The Game of Cancer

HealHeal Fall 2021

A survivor makes a comparison between cancer and a game. "Our bodies are the box the game comes in. How we deal with our cancer is the game we play," she writes.

When we think of games, we typically do not think of cancer as one. But cancer is a game with all the parts and pieces. The parts of a game include the box, gameboard, directions, rules, tokens, challenges, penalties, strategies, dice, spinners and other things dependent on the competition with the result of winners and losers. As kids, we play games with family and friends. We continue to play games as adults. We learn strategies to beat other players. Often, we lose while we are learning those strategies. But the next time we roll the right number, we can get our token or marble on the board, and we continue to play the game.

So how does a game relate to cancer? Our bodies are the box the game comes in. How we deal with our cancer is the game we play. The gameboard is our path that we are expected to follow; collect $200 or go to jail. The tokens are the people that surround us. Sometimes they are family and friends. Others include physicians, nurses, techs and receptionists. The obvious challenge is to get well and fight the cancer that you have with all you have. Your strategies are finding ways to move forward on the board and get through the difficult procedures, medicines and hard discussions. Sometimes, we take the chances of a spinner or dice roll. Should I seek another opinion or another hospital? Is one medicine less toxic with fewer side effects? Other times, we follow protocol because of the research out there on the specific cancer we fight.

I have been “playing” the game of cancer for a long time. Even though I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer back in 2013, I knew something was wrong in 2012. I did go to my regular physician, but the doctor did not find anything wrong with my gallbladder, which is all she checked. I should have gone to another doctor right then, but I waited for five months before seeing my gynecologist and then the cancer was found. Hindsight is 20/20. How I wish I would have done things differently.

I continue to “play” the cancer game every day. You are never away from the gameboard. Sometimes you do get to collect that $200. Other times, the challenge is to get to the next day and remain vigilant in your fight. The game of cancer is emotionally, socially, physically and financially challenging. The mental difficulties, social interactions with others, the changes in your body and paying for an expensive disease to try to manage can wreak havoc with your fight against your cancer.

Emotionally, the game of cancer can take a toll in your head. You start seeing commercials on television or media for pharmaceuticals for every disease out there, sometimes for the actual cancer that you have. It would be nice to not have the constant reminder or tap on the shoulder that you are fighting for your life. Oh, how I wish I had psoriasis or at least something that was not cancer. Patients with psoriasis: do not take this comment as a slam against you. I just wish my disease was not cancer.

Socially, the “game” of cancer can be a two-edged sword. For me, I chose not to wear a wig when I lost all my hair from my first chemo. Hats were my choice. I wore all kinds of hats – pretty fun colors, ball caps, wide brim beach hats and sometimes just a bandana. Because I was bald, I had all sorts of people come up to me and make supportive comments. “I will pray for you,” and “I love your hat,” they said. Their intentions were good, but sometimes, it was awkward. My worst comment was from a gentleman who clearly had health issues. One evening, I was in a restaurant wearing my hat. This man came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and asked, “What kind of cancer do you have?” as he held his fingers to his throat to cover the hole in his trachea from his cancer. He was a bit too close and that was uncomfortable for me. My best comment was from a gal coming out of the grocery store. She was darling with cute blonde hair below her chin, and she said, “I looked just like you a year ago. You are going to be okay! Good luck!”

Physically, if you are fighting cancer, you know what I am talking about. If you have just recently been diagnosed with cancer, then you will know. My body has drastically changed. I have incision scars from surgeries, bad veins and baldness from chemo, burns from radiation and bruises from bloodwork. My body can feel very beat up on some days. However, the incisions are less pronounced, the veins have withstood the chemicals and the radiation burns have healed.

Financially, the game of cancer is expensive. Thank goodness for insurance. My one surgery bill was over $100,000. I did have to pay $6,000 over time. Chemo and radiation costs add up quickly as well.

The emotional, social, physical and financial toll on you and your family are honestly difficult. But I am here today to say it is all worth it. I try to remain positive and celebrate that my cancer is under control and in remission as of just this past week. I still go out to dinner, meet with family and friends and live my life to the fullest every day. I use the medicines prescribed to alleviate the pains and infections that I fight with treatments. I follow my physician’s suggestions for health and wellness. My scars are just part of my journey. And I do my best to make sure my bills are paid.

I continue to count my blessings every day and celebrate life as I know it. The game of cancer is just that, a game. I want to live my life and strive to be a winner and today, I am doing that!

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