What they don’t tell you about having cancer.

Regardless of what disease you’ve just been diagnosed with, you’ve probably been given a metric fuckton of information about it. You’ve probably been scheduled to see multiple providers without regard to your actual time constraints. You’ve probably been told a whole host of things about stuff n’ things (facts, statistics, data, opinions, culturally ingrained bullshit opinions), and you are likely now in information/sensory overload with the immediate threat of stroking out looming over you. The point is that people throw information at you like a wasted frat boy throws darts at a wall.

My preferred method for dealing with provider appointments is to show up, look attentive and, at the first mention of something depressing, stop listening. Thank the gods for people like Justin and my mother who have sat through those appointments with me and listened to the information when I could not. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be an active participant in my own treatment. Listen, when you start talking about freezing eggs and the millions of dollars it costs, expect to get traded in for the finer parts of my brain, such as Do You Think I Made the Right Decision at Breakfast? and Imagine What Would Have Happened If I had Done XYZ Seven Years Ago.

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But between shoving pink accouterments in your face and telling you that you should probably consider letting a plastic surgeon make bank off your acute despair, people forget to tell you important things, like how your life might change, or how you might want to consider mental health support immediately. Granted, I can only speak to this from the lens of breast cancer, but I have an inkling that it’s a feeling shared by many people who find their lives upturned overnight by the phrase “I’m sorry, but it’s….”.

So here’s a very incomplete and rambling list of things I’ve learned about living with a disease (that no one else mentioned).

  1. You may think you are strong and can see things through to the end without the thin veneer of bravery shattering into a thousand different pieces, but you are probably wrong. And that is okay.
  2. Your friends are going to turn it the fuck out. Their awesomeness has always been known, but it will be amplified by the threat of non-existence, and you will want to hug them that much harder when you see them. Don’t break their neck.
  3. Not all of your friends will want to stay your friends. This isn’t exactly specific to a post-whatever diagnosis, but if it happens while you’re in treatment, it’s going to sting like nothing you could imagine. George RR Martin couldn’t craft a better betrayal.
  4. You’re going to contemplate your mortality in ways you didn’t think possible. What would life be without the tangy bite of a good Gorgonzola?
  5. Decisions you were convinced were the right ones to make will vacillate between “greatest idea ever I love it so me” to “jesus christ what have I done this is all wrong” in a matter of minutes. In my case, once I’ve seen a nice pair of breasts on a Netflix show.
  6. You’re going to spend a lot of time wondering why your partner is with you when they could be with someone else who doesn’t share a temporary zip code with the cancer center. And who has hair. And who is in control of their life. And shits on a regular schedule. And who probably knows how to do winged eyeliner or some other magical craft.
  7. Your partner is going to surprise you with their kindness and understanding, and you will chastise yourself for pondering item 6.
  8. Potatoes are Satan’s gift to the world. Potato soup, mashed potatoes, lightly fried potatoes, raw potatoes, Mr. Potato Head. All amazing.
  9. You will have dreams of a day when you could brush your teeth without your gums bleeding, take a poop without bleeding, breathe…without bleeding. But then you’ll wake up.
  10. You’ll probably feel crazy and second-guess everything you think and do. It’s a real Gollum/Smeagol situation, if I’m honest. This is where it would have been helpful to have that mental health support in place.
  11. Lush bath bombs are made by kitten angels and sent to earth for your enjoyment and relaxation.
  12. BATHS. ARE. GREAT.
  13. Trying to take care of everything like you used to is a real stupid idea. Actually, this one they kind of hint at (plus, it helps to have family members who echo this sentiment), but you don’t listen because you’re so strong and can handle it.
  14. Glitter can, in fact, make things more tolerable.
  15. You will break. You will have moments of wishing that you didn’t have to see this through. End of that thought.
  16. BUT! You will get through it because, even if you don’t believe in yourself, hundreds of other people do. And you show up for the people you love, because they’re worth it.
  17. And maybe so are you.

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Edit: I forgot one! No one mentioned that the chemically-induced menopause was going to make me cry all the time. It’s onions. ONIONS.

7 thoughts on “What they don’t tell you about having cancer.”

  1. You are sooo very worth it!

    Wish I could see you and give you a huge hug, regardless of whether you want it or not.

    Miss your beautiful face and so very happy I can still read along to be reminded of your strength, wit and kick ass sense of humor!

    Thinking of you and wishing you all the best

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  2. Elspeth, this is Myra. Just wanted you to know I am following your progress and I think your amazing! I know I wouldn’t be so insightful about what your going through. I was just having a pity party last night about some stuff that doesn’t even get into the same universe with what you’re going through. Your blog today put some stuff in perspective for me. You go girl! you are going to win!

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      1. Definitely…obviously there are differences, but there are definitely similarities…and I think a huge one that oftentimes goes unacknowledged is that, just like you obviously didn’t choose to get breast cancer, just like I didn’t choose to have an eating disorder for 15+ years, and when I’m depressed, I’m obviously not choosing to be depressed and withdraw from life…

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      2. Well, there’s a huge stigma around mental health, as if it’s something that we can’t or shouldn’t talk about. But, as you said, it affects people in similar ways; and many people who have physical illnesses also suffer from mental health issues, as well. So why not talk about it? If there was as much education and awareness about mental health as there is about cancer, etc…we’d all be much better off.

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      3. Holla!! I agree completely. That is part of why i started a blog, to open up conversation. There are health psychologists that work specifically with patients with chronic and/or acute illnesses…because dealing with health issues definitely affects your mental health.

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