I sometimes wish those friends I met post-cancer knew me before I faced the disease.
I remember being much lighter, more hopeful and truthfully more fun. I tell myself they would have REALLY liked that girl. But that’s not what life dealt me.
At age 35, I was diagnosed with cancer in my left breast. What followed was chemo, a mastectomy, radiation, several reconstruction surgeries and a nipple tattoo.
Post-cancer, I’m left with no feeling in most of my upper left arm and the left side of my chest. I have night sweats and trouble sleeping, but the worst of the aftermath is the worry. I face this deep fear of death that sometimes goes round and round in my head like a tornado creating havoc over every thought.
I now live life in fast motion trying to do everything at record speed because I’m afraid cancer will come back — not always a good approach to life.
It’s a seemingly lonely world post-cancer because most people expect you to be all fixed and back to “normal.” But you are changed, and there is no going back to the person you were before.
The good news is that we are not alone — others get it.
In November 2017, I started this online site called Humor Beats Cancer (www.humorbeatscancer.com). I wanted it to be a place where those in their 20s, 30s and 40s could share humorous stories from dealing with cancer.
I didn’t want to make light of the disease, but I wanted to remind those facing cancer they weren’t alone — there was still joy in their lives.
The site is meeting those goals in so many ways. I just posted my 70th blog post, and the contributions are from authors all over the world who connect with each other through cancer, humor and storytelling. I wanted to share some funny tips from the blog in the spirit of empathy and humor.
Advice from the blog:
When talking to someone with testicular cancer, please know that they’ve heard every joke about balls. You will NOT uncover a new one.
To all nurses: When you give a new mother who recently stopped breastfeeding a mammogram, tread carefully or get a milk shower.
Please tell your kids before your friend with cancer visits that she is bald and wearing a wig so as not to emotionally scar your child when she visits wearing a fab purple wig.
Ladies, if you’re asked on a dating site to share a photo of your breasts with a potential suitor, always have a post-mastectomy friend on hand to provide a photo of her boobs, scar and all, instead. Imagine the surprise when they see that boob photo. That will weed out the winners from the losers, the soulmates from the soulless.
Don’t be alarmed if a breast cancer survivor shows you her boobs. We’ve become used to showing every doctor in the hospital our breasts. Sometimes we take our shirts off at the mere mention of breast cancer. Force of habit.
What I’m learning on this journey: Community can be created even in the darkest of times; storytelling does not die despite the increasing use of technology; social media allows us to share our stories with a larger audience; and sharing those stories creates authentic empathy.
To all the cancer patients, survivors and the caregivers and friends who love them repeat after me: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You may be different. You may be scarred. You may get sad and wish you never experienced cancer.
But you are beautiful, you are alive and you are important to this world. Your work on this planet is not done yet.
At least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself everyday until it sinks in.