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The 5 Worst Things about Breast Cancer


Your entire life after your diagnosis will be altered in ways large and small, soul-shattering and mundane. Your life will forever be divided - before BC and after BC. There is not one safe place in your world now. From body-image, physical condition, religious beliefs, mortality awareness, financial ruin, fear of leaving children orphaned, fears of recurrence, and the real practicalities of everyday life. It's one thing to make drastic changes willfully regarding career, family, and lifestyle. When only negative changes are forced upon you so viciously all at once, it can easily overwhelm even the best-adjusted person's ability to cope. Depression and anxiety are common and can lead to other problems.


Before my own diagnosis, I had never had a life-threatening illness or even serious medical issue. I was not prepared for the behavior and reactions from friends, family and strangers. Do not be surprised if your closest friends disappear or act strangely. Cancer is terrifying and even the kindest, most emotionally developed people can find it hard to be supportive and present. They are afraid of you and for you. Remember, you were just like them before diagnosis. You may be jealous and angry at their seemingly carefree normal life and physical health. They won't understand why you suddenly have no patience for their drama or minutiae. Frankly, I don't care what the appetizer course was at the nice restaurant where you ate. Some people are just unable to handle it and desert you during your period of greatest vulnerability. Divorces and breakups are possible. 


I experienced this with all my doctors to some degree. For example, had I really known the true risk for development of Lymphedema, physical impairment and pain, would I have let my surgeon be so aggressive in taking lymph nodes? Would I have even done the prescribed course of radiation, had I known that my armpit would blister and blacken, and it would greatly up my chances of getting Lymphedema? Many doctors will minimize the future potential, long-lasting and often irreversible side effects of treatment. It's easy to see why, and I've heard it argued that if patients knew the full potential for lingering issues post-treatment, many would opt-out of life-saving interventions. 


Yes it is wrong, and in some states, illegal to fire someone for simply getting ill. Larger companies must follow the FMLA. In Florida though, if the company is small, they are not governed by FMLA. Also if your state is prescribes to "at-will"  employment, you can be fired at anytime for no reason at all. Who would fire an employee just because they have cancer? Plenty of people. It's wise to have an emergency fund and disability insurance in place before diagnosis. I was fired under friendly circumstances, and luckily was granted unemployment. The "standard" course of treatment for my particular cancer takes one year, not counting reconstruction. My chemotherapy was rough and incapacitating. Surgery was grueling. Radiation was intensely bad. Working at anything approaching my old performance was impossible. I'm still fighting my way back physically, mentally and emotionally, nearly a year after my diagnosis. 


The things people will chirp at you constantly are going to piss you off. It's an epidemic. It will come from your family, friends, co-workers, medical staff and strangers. They all are experts on your condition. Be prepared to be lectured, preached to and verbally abused. You will be subjected to sweeping minimizations, apocalyptic predictions, ridiculous theories, unlikely comparisons, myths, platitudes and endless other shit, all from healthy people that have never had cancer. Every single one of these has been said to me:

     The general ones:

"Yes, we all have cancer in our bodies!"   
"So did they say how you caused it?"
"It must be because you are overweight/not eating all organic/used to smoke, etc."
"I'll never get it because I exercise/eat all organic/never smoked."
"Oh, that's horrible! My mom/aunt/sister/stranger went through all the same treatments, then died." (This one is my favorite, because it unfailingly includes the most horrific, sad, dreadful details of the painful death). 
"It's just like diabetes now, easily cured!"
"You are so lucky. My friend/boss/parent/caterer had pancreatic/brain/bone cancer and it killed them right away."
"Lemon water/green tea/hot peppers cure cancer!"

      From the "Positive Police":

"Stay positive!"

"Don't be upset. It'll be over soon enough."
"God does not give you any more than you can handle."
"These things happen for a reason. There are silver linings!"
"Why don't you go out/take a drive/go to dinner/go shopping vs. sitting around the house?"
"It'll be okay!"

        And if you're having a mastectomy, you're going to hear a lot of these:

"You get brand new boobs AND a tummy tuck? Where do I sign up!"
"Well, they're only breasts. You don't need them anyway."
"Get REALLY big ones!"
"So how do they cut them off?"
"I knew someone that had that done and they were mutilated."
"Oh no! That is your womanhood!"
"Are you getting them both cut off? Why?"  
"Well, Angelina Jolie is fine now and you will be too."
"It's easy, it's just like regular implants!"

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