For the past few months, I’ve been interviewing sources for my new column in Living with Cancer magazine about the social and psychological effects of cancer, a wonderful opportunity from a wonderful magazine. Wonderful, too, for me, because I get to talk to some pretty incredible people.
- I’ve talked to a man who survived head and neck cancer with disfiguring scars that frightened co-workers. He positioned his head so clients wouldn’t fixate on the deep surgically-created indent in his neck muscles.
- I’ve talked to a woman who helped her mother live — not just endure — her final year of life before dying peacefully from lung cancer.
- I’ve talked to a young mom with a rare form of leukemia who isn’t sure she’ll see her kids grow up.
- I spoke to a woman who survived breast cancer even though she wanted to die during chemo.
- I interviewed people who were angry, and others who seemed to have let the past go, some who still have cancer and some who are holding their breath before their next follow-up visit.
Every single one of them made my heart ache with compassion, understanding, admiration and sometimes, fear. They brought it all back for me — everything I went through now four years ago — and yet, they’ve also moved me forward. It’s like wandering around China for years and then suddenly finding someone from your hometown. They get you, and you get them.
Here is some of what I’ve learned along the way. (The rest will be in Living with Cancer magazine next year.)
- Though early detection is important for breast cancer, some types can’t be found by mammogram.
- Head and neck cancer survivors often feel lonely because the treatments can leave their faces or tongues disfigured.
- Some doctors are idiots. (No, wait. I knew that one already.)
- When friends disappear when you have cancer, it’s really about them, not about you.
- One of the biggest keys to survivability isn’t attitude; it’s access to quality healthcare.
- Some women really can rock being bald. (I’m talking to you, Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller.)
- So can quite a few men.
- There’s no such thing as “routine” follow-ups for cancer, because there’s nothing routine about cancer.
What about you? What have you learned from cancer?