Every cancer survivor has a different story and experience, and they should not always be looped into the same category. “Like fingerprints, we all have different characteristics and are individually unique,” writes a survivor.
When you think of the word “cancer,” what comes to mind? A bald head, chemotherapy, maybe a port hanging from a sick patient’s chest? We are prone to seeing cancer as a setback or a problem. Far too often, when a family member is diagnosed with cancer, the immediate response is “Are you going to make it?” Why are our minds programmed to think that the word “cancer” means “the end?” A simple internet search of the word “cancer,” and you will be provided with countless definitions, hundreds of different types of cancers, images of bald heads, medication advertisements, the latest news about treatment options and hospitals in your area that treat cancer. The one thing missing from that search is information on being a cancer survivor.
There are no two cancer stories that are exactly the same. Like fingerprints, we all have different characteristics and are individually unique. You will never find two cancer survivors with the exact same story. Yes, you may find cancer survivors that have fought the same type of cancer, but their stories are not the same. Cancer does not choose you based on race, religion, income or age. There is no bias when it comes to cancer. Each chemo treatment, radiation therapy, blood draw, transfusion and doctor visit are unique to each individual patient. Which in return means that each patient’s cancer journey is unique to them. So, why is it that all cancer survivors are put into one category?
No matter what treatment you endured or what type of cancer you had, if you are lucky enough to reach remission, then you are a cancer survivor. That is it. Just a cancer survivor. There are no awards for the torment you went through while trying to save your life. There is no medal of honor awarded to you by hospital staff, and there is certainly no recognition for the war that you just fought and won, besides the label of “cancer survivor.”
As a cancer survivor myself I can only attest to what I have personally gone through, however in my patient advocacy work, I have spoken to hundreds of patients with cancer, and there are many similarities between all of us. None of which have been alleviated by the cancer survivor label.
Mental health conversations seem to be a bit taboo, nonetheless one of the most consistent annotations from cancer survivors is the mental strain cancer can have on you. The psychological stress that you endure while undergoing cancer treatment is immense and can lead to many mental health issues. An article from the National Behavior Health Network states that one in three patients with cancer will encounter mental or emotional distress. The mental aspect of cancer is not always considered imperative, thus leaving many cancer survivors with the residual effects of untreated mental issues. Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are two of the most common mental health issues spoken about amongst cancer survivors.
Another similarity amongst cancer survivors is the need to be individualized. Often times we are grouped into assumptions on how post-treatment life should be. Again, all cancer survivors are different. Some cancer survivors are quick to recover and get back to life as if cancer never happened, and others may take more time. We need not to judge someone on how long their recovery takes. Depending on what their treatment regimen looked like, some cancer survivors may not be able to get back to how their life was before cancer, hence the term “new normal.”Daily life may be different. Their physical and mental capacity may also be different. The medication we use to treat cancer, also has side effects which can last years after receiving it. Just like treatment options, post-cancer treatment is different for all survivors. Things like chemo brain, neuropathy and GI issues are some of the things that cancer survivors manage in post-treatment care. Some cancer survivors may be able to feel like themselves again soon after treatment and there are other circumstances where cancer survivors are never able to get back to what life was like before cancer.
Financial burden is probably one of the most relatable topics among all cancer survivors. Cancer is expensive and it can definitely put a strain on finances. All too often money is a big topic when you are diagnosed with cancer, when in reality, the biggest topic should be your health. The cost of receiving cancer treatment is astronomical. Some people who are diagnosed with cancer have to pick and choose which bill they are going to pay because of the cost of treatment. Often times there is little to no understanding the type of financial toxicity a cancer diagnosis means. With things like eating healthy, driving to appointments, paying to park, getting your medication and paying your co-pays, the money starts adding up pretty quickly. There are amazing organizations that do help with the financial burden, but there are still many out-of-pocket expenses you will need to cover when you have cancer.
Going through cancer is extremely life-changing for many. No matter the type of cancer you have, cancer survivors as a whole do experience some of the same post-treatment occurrences. It is important to understand, however, that not all cancer survivors are the same and we all recover differently. Each of our “survivor” stories are different, and just because one person you know with cancer went back to work within six months of ending treatment, does not mean other cancer survivors who are not able to go back to work again are less than. We may have cancer in common, but that is the line in the sand.
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