This week, we feature two different cancer stories. Today, about a cancer survivor going more public. Tomorrow, regarding a cancer survivor appearing on America’s Got Talent. Let’s look at disclosing that you are a cancer victim.
Where Do YOU Stand: Disclosing That You Are a Cancer Victim
In my view, there are probably three ways of disclosing that you are a cancer victim. (1) Remain close-mouthed and discuss matters only with close family members. (2) Go beyond those in (1) and share your story with your circle of friends, (3) Open up and note your condition more broadly. The choice is based on the reasons for each of us survivors. There is no right or wrong decision. Only one that fits for YOU.
My Personal Choice to Go Public
As discussed in my free E-book, I have engaged in an open policy since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2015. Why choose this option? From the beginning, I felt no embarrassment. I was a victim of this disease. It was not my fault. I was going to fight it as hard as I can. After I completed chemotherapy, I began doing more volunteer work and wrote a book about my fortunate cancer journey. Both then and now, I feel obligated to give back, And this is rewarding to me. As a result, that means publicizing myself as a pancreatic cancer survivor to inspire others. To show that some of us are vibrant and working hard. [Believe me, this is not a “fun” path. Yet, it is necessary for me.]
From insights gleaned in my conversations with other cancer survivors, choice (3) seems the least applicable to others. Choice (2) seems more likely. Although some fit into choice (1).
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Taking a While to Disclose One’s Cancer
We thank Ina Jaffe of NPR for so generously and publicly telling your personal breast cancer story. We excerpt your article below:
I’ve been keeping a secret. I’ve decided to tell it. I have metastatic breast cancer, MBC, stage 4. That means the breast cancer has spread to my lungs, bones and brain. There is no cure. Eventually, it kills you. Actually, I’ve had it for two years. Keeping it secret served me well. I didn’t have to explain myself to friends and strangers while I was still in the hysterical stage. Because, faced with an incurable cancer diagnosis, I did what any normal person would do: I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I sobbed a lot. And I was grieving for my own life.
But I had to tell someone, so I told 50 of my closest friends. Also, since I’m a correspondent for NPR, I told my three editors. They’ve kept my secret. That’s not easy to do in a newsroom filled with gossips. I’m incredibly grateful. Meanwhile, I had a chance to get used to working in my new normal. Frankly, it was a lot like my old normal, only with more medical appointments.
I’ve decided to tell my secret for two reasons. The first is that I realized that much of my initial despair was based on bad information. I was wrong about almost everything. So maybe my confession will shorten the Despair Phase for others. The second reason is much more in my wheelhouse as a journalist: outrage. I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, my mistakes.
I thought metastatic breast cancer was fairly rare. Nope. Up to 30% of women with early stage breast cancer progress to stage 4. I thought that you were more likely to get metastatic breast cancer if you’d been diagnosed with a more-advanced stage of breast cancer to begin with. Wrong again. It’s not dependent on your stage at original diagnosis. I was stage 1B when I was first diagnosed in January 2012. I thought it was my fault. Maybe I drank too much (I didn’t). Or gained too much weight (I hadn’t). Those are among many factors that can influence whether you get breast cancer initially. But no one is sure what causes metastases. So again, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Unfortunately, I did have something mostly right. The five-year relative survival rate is about 1 in 4. And it’s worse for Black women. Due to the types of cancers that they get, African American women have the highest breast cancer mortality rate of any U.S. racial or ethnic group, at 26.8 per 100,000 annually.
All of these things were painful to realize because I’d been planning on becoming a really cool old lady. While covering aging for NPR, I’d met so many inspirational elders that I wanted to be one of them. This diagnosis doesn’t mean I won’t be. There are outliers, as they’re called. People who live 10 years or more with stage 4. Mark Burkard at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center is studying them to see what they might have in common. So far, it’s too early to draw conclusions.
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