Steph’s Cancer Tips – Part II

Time for some more tips! To read the first installment, click here.

Entertaining Yourself

If your cancer treatment drags on for awhile, as mine did, you will find you have a considerable amount of downtime. You will likely think to yourself, “Great, this will be the perfect time to read those huge novels I haven’t had time for and finally watch the entire box set of The Wire.” WRONG! So very wrong. Here’s the thing: your “downtime” during cancer treatment is not fun. It’s not relaxing. In my case, most of the time I felt like absolute crap. There is no way I could have focused on a book. Even reading a tabloid was challenging for me at times. And stimulating television or cinema? Don’t even think about it. When you are in pain and can barely lift your head up, you don’t want to watch anything thought-provoking, intelligent, or heavy. There is a reason that I watched two entire seasons of The Real Housewives franchise while I was doing chemo — the show is complete garbage and requires a very low level of mental acuity to follow.

Good chemo movie
Good chemo movie
Bad chemo movie
Bad chemo movie

There were many films I thought I would watch while I was sick. Classics, documentaries, award-winners. WRONG AGAIN! I found the only DVD’s I wanted to watch were those I had seen a thousand times and provided comfort. Back to the Future, Edward Scissorhands, Big, Pretty Woman, Hook, every Disney movie ever. It didn’t matter if I passed out in the middle of the movie or just closed my eyes while I listened to the buzz of the TV.  I didn’t need to focus and pay attention to what was going on. The purpose of TV and movies was 100% distraction. A way to pass the hours, in hopes that the days would go a little bit faster. A small respite from reality.

So in conclusion: Honey Boo Boo = Good. Six Feet Under = Bad (although it is my favourite show of all time, but it’s about the last thing I’d recommend you watch while doing chemotherapy). Dumb and Dumber = Good.  Memento = Bad. Got it? Good.

Dealing with stupidity

If you have cancer, chances are, people are going to say some pretty dumb things to you.

People will ask you details about your prognosis, or say thing like “You’re going to be fine, right?” They will compare you to their 95 year-old great grandmother who had a small non-invasive cancer that was 100% different from the cancer you have. They will tell you stories of someone they knew who had cancer, that end with the person dying. They will make awkward comments about boob jobs, insinuating that a regular boob job is in any way similar to having your cancerous breast surgically removed. They will try to show you they know “exactly how you feel” by comparing your cancer to a very temporary, highly non-threatening malady they suffered from 5 years ago. They will say, “I know you are going to survive this” even though you are painfully aware that you might not survive this and that it has nothing to do with your positive attitude, or lack thereof.

I’m betting this lady has said some dumb things in her time.

Yes, people say some dumb things. This is because most people have no idea what to say or what to ask when someone has cancer. There is no guidebook. It’s understandable that people will say the wrong thing and mess up from time to time, as I’m sure I have many times in the past, pre-cancer. You have to give people a break. 99% of them have good intentions and have no idea that what they’ve said might be hurtful/anxiety-provoking/insensitive/ignorant.

Of course, if someone says something extremely stupid or blatantly offensive, you can always kick them, or take the high road and explain to them why what they’ve said has upset you. But all of that will get exhausting, fast. I just choose to smile and nod. That is usually the answer to dealing with most things: Smile and nod.

Using the Internet as a resource

Ooooh this is a tricky one. I love the internet. I love having information at my fingertips. But as anyone who has ever Googled a health issue knows, the world wide web can be a very dangerous place. So here is my advice to you: TREAD LIGHTLY. Seriously.

There are some great things you can get from the internet if you have been diagnosed with cancer. Friendly people on message boards sharing the tricks of the trade for dealing with treatment side effects. Reputable websites that can allow you to better understand your disease and your treatment options.  (Note: there are also lots of bogus, scammy sites out there, so you will need a basic level of media literacy to navigate online resources. Your hospital should also be able to provide you with a long list of reputable websites.)

However, you need to be careful with how you use this information and how far down the rabbit hole you wish to go. Just a few evenings ago, I was reading some article, that led me to search for more information, and eventually I ended up stumbling on some studies that provided some very upsetting stats on survival rates for young women with breast cancer. As I read more and more, I became more anxious and riddled with fear. I burst into tears and sobbed to my husband, “I’m… gonna… dieeeeee… it’s… not… faaaaaairrrr waaaaah bleerghhhh.” Something along those lines. And I had been feeling fine just moments earlier. But a simple click of the mouse here, and another one there, and I had stumbled upon some really depressing information, that was not helpful to me in the least.

You’re going to find some info on the internet that you don’t like. I mean, hi, you have cancer. People die from cancer, and there are many things on the internet that wish to remind you of this fact, at every twist and turn you take. You must learn to shut out the noise. Remember that what you’re reading is some study of some group of people, and you are an individual. If the stats say that 99 out of 100 people died, that still means one lived, right? And that one person could be you, right? Definitely. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I also try to remember that even the best studies have their faults, and even the most thorough researchers cannot be 100% accurate all the time.

I could spend hours reading expert opinions and numbers that tell me the likelihood that I will or won’t be around five years from now. And sometimes I do, because I can’t help it. It’s like stumbling upon a horrific car accident and not being able to turn away. But you know what? You really should turn away. Keep on driving. Keep on moving. Because, for today, you are alive. You are not a statistic. And you really should be making better use of your time spent on the internet, like watching dumb clips on YouTube.

 

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11 thoughts on “Steph’s Cancer Tips – Part II

  1. Steph- You are sooo funny! I laughed all the way through this post! People do say stupid things. I remember a casual acquaintance that came by unannounced to my home to tell me that I must have both breasts removed, not just one because she had two friends who died from only removing one. I smiled and nodded and said, “Thanks for the advice I’ll be sure to discuss it with my doctor” I also got so tired and irritated with well meaning friends and family who kept saying, ” You’ll be fine”. AAHHH, How the ‘ef’ do they know that, did they go to medical school? You were right on with the comparisons everyone feels compelled to share with you that are nothing like what you have. I laughed out loud at those. Thanks for the post it made my day brighter! Be well. Kathy

  2. Thanks so much for your post today, it has actually cheered me up. This is meant to be my “good” weekend before cycle 5 of chemo on Monday, and I can barely do anything due to vertigo and room spinning. Can’t do anything except lie here and flick through WordPress, twitter, Facebook etc….cant do anything I have to concentrate on. My family don’t get it, and probably think I’m whining again. I’ve got lots of things to do before the next chemo hit, including some fun outings, and I’m lying around instead. Your post reminded me that I’m not the only person in the world to feel like this and that I just needed to go easy on myself, accept it and wait for it to pass! Thanks!

  3. So very true. I can only watch movies with happy endings, and I’m currently sticking with terrible reality tv, even those I believe those people are truly terrible. I laughed out loud about the dumb things people say. I follow your method as well. They have no idea and neither did I just over 3 short months ago. Best to you. Love your writing.

    1. Thanks for writing Julie! I see you’re currently going through chemo right now. I hope it hasn’t been too rough on you and that you’re having good days. Lots of bad reality TV and rom-coms are definitely the best medicine to get you through. Best wishes to you and your family.

  4. I totally love all your movie references and video clips!!
    I feel inclined to share something about myself and When Harry Met Sally….in high school I got in a little trouble because I acted out the diner scene in our cafeteria….while a group of gr 8 students were getting a tour…with their parents!! Oopsy!
    Another great post 🙂
    P.S. You forgot to add that people send very weird gifts 😉 (Please don’t pretend you liked the hospital gown!)

  5. Ok don’t freak yourself out. Look life is too short anyway you look at it. Try to enjoy every moment. And don’t forget. The positive is you have been treated with innovative drugs different from the drugs that the statistics are based on. Hang on to that one

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