There is an interesting phenomenon that I have come across as a breast cancer survivor.
I’ve been told by a few different people, “You’re lucky, you had the easy cancer.”
Now, make no mistake, I count my blessings every day. I am so grateful to be well. I am so grateful that I wasn’t so sick that I wasn’t able to recover. But those words bewilder me. At this point, I’ve had my breasts removed, my ovaries removed, more cancer removed, three additional reconstruction surgeries and medications with not so fun side effects. And another surgery scheduled in September. I feel great now and yes, I’m going to be fine. But getting to this point wasn’t easy.
And it certainly wasn’t easy for my kids or husband or brothers or friends.
The word easy is dismissive. It undermines my fear and that of my family’s.
In fact, I even tried to brush off the seriousness of the situation myself. But my husband nipped that one in the bud immediately. After my first round with breast cancer, once I was out free and clear on the other side, I’d said, “It’s all like it never happened. I’m fine.”
He let me know right away that he wasn’t okay with that take on what we had gone through. “No, you don’t get to do that. The threat was real, our fear was real. You ARE fine, but that’s only because you went at this hard.”
The reason I’d been told my cancer was easy was because I had hormone positive invasive ductal carcinoma and because I didn’t have to do chemo. Positive hormone breast cancer means there are more options for treatment, more chances that something will work.
But the no chemo was only because I found it early and because I chose a double mastectomy. Had I chosen a lumpectomy then I would have had to do both chemo and radiation as well as Tamoxifen. I made the choice to lose my breasts to save myself from chemo.
But I did the mastectomy. I went on Tamoxifen. And it still came back.
Which was terrifying. I felt hunted.
I felt like nothing could keep it away. I still dodged chemo because, again, I caught it before it spread. This time, they took my ovaries, they cut out the recurrence and put me on Aromasin.
I am so grateful I didn’t have to do chemo. I’ve seen the effects it had on my mother, on my many friends. But there is a lasting effect on having a mastectomy, going through a recurrence, all the fear and uncertainty. Having to tell my children.
But the biggest thing to being told I had the easy cancer.
The easy cancer took my mom when I was seven. There was nothing easy about that at all.
So please, let’s choose our words carefully. Let’s try and be sensitive to each others’ challenges even if we think our own are harder.
There isn’t anything easy about any of it. Every one of us has our own journey to face, and in each moment the fear and pain and discomfort is as real as anyone else’s. All of it is hard. But hopefully, we are surrounded by loved ones to help us through.
Was I lucky? Fortunate? Blessed? Hell, yes. I am all of those things. And beyond grateful. There are diseases out there that have no chance at a happy ending. But so far I’m having mine.
Tell a hormone positive breast cancer patient she is fortunate, but don’t tell her she had it easy.
Be kind. Be strong. #knowandgo