it. It is a total game-changer and as this blog is title, nothing about it is easy. I've learned it is important to take it easy on yourself, deal one day at a time and just breathe….

    • i have breast cancer. Things have been a blur. Today I realized I may die from this. I had a lumpectomy. I am still waiting for results. Chemo next unless I need more surgery. I can not imagine putting that stuff in my body and how destructive that will be. I am scared but strong. I do not know what is next. Try to keep working or retire. If you ask too many questions you get everyone is different. So far, I feel like a statistic. What does it mean if it is not hormonal cancer? It is the harder one. I was not supposed to have cancer. Now my life has changed and I am just a visitor. The biopsy what a nightmare. Cut into you before you are numb. No cancer is not easy.

  18. After I finished my chemo and going through it alone, my husband told me,and I quote, “oh just get over it, everyone gets it, it is like the common cold. Quit your complaining”.

    • wendy nielsen says:

      Oh Maria, I am so sorry that’s been your experience. I can certainly relate. Even six years out at this point, I still feel very isolated and often feel like I can’t reach out to those closest to me to talk about my fears or worries because I don’t want to bother them with it. Please feel like you can come here if you need to chat or find me on social media and we can talk.

  19. Miri Froelich says:

    I was diagnosed with triple negative stage one breast cancer which was followed by a bilateral mastectomy with two cleared nodes removed. I had my first chemo on March 10th and been wrecked since that apt. I am truly lucky to be dealing with wonderful and loving medical personal and without there support and belief I can blast through this… I might be going in for another session. The worst part of this has been for realtives to constantly tell me that my mom ‘s death last year was a blessing. I always told her that she is the strongest person I knew. I’d give almost anything for five minutes with my mother. To have her sit down next to me look me in the eye and tell me I am strong and can do anything just like I did for the 15 years we went to her cancers.

  20. Kimberly says:

    I cried when I read this! I was just diagnosed last week and am scheduled for a double mastectomy followed by radiation. There is a %50 chance I may not need chemo. People keep saying things about how nice my “new top” is going to look and how lucky I am that it’s “just a mastectomy”. I feel like murdering the next person who says something ridiculous to me! I know that no chemo would be a blessing (I had Hodgkins Lymphoma 9 years ago so I’ve already been through chemo and radiation), but this isn’t NOTHING!! I know this doesn’t change who I am but I am feeling a huge sense of grief and loss as I prepare to have parts of my body surgically removed!!!

    • wendy nielsen says:

      I’m with you, Kimberly. Thank you for sharing and please keep me updated. If you haven’t looked around the site yet, there is a lot of blog posts to help through the recovery. I hope you find something that eases you. — Wendy

  21. I have just started down this path…. I have been trying so hard to keep a brave face and convince MYSELF that I’ve got the ‘easy’ type. Reading this makes me realize I may have blurred the lines between being ‘brave’ and denial. I’ve tried to stay positive for my family, especially my children, because I know how they respond will be determined by my actions and how information is presented. Unfortunately, I may have made too light of the situation. Not quite sure they understand….

    • This is my situation exactly! I have just started on this path myself. Since I have been told it’s the “easy” kind, I have been able to play down the seriousness and even feel guilty if I start to worry too much. I have to stay positive for my kids so they won’t worry, but the truth is, I’m still very nervous.

  22. I am scheduled for a lumpectomy/node removal this Wednesday….I am still conflicted and wonder if I should have a mastectomy instead. They assure me the success rates are equal. It is early IDC 2.2cmx1…..I’m so tired of people that have no idea what I’m going through say things like but why aren’t you just getting rid of them both and you can get new ones!!

    • I did the same thing. Chose to have a lumpectomy and then worried, if I had made the right choice. I am still waiting on my pathology report to see if I need more surgery. Chemo next for me.

  23. Love these posts! I went to my gyno 7/31/2013 to get something for the hot flashes of menopause, what I got 7 stereotactic biopsies, 2 lumpectomies, a severe case of cellutis in the breast, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, 33 radiation treatments and bilateral reductions with reconstruction. My cancer was stage 1, ER/PR +, onco score of 17. My surgeon told me, easiest, best type of cancer, we cut it out, you have a little radiation and you go on and live the rest of your life. Sounded cool! The mental and physical exhaustion was sometimes overwhelming. And although I am coming up on my 2 year mark, I just seen my oncologist and had a mammo last month and all the fears and apprehension come flooding back every time. No it wasn’t easy, I know others have it much worse, but we have all suffered and continue to do so even though we are ” cured.” I did not have to have chemo, which I am very thankful for, and I was put on every aromatase inhibitor on the market, all with bad side effects. I decided life is too short to live that way, so I refused to try tamoxifen and am not medicating at all. I feel good, and I am thankful for my life and my friends and family. I hope everyone going through the same things, can find their peace, albeit short-lived at times. Good luck to everyone and God Bless.

  24. I find myself guilty of thinking this. I got my diagnosis on March 17th of DCIS. Lumpectomy on the 26th. 2.1cm area involved, but 10×9.7x3cm excision area. Nuclear grade 3. But “all” I have to do is 37 radiation treatments and 5 years on Tamoxifen. It’s so much less than what so many other women I know have gone thru or are going thru that I almost feel guilty saying that I have cancer. I even struggle because I since the lumpectomy, technically I don’t “have” cancer any more. I’ve watched my mom go thru two surgeries and two rounds of chemo for ovarian cancer, and she will have to do maintenance chemo for the rest of her life. I have a sorority sister who recently had her 9th reconstruction surgery because of infections and problems with first her expanders and then her implants. What I’m going thru is nothing compared to all of that! I had surgical site pain for several weeks and I’m starting to get some sores and maybe a little fatigue, but that’s it. I know how blessed I am and I guess that’s why I explain it away by saying that if I had to get breast cancer, I’m lucky to have gotten the “good/easy” one.

  25. Melanie Howard says:

    I recently had a mastectomy, I did not have to have follow up treatment, and people said how lucky I was not to have chemo or loose my hair, but I lost a breast, which I think is horrendous enough, people should not comment on things they know little of.

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