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6 things you should never tell cancer patient

6 Things You Should Never Tell a Cancer Patient

6 things you should never tell cancer patientFive years ago, on June 1, 2012, I found out that, like one in eight women in America, I had breast cancer. Within a two-week period, one of our cats died, my husband lost his job, his aunt passed away and, while he was in Illinois attending her funeral, I got the news by phone.

It was caught early by an eagle-eyed radiologist who saw a small spot on my digital mammogram. Insurance companies often won’t cover this more sensitive test because it costs more. In January of 2016, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force raised the recommended age at which women should begin mammography screening from 40 to 50. (The medical community had opposed the change since it was first proposed in 2009.) Had I waited that long, I might be dead now.

I had a lumpectomy on July 3rd, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, which finished up at the end of January 2013. Five years later, I’m still cancer-free.

I bonded with several women going through the same thing. We’d pass our time in the waiting room joking about how none of us had lost weight from chemo despite what movies show, and how easy it is to forget where your eyebrows were after they fall out: Sometimes you draw them on and look angry or surprised, or angry on one side and surprised on the other.

We also talked about the comments well-meaning people said to us when they found out we had cancer. I related my friend’s story of how strangers touched her belly when she was pregnant, then got offended when she told them to stop. With cancer, too, people feel entitled to weigh in, assuming a level of familiarity that may not exist.

Here is my list, gleaned from my experience, of six things you should never tell a cancer patient:

1. Everything happens for a reason. Yes, the reason is cancer. Is it because I paid the gas bill late or didn’t send a Christmas card? Think this through, please. Even if there is some cosmic plan, is that supposed to cheer me up? (“Your death will provide a valuable life lesson for your family.”)

2. [She] is fighting a battle with cancer. My chest is not a war zone. I prefer to say I’m having a slap fight with cancer. Sounds less ominous and it’s a nice visual, too. I’ve rarely heard anyone say, “She just gave up. What a wuss!”

3. Check out this email from Johns Hopkins about what really causes cancer. This is a hoax that’s been circulating since 2008. Johns Hopkins has repeatedly refuted it, but it still terrifies people. Whoever who wrote this should be flogged.

4. This [alternative therapy] really works. Ever meet someone who cured cancer by drinking his own pee? Probably not. Want to talk to Steve Jobs about the miracle macrobiotic cure he did for months before agreeing to conventional treatment? Oh, that’s right, you can’t: he’s dead.

5. Cheese causes cancer. I blame some Internet sub-genius for starting the Big-Dairy-doesn’t-want-you-to-know-this-is-killing-you panic about casein, what Alex Jones likes to call an excitotoxin. (Funny, that’s what I call him.) Casein is a protein found in mammalian milk, including human milk. So…breastfeeding causes cancer? Milk is murder?

I’m not saying I’m an expert. Having cancer doesn’t make you an expert any more than sitting on an airplane makes you a pilot. I understand that sickness scares people; it’s only human to want to define it and reassure themselves it won’t happen to them. Bullshit artists like Louise Hay have made a lot of money blaming people for their own illnesses. Which brings me to:

6. Negativity causes cancer. If that’s true, the person who says this must be riddled with it.

You know how they say a stranger is just a friend with an unsolicited opinion you haven’t heard yet? (Okay, nobody says that, but I’m trying to start a trend.) Everyone from my cat’s veterinarian to a city’s worth of taxi drivers felt compelled to share their wisdom. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say, “Oh, this isn’t from chemo. I shaved my head to commemorate that time I killed someone for sticking his nose in my business.”

Sometimes a little negativity can be fun, no?

Related posts:
I’m Radioactive – Laughing at Cancer
Tales from the Waiting Room – Laughing at Cancer
Pink Ribbon Products from Car Horns to Handguns

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I'm Radioactive - Laughing at Cancer - Magick Sandwich

I’m Radioactive – Laughing at Cancer

June 31, 2012: On Friday, I had a radioactive seed implanted to mark the exact site of my cancerous breast tumor. The isotope is Iodine 125 with a strength of .13 millicuries.  Though Marie Curie was a pioneer in radiation research, she died as a result of long-term exposure.  It’s silly, I know, but the use of her name in dosage measurements doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy feeling. She died in 1934 and even her cookbooks are still kept in lead-lined boxes and can’t be handled without protective clothing. It’s a shame, too, because I’ve been looking for a good banana bread recipe.

Before it was injected, it was checked with a Geiger counter. The meter looked the same as ones in old Civil Defense films during the duck-and-cover, build-a-bomb-shelter-in-your-backyard era. As if the contrast to the high-tech equipment in the room weren’t enough, the clicking noise sounded like the reading of radioactive coconuts on a show about Bikini Atoll I watched recently.

So I’m radioactive. Which reminds me of this song from the 80s:

The post-implantation instructions are interesting. I have to minimize contact with young children or pets where the seed is implanted. If the seed becomes dislodged, I need to use a piece of tape or tweezers to pick it up, store it in a remote location such as a cabinet or closet as far away from carbon-based life forms as possible, and call the Radiation Safety Office immediately. So, inside boob: good. Outside boob: call the hazmat team. Iodine 125 has a half-life of 59 days but it will be taken out tomorrow morning during surgery. Today, I had a contrast dye injected. This will help my surgeon locate the lymph nodes she wants to take out. The dye contains technetium 99. This stuff is a gamma-ray emitter. Woot! Bruce Banner time!

More technetium, with a blue dye added, will be injected during surgery. So I’ll have Smurf pee for a day or two. I know I sound like I’m freaking out but really, truly, I know that without all these things, the tests and dyes and machines and doctors who use them, my prognosis might not be so good. All these things have saved many people and undoubtedly will save many more. That said, I want to leave you with one factino I learned about technetium 99. It’s reported to be dose equivalent to 500 chest X-rays. And that reminded me of this quote from Repo Man.

“Radiation. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-boxed do-gooders telling everyone it’s bad for you. Pernicious nonsense! Everybody could stand a hundred X-rays a year. They ought to have them, too.”

That’s just how my brain works, people. See you on the other side!

Update – January 26, 2018: I’m still here. Five years have passed since my lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, with no cancer recurrence. So far, so good!

Copyright Notice 2018 Magick Sandwich

Tales from Waiting Room Laughing at Cancer

Tales from the Waiting Room – Laughing at Cancer

Tales from Waiting Room Laughing at CancerFirst one mammogram, then another mammogram plus ultrasound, then biopsies. That’s how I spent the last two weeks of May. I got to know the radiology office better than I’d ever wanted to. On June 1st, I received my diagnosis of breast cancer. I needed an MRI to look for more tumors but couldn’t schedule it until my insurance company authorized it.

Once United Healthcare was sufficiently convinced that a malignancy justified further diagnostic testing, I had the MRI done on June 6th. Then I got a call that I needed a second MRI. The first had “lit up” as if there were multiple growths on both sides but they were pretty confident this was due to hormones, and the images would be “quieter” the following week. I hoped so since my mother had a bilateral mastectomy five years ago for multiple tumors.

On June 12th, I found myself once again in the same waiting room. As before it was nearly full of people, mostly women, in some stage of fear, worry or, worst of all, resignation. Some were drinking contrast dye from a cooler marked DO NOT DRINK. From their involuntary cries of disgust, I gleaned it might be the same barium I drank for a G.I. test 18 years ago. It tasted like moldy drywall. This begs the question: with all the advancements in technology, including the digitally assisted mammography that caught my cancer early, why can’t someone make a contrast solution that tastes better?

While I waited to have the test that would tell me if I had a little cancer or a lot, a news program playing on the wall-mounted TV caught my eye. Someone had shot a guy who was writing a book called Kindness in America. Was this a joke? The report continued: he was hitchhiking across the U.S. gathering stories for his memoir about the kindness of Americans when a drunk man in Montana rolled down the window of his truck and shot him. For no reason.

I cracked up. In my defense, the story also stated that the guy had only been hit in the arm and was okay.  I reasoned that getting shot would help him get a book deal. He’d need to find a way to turn it into a positive experience. He had certainly cheered me up in a rather grim setting.

Update: It turns out that the guy shot himself to get publicity. Perhaps he was affording emergency room staff the opportunity to display kindness by treating him?

Back on planet Waiting Room, I hear my name called. The nurse recognizes me and helps me with the sticky safe lock in the changing room; the phlebotomist remembers which vein she stuck the needle in for the contrast-dye IV catheter (no taste, yay!); and the doctor remembers the classic rock radio station (104.3) I favor from last time.

I ask him if people freak out about MRIs because of the TV show House. He sighs. “All the time,” he says. He’d seen an episode once where green sparks were flying out and had to stop watching because it was so inaccurate. He says it’s too bad because he hears it’s a good show. I tell him the show’s over and people were always having seizures during MRIs, and someone vomited blood in almost every episode, so maybe he hasn’t missed much. He puts the headphones on me, and as the bed rolls me inside, the radio plays Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine. Perfect.

Related posts:
I’m Radioactive – Laughing at Cancer
6 Things You Should Never Tell a Cancer Patient

Copyright Notice 2018 Magick Sandwich

Good News Really Laughing at Cancer

Good News. Really.

Good News Really Laughing at CancerA couple weeks ago, I got the news that, like one in eight women in America, I have breast cancer. Thanks to digital mammography and excellent doctors, I’m going to be fine. You’re not going to get rid of me that easily.

Considering my posts about vaginas and fart filters, it’s strange that I find this difficult to discuss. Writing about a breast shouldn’t make me feel shy. In this case, though, I am the owner of the body part that’s gone on the fritz. I have a titanium clip in there, soon to be joined by a radioactive seed for precise tumor location. I’ve dubbed it Robo-boob.

I wasn’t going to address this at all since I write an allegedly humorous blog and this tends to be pretty dramatic stuff. But here goes. I’m going to have a lumpectomy on July 3rd. (Thieves be warned. My house is staffed with attack cats.) If the excision has clear margins, meaning the entire growth has been removed, I will begin radiation a month later.

I’m not very worried about the surgery. I’ll be having “twilight sleep”–the good stuff that Michael Jackson favored. I have been assured that, unlike Michael, I will continue breathing on my own. The idea of radiation is scarier to me. Luckily, it’s not the kind that will turn me into Godzilla, the Hulk or a giant spider. Phew.

Unfortunately, my insurance won’t cover a scooter. No handicapped parking either. I did get a binder from Mt. Sinai Hospital to keep track of appointments, post-op instructions etc. But I saw some women walking around with reusable grocery bags emblazoned with the pink ribbon on them, so I’m hoping for more swag. Gotta find a silver lining to this thing.

I know that prayer is a comfort to people and makes them feel less powerless. But when someone says, “I’m praying for you,” what I hear is, “You are so screwed that only a deity you don’t believe in can save you now.” As far as I’m concerned, everyone except my surgeon is helpless in this situation. There will no Tebowing in the OR, let’s put it that way–at least while I’m awake.

A proliferation of cancerous cells will not result in a conversion experience for me. That seems like a faulty basis on which to start (or stop) believing. So, while I love my Christian friends for caring, I respectfully ask them to understand it does not make me feel better to hear about it and to please keep it to themselves. Surely I can’t be the first person to feel this way?

I’d like to address a few popular sayings/beliefs trotted out regarding cancer.

Everything happens for a reason. Yes, the reason is cancer. Is it because I paid the gas bill late or didn’t send a Christmas card?

[She] is fighting a battle with cancer. My chest is not a war zone. I prefer to say I’m having a slap fight with cancer. Sounds less ominous and it’s a nice visual, too.

Here’s an email from Johns Hopkins about breast cancer. It’s a hoax that’s been circulating since 2008. The person who wrote this should be flogged.

This [alternative therapy] really works. Ever meet someone who cured cancer by drinking his own pee? Probably not. Want to talk to Steve Jobs about the miracle macrobiotic cure he did for months before agreeing to conventional treatment? Oh, that’s right, you can’t: he’s dead.

I should point out that I am not saying I’m an expert. Having cancer doesn’t make you an expert any more than having your driver’s license makes you a Formula One racer. But I don’t think I’m so unique that no one else has had these thoughts. Bullshit artists like Louise Hay have made a lot of money getting people to think they have all the answers, which brings me to my final thought for those who would easily pass judgment on someone like me:

Negativity causes cancer. If you believe that, why don’t you have cancer, too?

Related posts:
I’m Radioactive – Laughing at Cancer
Tales from the Waiting Room – Laughing at Cancer

Copyright Notice 2018 Magick Sandwich