Beneath an externally beautiful bathroom lurked this — decomposing wood, mold, and rotting plaster. Pretty ugly, huh?
Well so is cancer.
First a caveat: I do feel positively about cancer public awareness campaigns and events. In fact, I’ve participated in a number of them.
However, two of the many cancer bloggers I read avidly and respect, Nancy Stordahl of Nancy’s Point and Anna Rachnel of The Cancer Culture Chronicles, have made an important point: that cancer campaigns are not quite effective if they don’t raise enough money for research — which is essential if we have any chance to cure this horrible disease. I could sum up what these terrific bloggers wrote, but they say it better than I could, so please visit their sites.
By the way, I’m not just talking breast cancer here, but all kinds of cancer, including ovarian — which is highly deadly (I lost a friend to ovarian) and gets almost no publicity.
There seems to be a disconnect between our society and cancer patients. Many in today’s culture embrace the person who is “cured” as the poster child representing a brave battle against cancer. Even those who die from this disease are referred to as having “lost their courageous battle against cancer.”
Cancer is made to look pretty in TV shows and media — after all, the heroine either beats cancer and goes on with life as usual with no psychological problems or dies looking beautiful, with her loving family and friends by her side.
Yes, most movies and TV shows like to have women, rather than men, stricken by cancer. Why is that?
Anyway, while so many in society are extolling the virtue and courage and the “you-look-so-good” of cancer patients, here’s the sobering truth:
Cancer is ugly.
Here is some food for thought:
Not enough attention is spent on women with metastatic disease. Many women — young and old — have cancer that’s spread. And this is heartbreaking. Without lots of funding for research, it’s impossible to find a cure.
People with cancer are no braver or more courageous than the general population. In fact, we are a part of the general population, and we are frightened as hell. Please don’t put us on a pedestal as superheroes.
There is no cure for breast cancer in particular. Anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer can find that the cancer has spread at any point in their lives.
A good number of men get breast cancer. Why aren’t there sufficient campaigns and attention on these individuals?
Cancer has a long-time/permanent effect on one’s psyche. We who have been diagnosed with cancer are often afraid that it will come back, or take our lives, or that each ache, pain, or bruise is cancer. We are never the same. This doesn’t mean we don’t live life to the fullest or have contentment, but we are sometimes hijacked by the fear that cancer causes.
Words like “think positively” are damaging to the cancer patient. These words imply that the patient has control over his or her own cancer, which puts shame and blame on the patient if he/she never gets well. It is also harmful to the patient who does recover because his/her recovery is attributed to positive thinking, rather than cancer treatments and/or sheer luck. Besides, cancer patients also have the right to feel sorry for themselves at times.
Not all people on chemotherapy lose their hair. I was one of them. While it’s far better to keep one’s hair than go bald during treatments, people who don’t have cancer assume that if one has his/her hair, then he/she feels great. I did look great, but I was so horribly ill, that I would rather die than go through that again. Yet people kept telling me how great I looked and assumed that I felt good — just because I didn’t lose my hair.
Those who have been treated for cancer often have permanent, long-term effects from the disease and/or treatments. In my case, I went through premature menopause (which sucked because I wanted a child), lots of bone loss (I have osteopenia), a changed body, and surgical pain that never goes away and is a reminder of my battle with cancer.
Friends and family can be a great support or not so great. Some of our friends pull away from us during a time we need them most. This happened to me during breast cancer diagnosis, and the rejection felt worse than the actual diagnosis itself. Luckily, most of the individuals in my life were supportive.
Those who are caregivers need support, as well. It is exceedingly difficult to care for an ill loved one, and these caregivers need others to help encourage them.
Interestingly, I’m caught up as a contributor to the whole cancer societal myth. During my public speaking engagements and discussions with the public, I represent the face of breast cancer. I hear sighs of admiration and awe when people hear my story.
Yet, my job is to raise public awareness, not to tell people how heroic and great I am for facing such an ugly disease. I lost several friends to cancer and have watched another friend go through treatments for cancer and survive.
There is nothing heroic about enduring cancer. It is a human experience, not a superhuman one.