Cancer is a very exhausted term, layered with a stigma of pity, empathy, hope and strength. Everyone on planet Earth has heard of cancer and can sympathize with a cancer patient or survivor; it would be shameful and taboo not to! The American Cancer Society predicted that Rhode Island would incur about 5, 900 new cancer patients in 2020. It is a well-known disease that had impacted the lives of millions around the world, however those of us fortunate enough to have never had to experience the hardships of the disease head on, will never understand what it is truly like.
We are here to fling back the curtain and introduce the basics of what cancer is, and what the experience is like.
Disclaimer: Based on some online research, we are familiarizing our audience with some unfamiliar staple definitions and concepts about cancer. Please refer to trained professional experts on how to diagnose any ailments or illnesses, or cope with any mental or emotional trauma regarding a recent diagnosis or passing of a loved one.
I really like this video uploaded by Buzzfeed. Before you dismiss the content and groan about the credibility of a Buzzfeed posting, allow me to explain. This was the first time I, personally, ever witnessed the stages of treatment and recovery from a cancer patient. Fortunately, I have never dealt with a close relative or friend having cancer. Meghan gallantly confronted her situation, and chose to document such a vulnerable point in her life to educate the uninformed, uneducated few who are just unaware. She articulated her emotions so well that I felt like I freaking understood her pain. It was so raw and real.
What is cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth that divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. These contrast with benign tumors, which do not spread. There are more than one hundred different kinds of cancers, and are usually named for where the abnormal growth occurs on the body.
“Many cancers form solid tumors, which are masses of tissue. Cancers of the blood, such as leukemias, generally do not form solid tumors”(Types of Cancer Treatment). Every cancer will progress differently, and each form of cancer has a different set of genetic mutations. The same type of cancer will not even progress the same way in different bodies. So, while there are treatments for some types of cancer, not all treatments will work for some cancers, if any at all. There is no universal cure. This is partially why we haven’t discovered a cure for cancer yet.
Once you overcome the initial shock and heartbreak after being diagnosed with cancer, it is expected you follow suit with a treatment of sorts, which “will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is”(Types of Cancer Treatment). Some patients continue with just one treatment while most patients “have a combination of treatments, such as surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy”(Types of Cancer Treatment).
The symptoms one may experience during treatments can vary on the type of cancer and the person themselves. Patients battling the same type of cancer can even experience a whole different set of symptoms from each other. Some of symptoms can include:
- Appetite Loss
- Bleeding and Bruising (Thrombocytopenia)
- Edema (Swelling)
- Fertility Issues in Boys and Men
- Flu-Like Symptoms
- Hair Loss (Alopecia)
- Infection and Neutropenia
- Memory or Concentration Problems
- Mouth and Throat Problems
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Nerve Problems (Peripheral Neuropathy)
- Immunotherapy and Organ-Related Inflammation
- Sexual Health Issues
- Skin and Nail Changes
- Sleep Problems and Insomnia
- Urinary and Bladder Problems
Suffering from anyone one of those symptoms can be pretty distressing, so imagine dealing with more than one. To put it lightly, battling cancer is a real b*tch.
Despite the obvious physical toll cancer can have on your life, the mental and emotional strain is immeasurable. No one can prepare you for what a life with cancer is like. It is all dependent on your circumstance, threshold and attitude. The journey toward recovery will have hiccups, sour days, emotional breakdowns, sleepless nights, bits of anxiety and depression. Treatments may also include therapy sessions. The sensitivity, awareness and acknowledgement of mental health has become a growing and developing concept nationwide, but it especially critical to consider a cancer patient’s mental state at this time.
I defer back to the Buzzfeed video above. What emotions did Megan express during her treatment? I recognized feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, guilt, depression, confusion, pity. The emotions you feel are justified, and it is encouraged to talk to a trusted friend or a third-party professional about any frustrations or issues.
The side effects of cancer don’t end there. As we near the end of the timeline for patients, when the recovery bell has been rung and remission has begun, families are plummeted with the piles of reality; the true cost of being a cancer patient. Bills, bills, bills.
Healthcare in the United States is an absolute scam, leaving about 27.5 million Americans without any health insurance. This prevents many Americans from receiving optimal cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment. Even with healthcare coverage, the medical bills can be devastating. Some private insurance companies have placed a limit on the amount of patient “out-of-pocket spending” or deductible, but it can steal reach totals of $7,000 or more! Some insurance companies may not cover all prescribed medications, treatments, therapies, etc. Families will sacrifice just about anything to save the life of a loved one, but celebrating remission and a path toward recovery comes at the cost of crippling debt.
Our intention is not to undermine the severity of cancer. The takeaway from this blog is just a deeper understanding of cancer, and a greater appreciation for its survivors. Did you watch the video above? LOOK AT HER RING THAT BELL! WAY TO BE FREAKING CANCER FREE! I love that. I strive for heart-warming moments like that. This is why your continued support for cancer patients is still vital. While medical experts continue to research for a viable cure for all sorts of cancer types, patients from all over the globe are still suffering.
If the topic interested you, consider checking out our blog written by our guest writer and one of my best friends, Keanu. We are immensely appreciative of his willingness to share an intimidate dive into his experience as a cancer survivor.
At IMPACT, we encourage you to evoke change beyond a simple social media posting. We find that the best way to support patients is to devote time (with permission, of course). Research programs in your local area that host projects to create care packages or write letters. If able, there are hundreds of different charities that utilize donations to support cancer patients through research, care packages, family financial relief, etc.
Considering the current state of the U.S. during this pandemic, consider checking out the brands that endorse patient care themselves.
Headbands for Hope offers a cancer patient a free headband for everyone purchased. They are wicked cute, and offered in a variety of colors and patterns! Then there is Cove Artist Collective whose awesome ceramic pieces are crafted by artists with autism and other developmental diseases. The space fosters a safe learning community, and a means toward social and financial independence.
Shop with us, and make an impact! Or, if you’d like to collaborate with us on a volunteer project geared toward Patient Care, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Types of Cancer Treatment. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types.