What’s Most Commonly Misunderstood About My Cancer Experience


A young adult cancer survivor describes the ways people typically misunderstand his cancer experiences.

As I continue to navigate life after cancer, one issue I’ve come across is communicating to people the challenges that remain after treatment.

While I’m blessed to have improved my situation (I was given less than a 10% chance to live only a few years ago after being diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer), I’m still very much rebuilding the pieces. I may no longer be bald; in fact if you saw me on the street, you’d probably assume I was totally healthy, but that’s also because I prioritize my health every day — to the point where I treat it like a part time job, focusing on my six pillars of health.

One of my biggest insecurities has to do with being on medical leave/disability, especially when I used to be a provider. I get asked all the time why I don’t go back to my old job (up until my diagnosis, I’ve worked as an executive recruiter in a very stressful, highly competitive sales environment).

I actually did return to work, twice, and between managing my job and new health demands, grew incredibly stressed. Each time on the very next scan I had recurrences. And while I don’t know for certain if there’s a direct correlation, I’m pretty sure the high stress levels on top of all my other trauma didn’t help.

I’ve since found ways to cope with the isolation of healing from home, even developing a new passion for creative writing. What’s most important though, based on how extreme my situation has been, is knowing that when I feel overstressed or run down from the endless waves of anxiety and PTSD, I can drop what I’m doing and prioritize rest and recovery. Because at this point, that’s my wife and my number one priority, hands down. Keeping me alive.

Sometimes, despite explaining this to people, they still have a hard time relating and start problem-solving, which has a way of making me feel like what I’m doing isn’t good enough. Eventually, I learned to frame it up differently, offering instead: “I’m still taking everything day to day and this is just what works for me now.”

For some reason, that seems to be more palatable for others to accept and the conversation tends to move on from there. It may not be possible to make others truly understand everything, but I’m sure there are parts of their lives I can’t entirely relate to either. Most importantly, I’d rather save my energy for the really important battles, like my health itself.

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