A Family Affair

One of the most difficult aspects of having cancer – and there are so, so many – is dealing with one’s parents after diagnosis.  Probably the only thing worse than being told you have cancer is to have your child receive such horrifying news.  And although I was already a grown man (at least physically, if not exactly mentally) of forty when I received my leukemia diagnosis, I was then, and always will be, of course, my parents’ child. 

Sadly, my family is no stranger to serious health issues.  I am reluctantly carrying on a maternal-side family tradition of having blood cancer, as my mother’s father also had some form of leukemia, passing away when my mother was just 20, and my mom herself has tussled with lymphoma.  My father’s side of the family is also quite well-versed in major health problems, but they have shied away from cancer and instead have cardiac issues.  To each their own, I guess.  Compounding issues for my parents, however, is that my only sibling has cerebral palsy.  Although fortunately not life-shortening, being physically-challenged in that way – both in general and in our society in particular – is a tremendous weight to carry, principally for my sister but also for our parents. 

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Unsolicited Advice

I recently celebrated my sixth anniversary of having been diagnosed with cancer by not having yet died from it.  Similarly, it is a little less than a year since I, in an effort to accomplish the not dying part, subjected myself to months of chemotherapy, from which I also did not die (but experienced a couple of episodes when that looked like the preferable outcome).  And while I am of course immeasurably grateful to still be vertical, I must admit that I think the years of living with cancer and the ramifications of the treatment for it are starting to grate on me. 

In the last couple of weeks, I have written blog posts in this space that I believe reveal my increasing annoyance with cancer.  The first, On (Cancer) Language (https://itsinmyblood.blog/2019/07/11/on-cancer-language/), was a bit of rhetorical flourish for the uninformed that seem to inhabit every cancer-ites orb.  Similarly, but with a bit more bite, last time out I wrote about things not to say to those of us with cancer.  It occurred to me that merely telling people what was okay to say was not going to be adequate.  Let’s face it:  Some people just need practical advice.  Consequently, I posted Silence Is Golden (https://itsinmyblood.blog/2019/07/17/silence-is-golden/). 

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Silence is Golden

Last week, in this tiny corner of the world wide web (does anyone call it that anymore?  And when did they dispense with the need to type “www”?), I wrote a public service announcement in the form of some useful cancer terminology for people to know.  Since everyone either has cancer or knows someone who does (a truism I am “borrowing” from the great podcasters at Thanks Cancer! (@ThanksCancer)), it seems that people should have some idea what all the buzz is about.  Of course, that was just a short blog post and the world of cancer is vast, so I will have to take pen in hand again (another anachronism) to expand upon my list in the coming days. 

In the meantime, however, I wanted to issue another PSA (which also deals with the other type of PSA).  You see, as important as it is to be able to intelligently converse with someone who is dealing with cancer, it is of near-equal importance to understand the many things that those of us with cancer would really prefer if you did not say.  Now, before anyone gets all flustered and starts accusing cancer warriors/survivors/endurers/not-dead-yetters of being hypersensitive, allow me to offer the following:  First, as a reminder, we have cancer.  Second, just as everyone’s cancer behaves (or misbehaves) differently, so too does everyone afflicted by it have a different level of sensitivity about what can and cannot be said.  This admittedly makes it a bit tricky, since one never knows how any particular person may respond to the usage of certain words.  That makes for a lot of gray, and if there is one color that people do not like it is gray (except, currently, in their living spaces where it is a fashionable paint choice). 

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On (Cancer) Language

As someone who has been co-habitating with cancer for over six years now, I remain remarkably underinformed about this disease.  Part of this ignorance is a result of not wanting to know more and part of this is just who I am (by which some might think I mean I am an ignoramus but I prefer to think of it as being selectively informed).  And still another part is that there is a whole language that has evolved in the world of cancer that one needs to know to fully understand what on earth people are talking about.  This cancer tongue is complicated, chock full of mysterious abbreviations, euphemisms, doctor-speak, patient-speak (often about doctors and their doctor-speak) and unpronounceable medications. 

But since I have realized that I will never leave this world without cancer, I think it is finally time that I accept the language spoken by my fellow cancer travelers.  To that end, and to help others who have cancer or know someone who does, I have compiled the following partial list of cancer terminology.  Please note that some of these terms are sensitive to certain people so utter them with caution and never in mixed company.  Also, these terms are not organized in any logical manner – e.g., alphabetically – but rather as they occurred to me or sometimes after I remembered that they had occurred to me (see “Chemo brain” below). 

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