Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Do I have enough cancer for you?

This week I've been struck by the notion that some survivors look at other survivors and judge them by how bad their cancer was. Now, I will never deny that depending on the diagnosis, other people's journeys will be more, or less, traumatic and challenging than others. Just like pregnancies, some women experience easier or more difficult pregnancies. However, pregnant is pregnant, no matter how you got that way and what your journey was. It's still a life-changing event, regardless of outcome.

It's the same thing with cancer. There is no such thing as "good cancer" or "bad cancer." There are good and bad prognoses, there are subjectively more difficult treatment plans, etc.

And yet, some people feel the need to look at some of us and say, "Well, you didn't suffer for as long as I did, so your cancer 'doesn't count,'" to which I say, "Bullshit."

That sounds harsh. I know. That sounds incredibly insensitive. But the minute you belittle another person's cancer experience, you kind of negate any willingness to be open to your plight.

Having cancer doesn't automatically turn us into saints. Jerks are simply jerks with cancer. Yes, there is the chance that being faced with something as significant and mortal as cancer may prompt us to rethink our approach to life, etc. But sometimes, it really doesn't.

The notion of judging another person's cancer as being "less than" is so insulting, too, because it presumes that the person who has the "lesser" cancer isn't aware that others have gone through hell and back. I am very well aware, for example, that I am surrounded by people who have endured things for many more months and years, who have had chemotherapy for much longer, etc, and that their cancers have a much higher mortality rate than mine. But that doesn't make me, or anyone else, any less of a survivor, and that doesn't mean that I'm less qualified than someone else to say, "I'm a survivor," have an opinion on the matter or work for the cause.

My opinion? Accept that everyone has their own cancer journey, and that for that individual and their family, it is (hopefully) the most disruptive, challenging and difficult experience of their lives, no matter the time span, prognosis, etc.

Perhaps, rather than reserve judgement about another person's treatment and cancer, leave it at "I have cancer," and provide support. Or walk away.

A blanket statement: If I have ever made anyone feel that I've made their cancer experience seem insignificant, my sincerest apologies. I hope I've never done that.

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