Thursday, 11 October 2012

Does the fear of cancer ever really leave you?

Is it wrong to look at some people and feel simmering resentment that they are squandering their health by smoking, eating too much (and the wrong things), drinking too much, not exercising and so on? And is it wrong to think "But I ate healthily, exercised, didn't drink often, didn't smoke, looked after myself and I still got cancer"?

Well, if it's wrong, I still find myself doing it. I'm not wishing cancer on anyone else - why would I want anyone else to experience the stomach-sinking dread that a cancer diagnosis brings, the painful and harrowing physical side-effects of treatment and the emotional freefall that cancer gifts to you? But oh, sometimes  I just want to shake people and say "Don't you realise the risks you are taking with your health?".

I used to feel like this a lot when I was first diagnosed and probably for about a year after, but the feelings have abated - until yesterday, when a friend phoned to tell me that she has just been diagnosed with cancer for the second time. This is a woman who has never smoked or drunk and who has looked after her health as best she can. She was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. endured the treatment and was heading towards her five year clear milestone when wallop! she gets a diagnosis of skin cancer. Skin cancer, in a woman who never sunbathes and has always been cautious about exposing her skin to the burning effects of the sun. The sheer injustice of it feels overwhelming for me, so what it must be like for her, I can only guess. This friend was incredibly helpful and supportive to me last year when I was facing my dx and treatment, with all the uncertainties, fears and emotions that it brought me - she was able to speak not only as someone who has dealt with cancer, but also as a radiographer, with professional experience of giving the treatment. I feel such anger that she is having to go through the seemingly endless rounds of hospital visits, appointments, blood tests, scans, whatever treatment is considered best for her. Yes, she is feisty and will face this diagnosis with courage, humour and determination, but the sense of sheer unfairness is hard to shake off. It's her battle, but in a way it's my battle too, and it's the battle of everyone who has had a cancer dx. We bind together like some unregulated, unchartered army, shaking our helpless fists at this evil invader and giving up our bodies, our health and our autonomy to become the battleground on which the fight is played out between the medics and cancer.

I ask again - once you have had a cancer dx, do you ever really forget about it? Or is it there, lurking, making itself comfortable in the deepest recesses of your psyche, looking for that little chink in your equilibrium to squeeze itself back to the front of your consciousness, so that it once more becomes something that covers everything you do, everything you say, everything you feel with a patina of anxiety and fear?

Does this make me more anxious about my check-up next week? Yes, but I am trying to remain sensible and calm, reminding myself that each cancer is different, my cancer was in a totally different part of the body and a totally different kind, that my general health is good and other comforting, pat-yourself-down phrases. In the meantime, I just have to carry on as normal - much the same as my friend is trying to do.


  1. Good to see you back on here. You may remember someone we both knew who had survived the odds against a very aggressive breast cancer. But the 'survival', as far as I could see, left her completely screwed and she struggled for many years with that fear of every lump, bump, itch or sniff being 'it' returning. My sense is that you are a very different person, with a very different inner strength and support around you. That doesn't mean the dark days aren't there every now and again.
    My Dad has had leukaemia for 12 years now. He's been really quite ill this year but has had some whizzy new (and expensive apparently) chemo which seems to have brought things back under control a bit. That's from having had over 50 bags of blood this year! Anyway, a couple of years back, he had a men's scare and I had to laugh when my Mum said "Oh as long as he hasn't got cancer"!
    Love and hugs xxxx

  2. Greetings! Do you have personal pages in online social communities?