Monday, May 19, 2008

Cancer Curmudgeon

Those of us with cancer or loved ones with cancer have come across things in Cancer World that annoy us. Here are some of my pet peeves:

1) Miracle cancer cures. Yes, miracles happen. But they're called miracles for a reason. Definition: "An extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause." So let them happen if they're going to... supernaturally. Eating exotic roots and berries isn't going to make cancer cells go away. If they did, we'd all be eating roots and berries and nobody would have cancer.

2) Stories about those who didn't make it. I like hearing stories about cancer patients who beat the odds. But it really does me no good to hear about people who've died from cancer. Unless it's somebody I know, or somebody who was important to somebody I know, of course. But random stories about some lady in Kansas who died after going through every medical and alternative therapy imaginable and suffered an agonizingly painful death? Now, why do I need to know that?

3) Unthought-out and uninformed optimism. "You beat this before and you can beat it again." "You'll be cured." "You're going to live to be a hundred." I see the intent behind comments like these and I'm thankful for the sentiment. But let's be realistic. I didn't beat this before because hey, I've got cancer again and it's in my brain, lungs, liver, bones, soft tissue, lymph nodes, skin, and who knows where else that the scans can't pick up. The chances of me being cured of cancer is too silly to even contemplate. And no, I won't live to be a hundred. I don't want to live to be a hundred.

4) Unexamined cliches. "Live each day as if it were your last." "Appreciate every single second of your day." "Follow your dreams, no matter what." Again, I see the intent behind these comments, but I have to wonder if the people saying them even understand what they're saying. If you knew today was your last day alive, I doubt you'd spend it enjoying life. You're more likely to be in a wild panic. There are many seconds of the day that really aren't worth appreciating. Besides, stopping to appreciate every little thing would put your life into slow-motion. Following your dreams might mean that you make selfish decisions that affect your family and friends. You might have to drop or change your dreams. Of course these cliches are just words and not meant to be taken literally. I wish people wouldn't say them then. Say what you mean, not what you read on a Hallmark card.

5) Accusations that I'm being pessimistic or giving up. I've made out a Will and an Advance Directive. I'm preparing things to leave behind for my kids. I'm estimating my lifespan based on statistics, medical knowledge, and my own progress with treatment. I'm also allowing for the "Shin factor" and that I may indeed still be around way past my expiry date. But I'm planning otherwise, just in case. That doesn't mean I'm giving up. I'm being realistic and responsible. If you want to live in La-la Land and believe I'll be around to see my great-grandchildren, you go ahead. But don't push your fantasy on me or accuse me of giving up.

6) People telling me not to talk about my own death. I tell a friend I'd like her to tell my kids about this-or-that after I'm dead and I'm met with a remonstrative "Don't say that! You're not gonna die!" Denial. It ain't just a river in Egypt.

7) Morally bankrupt people like the person who stole the cancer books I donated to my doctor's office. I was planning to start a library in my oncologist's waiting room. I started with two books and I wrote on them, "Please do not remove. This book has been donated to patients for their use." What kind of person would steal books donated to cancer patients?

Tell me, folks In Cancer World. What are some of YOUR pet peeves?


Anonymous said...

I totally agree and can relate with all seven points that you have made...I remember my Dad always saying "that he's a dead man walking" (as he had just cashed in one of his life insurance policies!) and my Mum, sister and I would all squirm and look at each other not knowing what to say, as we couldn't exactly say "don't be daft" or "you will be here in a year".
Then he said to me that this was the realisation of whats happening to him and facing issues truthfully, helped him mentally prepare for what's ahead....he was a very "balck&white" kind of guy and did not like all the "frilly talk" as he always said! it was difficult for me to initially talk openly and honestly about what was happening because I didn't want him to leave me, but then I thought about his feelings and just took every day as it came and hugged him even more...
Angela xx

Leighbee said...

What kind of person would steal those books............???? A desperate person??? I hope that I just made the right judgement???!! I too had a similar pain when I recently visited the UK to discover someone/body had used my darling daughters "memorial" as an air gun target damaging too much to mention..........My only hope of surviving the pain was to consider these people to be more pained in their own existance so having little regard for others......???? In actual fact there is a BIG story to tell here but not now - this is Shins Blog - I have my own.... x

Francesca Giessmann said...

i agree with all and if I may add a couple more:

1. "Wow.. you have cancer but you didn't loose any weight!"
Steroids , that kept me alive, made me gain a significant amount of weight and I looked like a Macy's Float of Humpy Dumpy ... no kidding!

2. " Well, you know , we can all die tomorrow being hit by a bus!"
Just count how many people you know that has cancer and how many have been actually hit by a bus.

ciao, ciao

Deb said...

You're going to leave us some great memories and hopefully teach us a few things along the way.


ALI KATI said...

- People who imply somehow as a first reaction that it must be your fault that you got cancer. "Ah yes, I think a bad diet and stress causes cancer."

- People who then tell you, that you ought to be strong and inspirational, since you know, your cancer is meant as a story for other people. You are the brave cancer character in their life sit-com!

- People who use your cancer as their cancer card against you. "Oh I was such a nice person to you when you were sick." Hubba what?

- Or people who have very weird/low EQ who come up with stuff like "Oh your life should be a book/TV movie, serialised drama..."

Gotta laugh, really.

Leighbee said...

What is it with that "you could get hit by a bus tomorrow" comment? I have heard it so many times yet like you know of noone who ever has been.........BIZZARE! Maybe I'll Google it and see where the saying derived from..........

Leighbee said...

Well............MORE Bizzare as when I googled "hit by a bus" I came across another cancer sufferers diary! The person concerned uses the phrase:

'You could get hit by a bus, but they're all up on the curb and I'm already standing in the road.

Anyone interested in reading yet another frank survival story may like to access the diary via the following link:-


Shin said...

Dear Leigh,

Thanks for the link to the New York Times series,"35 and Mortal: A Breast Cancer Diary".

I've read through it a bit and I think it's one of the more intelligent, heartfelt, and articulate accounts of living with cancer I've read on the Internet. It starts in December 1996 and goes to June 1997.

A Google search tells me she's still alive.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this post Shin. I read it and thought...yup...Shin Na wrote this! My old newsroom buddy who would stare down the devil (in a tactful but determined way of course) if he didn't agree with her story line-up for the A block.

You've still got it.

Lisa O.