Cancer as Dictator

Posted on: July 23rd, 2013 by

This piece is based on my diagnosis and treatment years ago. One of the issues people with a serious illness face is that feeling of life spinning out of control. To this day, I have control issues, especially when seeing my doctors, and it stems from my breast cancer experience.

“You will see the oncologist on this date,” my chemo nurse politely tells me.

“But I have a meeting at work that day,” I say as I look at the new monthly treatment calendar she gave me. “I can see him the next day.”

“No, you will see the doctor on this date,” my nurse gently insists.

I feel trapped, ensnared.

My life is no longer my own. It now belongs to my medical team.

I have cancer.

Cancer dictates my treatments.

Cancer dictates my schedule.

Cancer dictates my life.

Besides my many thoughts on dying, I am watching my life reeling out of control. My medical team is working tirelessly to save my life and keep me healthy throughout treatments.

But I resent my doctors and nurses anyway.

I know these appointments are for my own good, but I’m having a very, very, very hard time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my medical team and appreciate all they do for me, but they are controlling my entire life.

Oh, and I’m losing control of my formerly healthy body, thanks to toxic treatments. I’m now plagued by infections, constipation, digestive problems, and horrific fatigue, just to name a few. I have a rendezvous with a radiation machine at the appointed time, for the appointed number of days.

I long for the good ole days when medical exams were boring, and my doctors would cheerily tell me that I was the epitome of health.

Before cancer rocked my world, I was like a building: strong, with a rock-solid foundation, reaching for my pie-in-the-sky dreams.

I trusted my body and believed if I treated it well by exercising and eating healthily, my body would pay me back with good health.

Cancer had other plans.

The cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments have crumpled my life map and make me wonder if I will even have a future.

Cancer bends buildings.

Buildings Curved

Cancer breaks my spirit.

Cancer leaves me naked, prostrate, begging medical personnel for some control over my own damn life.

Enter the meltdown during the week my radiation oncologist is on vacation. One day, after radiation treatment, I believe I don’t have to have my regular appointment with her this week. My radiation oncologist is unbelievably sunny and sweet, but let’s face it: one less doctor’s appointment is a blessing.

I am getting ready to head into the locker to change into my civilian clothes, when a nurse stops me. She ushers me into an examination room and says, “Another radiation oncologist wants to examine you.”

I try to tell her that there is some mistake, that my doctor is on vacation, that this exempts me from another exam. But the nurse gently walks me into the examination room.

I cannot cope with seeing another doctor at that time. So I do the only thing I know how to do:

I break down and sob.

The kind nurse holds me and rocks me like a baby, gently wiping my tears. I wish I knew her name, for I’m eternally grateful for her sweetness.

In less than a month, I will see some doctors, including my oncologist, and my lack-of-control hot button will go off. I will be bringing my sketchpad and do breathing exercises and remind myself that I do have some control and I’m choosing to see my physicians.

At least that’s what I’ll tell myself. I hope I listen.

How has cancer affected your and/or a loved one’s sense of control?

Please feel free to share how cancer has affected the way you perceive the world.

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6 Responses to Cancer as Dictator

  1. Helensamia had this to say about that:

    I remember when first diagnosed being told you are in hospital next week for at least 10 days!!! I thought .. I can’t do that!!! How nieve was I…you no longer have control over your life.. The doctors do!!,… Helen

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Being told you had to be in the hospital so quickly and for so long would be so scary. Talk about lack of control! Yes, unfortunately, with a diagnosis, one’s life is no longer one’s own.

      Take care,


  2. Valerie had this to say about that:

    Last fall one of my teenage grandsons came to live with my boyfriend and me. He is a quiet boy with a good sense of humor, yet he and his mom were at odds with each other. I could see their relationship spinning out of control and I feared what the outcome would be, so I talked to my significant other and we agreed that my grandson should come live with us. A short time later I was having pain in my abdomen and started having tests done…as long as I was having tests done I decided to also have a mammogram.

    Nothing prepared me for the phone call three days later saying I needed to come in that day for more tests. Later that day I left the clinic knowing I had a mass in my left breast. It was December 5th, two days later after a biopsy was done I found out I had cancer. December 18th I had a lumpectomy, in January I started chemo, and in April I began radiation therapy.

    Now that radiation therapy is over with I’m taking Letrozole, a generic for Femara. The side effects are just beginning, but I’m holding on to hope that I’ll be able to deal with them. Everything happened so fast, and no one really wants to talk about the cancer…whether or not it will come back, is it really gone? No one talks to me about any of it. I have five children and five brothers and I feel alone. I know they care, and I understand their fear…Lord knows I’m scared enough for all of us…yet I could really use their presence in my life.

    I think of my mother who found out she had cancer when it had already spread throughout her body. I think of the needless surgery she had that hastened her death and made her last few months more painful than they needed to be. I’m actually lucky…my cancer was at stage II and I’ve been told I have a good chance of surviving. Yet this is my second cancer…my first was discovered when I was four years old. The tumor was removed and because of where it was I was not given treatment. I lived a long time before breast cancer came to visit…I made it to fifty-six and now I’m fifty-seven waiting to find out if the chemo and radiation worked. Waiting is hard…the silence I live in is in some strange way deafening. I’m not good at waiting. The older I become the harder it is to wait for outcomes…to have patience…to have faith.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      I’m so sorry for all that has happened to you. It is always shocking to be diagnosed with cancer. I’m glad you had that mammogram, and the doctors found the cancer. Still, it is so difficult, emotionally and physically, to go all through this.

      And the waiting is excrutiating. To me, that was one of the worst things: to wait for my diagnosis, prognosis, and beyond.

      I’m sorry that you feel so alone in this. Cancer can be a very isolating disease. I went through the diagnosis and treatment basically alone, even though I was married. My ex-husband (then-husband at the time) didn’t help me at all. If you are interested, the post where I write about this is:

  3. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    I think that feeling of loss of control is one of the worst things about any serious illness. Cancer has been directly interfering with my life for nine years now. Finding balance, in other words, not letting it take control, is something I have to consciously work on. Some days I’m more successful than others. I know it’s been even longer for you and many others as well. Good luck with that upcoming appointment, Beth. Thanks for this important post – great title!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      Yes, losing control really stinks, doesn’t it? You have been dealing with cancer for so long, and once cancer enters our lives, it’s there in our minds and lives forever.

      It is a challenge to find balance, isn’t it? I battle a lot about not allowing cancer to control my life, but, like you, some days are just really difficult.

      Thank you for your comment and thanks for your kind words about my title!

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