I Don’t Have All the Cancer Answers, But I Wish I Did

After almost 10 years of surviving cancer, many people think I have a secret that I’m not sharing. They reach out through social media asking for my advice. I’m not a medical professional and I certainly don’t know what holds the key to surviving cancer, but I wish I did.

I never knew I’d get more questions after surviving cancer than I did while I was going through it, but I have.

When I was first diagnosed, people wanted to know what kind of cancer I had and what stage it was. After I shared that information, they wanted to know what type of treatments I’d go through and how long I’d go through them. Sometimes, it felt like an invasion of my privacy, but I willingly answered their questions. Some of the frequentlyasked ones were:

  • Did you take chemotherapy treatments or avoid them?
  • How did radiation make you feel? Did you experience any problems with it?
  • Did you take anti-hormone therapy treatments and if so, how did that affect you?
  • Did you have reconstructive surgery?
  • How did your husband react after you lost your breasts?
  • Do you ever feel less than a woman now that you don’t have breasts?
  • Why did you choose to have both breasts removed when the cancer was only in one breast?

I assumed they were curious and had my best interests at heart, though occasionally, I’d have to set boundaries, particularly when they asked very private questions.

The questions weaned over time. As I survived the first year and then another and another, I guess they figured I was going to make it. Oh, I still got questions, but they were more like what my future held. They wanted to know if I was busy crossing things off my bucket list and of course, I was.So, I gladly shared my adventure planning with them.

And one day, the questions took a huge turn. Instead of people asking about me and my health, they wanted to know what to do about their own health. I started receiving messages through social media asking questions about cancer. At first, I felt honored they’d reach out to me, but then I realized I had to be very careful. While I wanted to help through my firsthand experiences, I didn’t want to give anyone false hope. Every case of cancer is different, even if it’s the same type of cancer. They’d ask things like:

  • I’m having a hard time with Arimidex (anastrozole), do you think I need to stop it?
  • My doctor doesn’t seem to be paying attention to me, should I seek a second opinion?
  • You seem to be doing so well, what’s your secret?
  • What kind of vitamins and supplements are you taking? Do you think they’d help me live longer, too?
  • I have a friend/sister/niece/coworker who was recently diagnosed with cancer, do you think you could talk to her and give her some helpful advice?

There are so many varied factors affecting a person’s survivorship odds. Heredity, health, age, stage, grade and mental attitude can contribute to a person’s length of life. That’s when I realized survivorship comes with great responsibility.

I don’t really know why I’ve managed to live almost 10 years post diagnosis. I haven’t done anything drastically different post diagnosis. Yes, I’ve become more health conscious. I try not to eat fewer sweets and more fruits and vegetables. I include vitamins and supplements in my daily diet. I try to walk every day, making sure to get some sunshine for vitamin D. I try to guard my mind and pay attention to my mental wellbeing. I do my best to socialize with family and friends. I have hobbies I enjoy and most of all, I focus on my faith. The combination of all those things must be part of the secret to survival.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve met so many women in person and over social media. Some of them are still living, but many are not. Occasionally, I’ll get an email or card from one of the ones who’s still around. They thank me for offering some tidbit of information they feel has helped them along their journey. Those notes of encouragement bless me but at the same time, my heart breaks for those who have passed on.

Cancer is a tricky business. Some do great with traditional treatment while others don’t. Some practice alternative therapies and have enormous success, while others don’t. It doesn’t make much sense. To put it in practical terms, I’d have to relate cancer to poker (and I’m not a poker player so I don’t know much about it.) I do know sometimes you get a great hand, and sometimes you don’t. But even when you don’t, if you put on a poker face, it might be enough to convince yourself you’ve got a fighting chance. After all, life is a pretty big gamble. All we can do is take the hand we’re dealt, do the best we can with it, and trust God for the outcome.

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