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Cancer Can be Finite

Posted 2/19/2016

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And I stole the tile from the article that I will eventually share with you. I like it. I also like the fact that the author of the article is clear that she understands that the finite part is not a promise, but that it is a hopeful way to live. One of my wonderful groups is for women who have completed active treatment for breast cancer and are trying to figure out how to think about life. It is always wonderfully reassuring when a veteran assures a newcomer that things will get better. At some point, cancer will not be your first thought in the morning and the last at night--assuming, of course, that you stay well.

  For people who have to content with a cancer recurrence, the same hope applies--although, of course, the context is infinitely more difficult. I tell people who have just learned of a recurrence, of the new reality of metastatic or advanced or Stage IV cancer (all mean the same thing) that it probably will take a year for life to start to settle down and to make an adaptation to the new reality.

  For people who are, as far as they know, well and just (and not minimizing this in any way) worried about future health, the acute distress will fade. I like to think of the cancer worry as a big dark cloud that initially covers our heads and shoulders, begins gradually to lift, then moves in front of us, still blocking our vision, then sits on our shoulder, and finally moves behind us. It may stay close behind or lag further and further behind as time passes. For most of us, it hangs around for a long while.

  This is a nice essay from Cure Today about one woman's growing understanding that it is indeed possible that cancer will be a part of her life, not the whole life, and not the reason for the ending of life. She expresses her strong wish that doctors would be more positive and optimistic, and I get that. But I also appreciate that there are no promises, and doctors have to tread a fine line between reality-based optimism (lots of people are treated and never see cancer again!) and the harder reality that we just never know. There is an old sick joke in oncology circles that we know we were cured of cancer in the instant that we are dropping dead of something else.

  And here is the start and then a link to the promised essay:

Cancer Can Be Finite: Giving Hope at Diagnosis
Barbara Tako
There are no two ways about it. Hearing the three words “You have cancer” stinks. When I heard those words, I thought I was dying and pretty imminently at that. Where is the hope? Cancer is a game changer, a deal changer and a life changer. Cancer is big. There is no going back from that moment. You can never look at the world the same way again. However, there were some words of comfort that truly helped me and I hope you find comfort in them too.
My oncology talk therapist told me, “We will get you through this.” At that moment, I didn’t feel so alone with my diagnosis. I also realized that however big cancer was feeling to me, especially in those early days and weeks, it was something that I was going to get through. That meant cancer was finite. Cancer had limited power even though it still felt big and scary and overwhelming to me.
The other words that actually comforted me came at a breast cancer support group meeting. One of the other cancer survivors shared something a survivor friend of hers had told her: “It is a tough year and half to two years, but then things start to get better.”
She said hearing those words gave her perspective. Cancer is smaller when it seems like it might be finite.


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