13 Things Cancer Patients Want You to Know About Cancer

by Jane Ashley

We face approximately a one in three lifetime risk of developing cancer. The diagnosis is one of the most frightening events that will ever happen to us — regarding of our sex, age, race or economic status, we all face the risk of cancer — and money alone is not enough to save our life. Our response to treatment and our overall health are contributing factors to surviving cancer along with being diagnosed at an early stage.

Young Adults

In reality, there are only three categories of people.
Those who have cancer currently or are cancer survivors
Those who will develop cancer
Those who never develop cancer, roughly 2/3 of our population

What do we want we want strangers to know about cancer?

1) Don’t assume that we did anything to cause it.

All of the experts in the world still don’t know what causes cancer. Despite the billions of dollars spent on research, new and more effective treatments and clinical trials, researchers don’t know what causes cancer.

There are several risk factors, but there is more to the story since not everyone who has a risk factor develops cancer. Risk factors include alcohol, age, diet, environment, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, sun exposure and some viruses and infections. We can change our behaviors, but other risk factors are beyond our control. People who don’t smoke develop lung cancer. Vegetarians develop colorectal cancer, and athletes get cancer too.

2) Cancer is not contagious.

Cancer Is Not Contagious

Don’t be afraid to hug us or eat at the same table. I’m not contagious. Cancer is not contagious.

3) Cancer isn’t just an older adults’s disease.

Once, we thought of cancer as just an older person’s disease. However, now more and more young adults are diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, even our physicians sometimes think that “a patient is too young to have cancer” and don’t screen for cancer.

4) Everyone’s cancer experience is different.

Each person reacts differently to the treatments they receive. The chemotherapy that you may have caused serious side effects, but for me, I may not have had anything but mild fatigue. Radiation therapy is a walk in the park for some patients while others experience burns and extreme fatigue. So … please don’t share your story about how horrible treatment was for someone else.

5) Please don’t tell me about a relative or friend who died of cancer.

Really? I mean, really? Why would you want to tell a stranger about another person who died from their cancer? We’re scared, and we're anxious about what the future holds — yet we do our best to remain optimistic. Please don’t tell us and cause us a sleepless night.

6) Please say something encouraging.

Never Lose Hope

All of us who have cancer try to be positive and hopeful during our cancer treatment. It’s one of the ways that helps us cope with side effects. Your simple words of encouragement help us more than you realize.

7) Please don’t pity me.

I don’t want your pity, and I don’t need you to feel sorry for me. Since one out of three people develop cancer, the diagnosis isn’t unusual or rare. I just had bad luck, but my team of doctors are doing their best to get me through this rough spot in my life. The simple phrase of “I’m sorry” is sufficient.

8) Please don’t make crude jokes about my appearance.

While we’re in treatment, our appearances change – and not usually for the best. The steroids they give us to prevent side effects leads to weight gain. Chemotherapy may cause us to lose our hair. Chemo and radiation may cause loss of appetite and result in weight loss.

We’re already sensitive about our appearance so please don’t crack a thoughtless comment about how we look.

9) Cancer causes us to be emotional sometimes.

Cancer patients experience a wide variety of emotions — from fear and anxiety to feeling like a burden to their family and worry about the financial drain their cancer treatment places on the family. So if we lash out at you or burst into tears, be patient with us.

10) Keep your screenings up to date.

Mammogram Calendar

The recommended screenings work. Cancer, when detected early, is almost always curable. Why take the risk? Yes, the colonoscopy prep is awful, but it’s only for one afternoon, and the next day after the procedure, you get to treat yourself to a big breakfast. Annual mammograms and annual visits to the dermatologist are worth your time and small financial investment. 

11) Treatments are scary, but we’re braver than we realize.

I’ve had strangers and friends tell me that they couldn’t do what I did during cancer treatment. I always tell them, “You are braver than you realize when you look cancer directly in the eye.”

12) Please don’t tell me that it’s chemo that kills, not the cancer.

Carrots Wont Cure Cancer

Quacks, fake news, and the mistaken belief that it’s not the cancer that kills a person, but the chemo are detrimental to those newly-diagnosed cancer patients who are searching the internet for answers on how to best treat their disease. The truth is that that conventional cancer treatments as described by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network are the only cancer treatments with verified results.

13) You have no idea how much cancer treatment costs.

Costs Health Insurance

Although the high cost of medical care is in the news, people whose lives haven’t been touched by cancer, have no idea how much treatment costs. They don’t understand their healthcare insurance and the ramifications of their choices. We can barely afford to pay 20% copay, but imagine if we had selected the less expensive plan with a 40% copay.

It’s surprising how many strangers we come in contact with every day. Use this opportunity to help educate others about cancer. Your conversations with a stranger might save their life because it prompted them to be vigilant about screenings. Your conversation might help them when healthcare enrollment time comes around; they’ll remember the conversation about copays. Talk to strangers and answer their questions as honestly as you can. Paying it forward helps us and helps others.

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