Cancer sucks. I wish I were more eloquent but: cancer sucks. It has been both my personal and professional experience that not only does it suck, but it’s also a thief! A cancer diagnosis and the associated treatment(s) (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) can rob one of their energy, their health, their confidence. Relationships and roles change without warning and without permission. The caretaker may now be the care receiver. The home’s bookkeeper may no longer be able to manage the finances; responsibilities change hands. Control is lost. Anticipatory grief, worry, and sadness are common and “normal”. Guilt over one’s new physical limitations and exhaustion as well as the possibility of a hereditary predisposition passed to children overwhelms many. In addition, stigma abounds. You would think it hard to believe that one might be shamed or blamed for their diagnosis but it is real and it is disheartening. A lung cancer diagnosis often comes with questions related to smoking and/or tobacco. Breast cancer and a person’s choice or ability to bear children. Liver cancer and one’s drinking habits. Ultimately, causation matters not (and is none of our business) unless it relates to the course of treatment and/or prognosis. Compounding the destruction of a diagnosis is that life goes on. Bills continue to demand attention (and often times, increase), employer/employee responsibilities remain and friends and family still require and expect their needs to be met.
Cancer sucks. But, do you know what I’ve also found? Good exists. That sounds oversimplified, I know, but it is the truth. I have witnessed faith in one’s spirituality as well as humanity be restored, resolve heightened. I have seen and experienced the unwavering support of individuals and our community and been witness to selfless acts of kindness by those living in and with a cancer diagnosis. Benefits have been organized, donations of time, money and goods made, hands held, meals provided, kind words spoken and written, hats knitted. The immeasurable generosity of others exists. Cancer sucks, but good abounds.
I wanted to preface the following with the above information because cancer has a face; we are it. Whether we have been touched by the disease ourselves or it’s touched someone close to us, we can be the good and light the path for others
In my professional life, I work at a local cancer center as an oncology social worker. It is my hope that we can start talking about the signs and symptoms of specific cancers more regularly–highlight support resources and, ideally, increase early diagnosis and prevention within our community.
As an example, April was Testicular, Esophageal and Head and Neck Cancer Awareness month. The American Cancer Society has noted that the number oforopharyngeal (head and neck) cancers linked to HPV has risen greatly in past decades. Here is some disease specific information regarding signs and symptoms as well as prevention and screening.
So, what can you do?
If someone you know has received a diagnosis or is beginning treatment: Just do. Bring a meal, clean a room, give a kid a ride to their activity or the person to their appointment, mow a lawn, grocery shop. Asking “What can I do for you? Is there anything you need?” is a wonderful idea and sentiment. However, it forces the person to first determine what “needs” to be done (everything) and then mentally review the do gooder’s skill set(s) to choose the task that is most appropriate for that person. Instead, drop a ready to heat/eat meal on the person’s porch, doorstep, whatever works. Leave a package with toilet paper, dish soap and a card. Just do.
Donate blood. You can locate a nearby donation hub by checking out Memorial Blood Centers. You can also register for the bone marrow registry which was previously mentioned in our article, National Donate Life Month.
Resources for the newly diagnosed and their support systems
There are many local resources for persons who may be newly diagnosed with cancer and their families and support systems. Talk to your primary care physician first, and your oncology clinic or clinic social worker. Both local hospitals run in person and online support groups. You can also find information and support through organizations like the American Cancer Society, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, our local chapter of the United Way (call 211), Cancercare.org, and Circle of Hope (a resource for those battling breast cancer).