What Cancer Patients Don’t Wish To Hear…

This blog post actually started out as a joke between mom and I about a week or two back… She walked into my room rather annoyed by what someone had said to her. To be honest I cannot remember the exact conversation that transpired, but it irritated mom at the callous manner in which this woman spoke. I took it as a joke and laughed it off reminding mom that most people don’t have a filter today and we cannot take for granted that people know how to speak when it comes to a cancer patient. In a huff, she suggested that perhaps I should to a post on the common things that cancer patients do not wish to hear…

I personally would have never thought about this, but just try searching ‘things you should never say to a cancer patient’ on Google or YouTube and you will be amazed at how much comes up. My first thought when I actually saw the search results, ‘are things so bad that we as humanity need a guide line about what’s appropriate and what is not’… But after actually reading and watching some of the video’s – it becomes pretty evident that most cancer patients share a lot of common concerns.

That being said, this post is not there to offend anyone or make anyone feel bad, it’s just here to provide some…insight, insight into the mind of a cancer patient. In a way, I suppose we have all done or said something along these lines. However, I think it is important to know that a lot of emphasis is placed on the intention behind what you’re saying, that counts the most… no two cancer patients are the same and not everyone will interpret what you say in the same manner… what you say to one cancer patient could make them feel so good, however you could say the exact same thing to another cancer patient and completely piss them off.

So here is our list…

  1. When someone you know chooses to share with you that they or their loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, do not ask if she has had her breast removed. Firstly, it’s intrusive and secondly highly inappropriate. Should the person want to tell you they have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy – believe me, they will tell you. I’ve personally been asked this about mom, and it blew my mind at how nonchalantly this was asked…and that too by a fellow woman, where was the compassion?!
  1. In an effort to relate to a cancer patient do not share stories where you speak of your uncle’s cousin’s sister having had breast cancer and died from it… No, that is not helpful. I realise that this is done with the intention of implying that we understand what the patient is going through, but the truth is we actually don’t. Stories of death are not encouragement. I would not readily share with a cancer patient that I lost my grandmother to cancer, but if I do, I remember my grandmothers words which she often asked me to relay to my mother …”do not compare yourself to me.” This just attributes to the fact that no two cancer patients are the same…therefore do not compare.
  1. “It’s Just Hair”- Now this is a bit of a weird one given that I constantly tell my mother that “it’s just hair” followed by “it will grow back.” However the differentiating factor… it is one thing hearing this from a loved one/close friend – it is completely different to hear it from someone you don’t even know from a bar of soap. The thing is, we don’t care if my mother is bald as an eagle; she is still beautiful to us.  Seeing her without her wig or beanie is normal for us… in fact my brother never misses an opportunity to tell my mother not to wear her wig & that she looks better without it. But then again this is not our physical appearance in question, it is hers. Some women embrace the bald look and don’t really care who notices…some woman, like my mother, wish to keep the normalcy in their life. Both types of woman are perfectly accurate in their approaches. So it’s never ‘just hair’, because if it was, the rest of us would not think twice about shaving it off.
  1. It is unfortunate that we live in a time where cancer is no stranger in most homes, therefore showing empathy when we speak should not be rocket science to us. Acknowledge the struggle that the person is going through, offer support or a simple message of encouragement. The last thing they want is pity. Do not hold their hand and cry as if they are dying – cancer is not a death sentence. Also, tough love may work in certain instances but understand that a cancer patient cannot be 100% positive and optimistic all of the time. They are going to have bad days, days which are filled with frustration and tears – and they are most certainly allowed that. Being told “don’t feel sorry for yourself” or “gosh, you aren’t strong hey” is not appropriate to say the least. 
  1. Just A Bump In The Road” – I think my mother has heard this line more than she cares to admit. Chances are it is said in a manner which implies that she will be back to her normal life in no time… but imagine hearing this on an on-going basis. It is not just a bump in the road… the ‘bump’ is life altering. This disease in most instances strips a person of all normalcy… from the simple pleasures of seeing friends and relatives (in order to prevent the contraction of viruses, due to their now weak immune system), or having the independence to do your own shopping… to even being put off work and having to depend on others. Whilst pity is most certainly not needed, we should still acknowledge the struggle a cancer patient has to endure before they hear those glorious words “remission/ cancer free.”

So that’s our list… I’m pretty sure there are more but I’ll stop here, with the ones mom has personally encountered.

I came across this video on YouTube, and it is definitely worth a watch. What It’s Really Like To Have Cancer

 

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Surgery Day Had Come 

At our very first consultation with Dr Heslop, we knew that in sometime during the near future surgery was going to be a must. What I’ve failed to share with you thus far is that mom was given the heart breaking news that she would need a mastectomy. A mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast.

It does not take much to realise that a woman’s breasts are part and parcel of her definition of femininity. It doesn’t matter if it’s awkward looking, big or small – it’s part of who we are. It took a lot of getting used to and as a female it wasn’t easy for me to tell my mother “what’s boobs and hair if it means you get to be with me”, but it was the truth.. I’d rather have her alive and well, without boobs and bald than lose her to this dread disease.

It is only with the grace of God that on mom’s 7th treatment, a routine exam reveled to Dr Heslop that my mother had a complete response to the chemotherapy and that a mastectomy was too much… she would be able to get away with a lumpectomy. Cue the violins because this was music to our ears. If hearing the news of this could make us so overjoyed – I anxiously await the day she’s told she’s cancer free!

After her 9th treatment, chemo was stopped…the drastic side effects can only be attributed to the notion that perhaps there’s no longer rapid growing cancer. And after 2 weeks, a PET/CT scan revealed just that.

Now what was the need for the surgery then… Here’s the thing which I learnt only when mom was diagnosed, chemotherapy kills rapidly growing cancer cells.. it does not kill pre cancer. Nor will a PET scan reveal the location of pre cancer.
Therefore a mammogram was done and we met with the surgeon.. Dr Bisetty, a specialist surgeon at the Westville hospital.

One would think having a complete response to treatment would mean surgery would be easier, with not that much to “clean” up so to speak. However, given that mom’s diagnosis was at such an early stage and coupled with her complete response to treatment – his job just got ridiculously difficult.. to quote him, “I’m going in blind”.
To guide the surgeon, a wide localization was needed. In simple terms, a radiologist going by what the the mammogram, ultra sound and MRI of the breasts revealed, uses a hookwire as a guiding tool to the abnormality which cannot be felt by a doctor. This acts as a marker during surgery and enables the surgeon to remove the correct area of breast tissue. The hookwire is inserted to guide the removal of both benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) abnormalities.  The wire is called a hookwire because there is a tiny hook at the end, which keeps it in position. Breast hookwire localisation is done using local anaesthetic to numb the breast in the area where the hookwire is to be inserted.
Straight after this procedure at Lake, Smith and partners on Tuesday morning, mom was taken back to Westville hospital where she was taken in for surgery.  In surgery Dr Bisetty  had a pathologist that would tell him if the cells that he had taken out were cancerous and if he had clear margins. Margins refer to the edge or border of the tissue removed in cancer surgery. The margin is described as negative or clean when the pathologist finds no cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has been removed. The margin is described as positive or involved when the pathologist finds cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has not been removed. To be told margins aren’t clear was the worst case scenario and the idea of a mastectomy would need to be revisited. As he as a surgeon cannot remove chucks of the breast from different areas. However, mom was in the clear and there was nothing to worry about. We are so thrilled about this!


Post surgery

It’s the 2nd day since her surgery… She has been discharged from hospital and is back home today. Unfortunately she is in pain and discomfort, which is to be expected, but since then she’s been handling it.

P.s. I’m proud of you mom!!!

A Letter Worth Sharing – Dear Cancer

A Letter to My Cancer: by Author Ginger Johnson

It may seem like you have control in my life right now,
but you really don’t.

Your presence only makes me stronger, braver,
kinder, wiser.

I choose how I think, what I speak and how I love.

You will never be able to touch those things.
Never.

The fear of your name no longer haunts my soul
because I know that my soul belongs to me and to God.

You may take your claim on this frail outer shell
but never on my divine spirit that cried out
“I am not my body”.

My soul will run, leap and tower over your attempts to pull me down into despair.

Those who surround me will fight with me
to let it be known that we will not surrender.

Our hearts and souls are tied together in a lasting bond that no amount of your impeding growth can break.

You see cancer, you do NOT own me.

I own myself.

And I will survive.

Keep Calm & Check The Girls – Breast Cancer Awareness Month

On Thursday mom had a routine mammogram appointment… Even though she is currently on a chemotherapy break, tests must continue. This was the first time I stepped into the Lake Smith and Partners “Just for Women” Digital Mammography Centre… and they are such friendly souls. One would think I would have come to this realisation earlier… but it was only whilst I sat in the waiting room, that it hit me, I had come to the full blown realisation that a routine mammogram has basically saved my mother’s life. It is only because of this less than 30 minute procedure that my mom is now in the position to actively fight her cancer.

Over the last few months, whenever my mom would open up about her diagnosis to friends and family alike – she would make it a point to highlight that her tumour was discovered during a routine mammogram. She does this simply to encourage her friends and family to go get tested… she sometimes even goes as far as checking when your last mammogram was.

We so often get caught up with the hassles of everyday life that we so easily push the important things to the side…such as getting screened and tested. Cancer can be cured; the key is in early detection. It’s also important to know that men to can be diagnosed with breast cancer too. Male breast cancer is rare though, accounting for 1% of all breast cancers.

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On a side note… after nearly four months, I got to eat a meal prepared by mom. Gosh how I have missed her cooking. It is very aptly said that no one cooks like your mom does.

 

The greatest gift you can give to somebody is your own personal development.

I used to say, ‘if you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’
Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me. – Jim Rohn