12 Hard Truths About Having Cancer

by GregP_WN

When you hear the words that you have cancer, lots of things change. Some of them won't be that bad, but a lot of them will straight up suck. Saying that your life will never be the same again isn't a stretch. It's not ALL going to be terrible, but here are 12 hard truths about having cancer. 

12 Hard Truths About Cancer

1) Your Old Life Is Gone - From the time of your diagnosis until you're done with treatment and move on into survivorship, things will not be the same. Some people lose their jobs because of having to be going to treatment, having surgeries, and all of the other stuff that comes with a diagnosis. Some of your friends will disappear, just like that, poof. Your body is going to change, some will be physical changes and some will be visible changes. People may look at you funny, or stare at you, you may not be able to do the things you used to, you may lose strength that doesn't come back. 

The upside.....Not everyone will experience all of these, or they may not be as bad as some people experience them. We all respond to cancer treatments differently, and we all have different diagnoses. Cancer looks different on everyone. 

2) You Could Lose Your Job - While there are legal issues around a Company firing someone simply because they have cancer, many people have reported that after they were told that there would be "no problem" with them having cancer and getting treatments, at some point after that, they were let go. Most of the time for any number of reasons supposedly not associated with having cancer. Reasons are given range from too much absenteeism to inability to perform the duties required. The bottom line is, if they want to get rid of you, they can find a reason.

The upside....Not all employers are buttheads. The vast majority of them will be happy to work with you and help you through it. Depending on the size of the company and its visibility in the community, they may find that positive public press in letting it be known that they are behind you and supporting you. That's far better than getting some viral negative press for being the company that fired a cancer patient. 

3) Some of Your Friends Will Disappear - Why? We don't know, some say because they can't handle it. What?? We are the ones with cancer, not them, so what's the deal? Some of your best friends will express their sorrow for your diagnosis and declare their loyalty and tell you "just let me know if you need anything", never to be heard from again. It's an actual phenomenon, with various reasons or theories for it. Don't let this get to you, it's going to happen, but it's not your fault or your problem, it's theirs. 

The upside....You will find new friends that understand where you are because some of them will be where you are. You will meet people at the hospital, treatment center, doctor's office and even in the grocery store that will see that you are a cancer patient, (sometimes it's painfully obvious), they will approach you and start a conversation, the next thing you know, you have a new friend. In other cases, support and friendship have come from unexpected places and people. I had competitors of my business offering to help with our jobs to be sure our company kept up with our work schedule. Other people that I hadn't seen or heard from in years called or stopped by. It's a trade-off.

4) Cancer Can be Financially Devastating - Let's face it, one of the worst side effects of cancer can be the financial one. Treatments are expensive, and some of the newest ones have an astronomical cost. One of the newest immunotherapy drugs just approved for use is reported to cost $475,000.00 per treatment. Who can afford that? Most drugs are covered by insurance if you have it, but still, others are considered experimental, and others have to be pre-approved before you can have it. 

Save Money When You Can

There are more than 643,000 personal bankruptcies filed each year with 62% being due to medical expenses. 

The upside.....Most facilities, hospitals, doctor's offices and treatment clinics will work with you to help pay what your insurance doesn't pay, if you have insurance. And there are lots of resources available for financial help, look at these related posts for financial resources. 

Many people have reported getting help from their Church, the Social Worker at the hospital where they were treated and from drug companies. We have several resources listed here. Not everyone will file bankruptcy or lose everything they have. 

5) Loss of Weight/Gaining Weight - As if having cancer isn't bad enough, one of the side effects from some drugs is weight gain. Some patients gain a lot of weight and even look bloated, as if you have been pumped full of air. You have worked for years to keep weight off and now with dealing with cancer you have no time to work out and the meds cause you to gain. This one sucks twice as bad.

Not all people gain weight. You might think this is great! But looking like an emaciated person that might be from a third World Country isn't any better. Some of the side effects from treatments are sores in your mouth and throat which make swallowing extremely painful. Couple this with constant nausea and you have a great weight loss program. The only problem is that most people don't just lose that 10# that you would like to lose. Many will lose 40 or 50 pounds. I lost this much weight in 3 different diagnoses. In addition to losing my hair. When you can see the joints in your skull and your clothes are hanging off of you like a stick manican, your appearance is changed so much that some people don't even recognize you. 

The upside.....Not everyone will experience this weight issue. Some people report losing just a little bit, and then after treatment is over, their eating habits had changed and they were able to keep the weight off. Having cancer is not the weight loss program I would want to sign up for again, but for some, it worked out.

6) Being a Caregiver For a Loved One is the Hardest, and Most Rewarding Thing You Will Ever Do - You might think that being a caregiver to someone that has cancer wouldn't be that tough. You would think wrong. Pick any of your loved ones and just imagine that they have been given a diagnosis. It might be one of the "so-called good cancers", or one of the famously serious types like pancreatic or lung cancer. Now imagine that something is trying to kill that loved one and there's nothing you can do about it. You are not in control. You can't make it go away. All you can do is be there to offer your loved one something to eat or drink, get them a cover, turn the TV up or down, take them to the doctors' visits or treatments, etc. You cannot take away the pain, you cannot make things go back to being like they were last month, before this awful thing came to visit. 

10 Ways To Cope With Caregiver Burnout

If your loved one is lucky enough to have a treatable type of cancer that has not progressed to a late stage diagnosis, you might be able to see the end goal in sight through treatment. They might go through all of the surgery, treatments, miscellaneous procedures and come out of it in relatively good shape. But all of us are not that lucky. Those that are diagnosed with a terminal diagnosis are some of the most heartbreaking cases you will ever see.

In caring for someone with a terminal diagnosis, you have lost all control, all you can do is watch them slowly decline while going through severe periods of pain and some of the most humiliating and humbling things they have ever experienced in their life. You are the one that will have to provide all forms of comfort that they will receive during the last months or days of their life. Taking care of their episodes of lost bodily functions, throwing up, spilling what food or drink they may actually try to consume, and more, are things that you never thought you would have to do in your life. But there is nothing you can do, but try to keep them comfortable, and try to contain your own horror, grief and worry so not to let them see how bad things are. Your job is to be the one who is upbeat, positive and make things as good as they can be. 

You will hear people talk about doing certain things in life that they call "hard". There is nothing harder than sitting on your parent's bedside during the last minutes of their life holding their hand while telling them it's OK to let go, while they take their last breath.

I have had to do that twice. It breaks the suck meter. 

The upside...You would think that there couldn't be any. But there are. Being able to give your parents some of the most basic of life-sustaining things, like food and water, when they are unable to, and just like they did for you when you were a child, is a rewarding experience. 

While most people will tell you that they would gladly trade anything up to and including their own life to be able to save their loved one, they will also tell you that being able to be there for them and take care of all of their smallest needs during this point in their life, was also one of the most rewarding things they have ever done. 

7) People Will Suggest Crazy Things for You to Try - You will, without a doubt run across people that will tell you that they have heard of a surefire cure for your cancer. They will tell you about something that they "heard about" that cured someone that they knew. Of course, they have never had cancer or taken whatever snake oil they are trying to convince you to take, but they know it will work. You will not want to hurt their feelings so you will just sit and listen to their suggestions while thinking to yourself that there's no way you're going to do these stupid things they are suggesting. All the time just praying that the treatment protocol that your doctor has you on is going to work. 

Some of your closest friends and even your relatives will do these things, while others will seem to ignore you and avoid you. You will have people even blame you for you having cancer. There will be the inevitable questions like, how long did you smoke? What have you been eating all your life? Have you never exercised? Where do you live, on top of a toxic dump? Just expect these types of statements or questions and when you hear them, try to remember that these people just don't know any better. 

Those same people will inadvertently say hurtful and insensitive things to you. Try not to get mad at them, they can't help it. For some, they just open their mouth and things come out. In most cases, they just don't know what to say. 

8) The Mental Issues Will be Tough - We go through stages, denial, anger, rage, why me, depression. All of these feelings are normal for a newly diagnosed person to have. You were in the middle of enjoying a great life, then the next day, just like that, it's all gone. I spent a month before Christmas sitting around dwelling on the thought that since this was my third diagnosis, I was surely a goner. I was given the diagnosis and the raw numbers that less than 50% make it past five years without a recurrence. And the survival rate for past 5 years was low. I was convinced that I wouldn't make it to the next Christmas.

People around me were all happy and enjoying their Christmas shopping and full of the Holiday spirit. Maybe because I was feeling so low, it only seemed like everyone else was living the dream while I was dying. But that's how it felt. This depression phase was the lowest point mentally for me out of all three of the diagnoses I have had. 

The upside....Things change, feelings change, depression can be defeated. With help and support from your relatives, friends and loved ones, you can persevere.

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9) Chemo Side Effects May be Debilitating - Some people experience terrible side effects from chemo. There are hundreds of types of chemo and we all take it differently, some of us take it the worst. I would get treatment at 8 in the morning, and by 10, I would be at home, in front of the toilet getting sick for hours, followed by sleeping for two days. Some people have violent reactions to the chemo which puts them in the hospital taking other drugs to offset the effects of the chemo, that was supposed to be saving us. 

Side Effects We Wish We Had Known About

The upside......Not all chemo drugs have side effects, and not all patients react badly. I had two types of chemo ABVD and MOPP, one made me violently ill, the other had almost no side effects at all..

10) Radiation Side Effects Can be Just as Bad - Some cancer patients have severe side effects from chemo and not many at all from radiation. During my first diagnosis, the chemo was pure hell while the radiation was a breeze. So during my third diagnosis when they told me that I would only have radiation because my type of cancer would not respond to chemo, I thought it was going to be a breeze again. I was wrong.

The radiation itself is not tough to do. You simply lay down on a cold hard table and be still for a few seconds while the machine shoots radiation into the area where your cancer is. The side effects come from the cumulative effects of the radiation. Sores start to develop in the treatment area, blisters on your skin, fatigue sets in, and more. In my case, I lost all of my teeth, saliva glands and have severe damage to the carotid arteries in my neck. This side effect led to my having a TIA a few years after radiation was over. Most people will lose their sense of taste if treated about the head and neck. While most will eventually regain their sense of taste, some do not. Others will regain it, but it will be different. Some of the foods you used to like will now not taste good to you. 

The upside....Not everyone will have the most serious side effects. We all take treatments differently, and you may not have these problems. Still, while radiation can be tough, most survivors will say that they felt that it was easier than chemo. 

11) The Treatments Leave us Susceptible to Future Cancers - When I left my doctor's office after treatments for my second diagnosis was done, he told me in a blunt statement that if cancer ever comes back again, that it will be "difficult to control". And he also explained that while the treatments that I had just endured most likely saved my life, they also damaged certain parts of my body and those areas are now more susceptible to either a recurrence or a totally new type of cancer. Those who are unfortunate enough to be diagnosed at a very early age, like a childhood cancer, will have to live the rest of their life waiting for the other "cancer shoe" to drop, which means living their entire life waiting and wondering. 

The upside......That's easy You're Alive!! I will gladly trade the possibility of having a fourth cancer at some future point in my life for the privilege of being alive right now.

12) You Will Always Wonder if it's the Next One - Anyone who has been through a diagnosis will tell you that every time they have a pain or an issue with any part of their body, the first thing that comes to mind is "what kind of cancer is it this time"? After having one, two, three or more cancer diagnoses, you will always be wondering if this is it. You will be reluctant to go to the ER to get something checked out, but with your history, you have to. Most of the time it will be nothing, and now you have another batch of medical bills to pay. But a cancer survivor just can't take the chance. If you let something go to the point that if it is cancer, and it has progressed, it may not be able to be controlled. That fear, worry, apprehension will always be with you.

The upside.....Again, you're alive. You've been through it all, the not so good, the bad and the ugliest of things that can be thrown at you, and you're still standing, if you're one of the lucky ones. If so, enjoy life! It's too short not to.

What hard truths have you learned from having cancer or being a caregiver for someone who has? Please share in the comments below. 

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