When I was first diagnosed a few days before my 39th birthday, I concentrated on just the big picture of breast cancer, and I did not really pay attention to issues of age…at first. I was lucky to be treated at a facility that, despite its location in a small-town and rural area, was evolved enough to have a resource for young adults with cancer. A special support group was started for us by my friend, diagnosed a few years earlier with ovarian and uterine cancer. Joining support groups is so the opposite of my personality, but I am so glad I joined this one. It helped offset the annoyance I still felt going into the infusion room and seeing the looks of surprise given by my fellow patients as they watched me, not my mother, sit in that chair each time (even though I was the bald one, go figure).
As I progressed through treatment and began interacting with the others in our support group, I have researched a few resources outside of our little local circle for “young adults with cancer”. There are some cool things out there, like Huffington Post’s Generation Why blog, Stupid Cancer/I’m Too Young For This! Foundation, and First Descent.
But I wouldn’t be the Cancer Curmudgeon if I did not have a complaint. Generation Why is a play on “generation y”; naturally I am “generation x”. First Descent and events produced by Stupid Cancer are for anyone with cancer ages 13-39. Since I was going through treatment the entire time I was 39, and I worked while in treatment, I did not have much left-over energy or vacation time for anything like that. Hell, even the SCAR Project, which I admire greatly, had a limit of age 35 for participants. So does that mean, since I am 41, I am no longer allowed to be a sexual being, upset at the scar and lack of nipple that cancer left me? I do not think this, but it seems that “society”, or certain organizations, or who knows else, is putting these parameters in place, once again trying to fit cancer experiences into these little boxes.
Cancer sucks no matter what number of years you’ve walked this earth. Maybe people should not be reduced to age brackets when it comes to cancer. At 41 I should be at a certain place in a career, married with 2 kids? Nope, I don’t fit the “profile”. No kids…so the worries of informing my kids, raising kids, and worrying about their future without me does not apply. But I am single and would like to find a husband, and hell yeah, I am worried that my “damaged goods” are going to impact my chances of finding a one, a problem I see discussed in articles targeted to those in their 20s and 30s. In addition, I am certainly nowhere near retirement, in fact, am still searching for my “perfect” job. In short, I know what my particular challenges are, and there may be someone out there in the same or a similar boat, or maybe not. I’m sure lots of patients cannot imagine facing my set of circumstances, the same way I am baffled when I read other bloggers’ posts of trying to go through college while in chemo, some without family support.
Look, I am not poo-pooing these resources I’ve mentioned, I am grateful they exist. I sort it out as I research & read, and just try to take what applies to me and move on. I know that the medical community and these various organizations have to create these age brackets in order to do the testing, compile data, and create their target markets. I especially would like the medical testing industry to expand their vision to include testing and results for each and every age bracket, so treatment can be improved and prevention discovered. It’s all about the stats and the odds, I know.
I just want everyone, especially the number-crunchers, to remember that the one common thread in cancer patients no matter the age is that we all want to survive and live well, and that there is a person behind each number or stat.
11 thoughts on “The Age Divisions”
Great post, as always. I don’t like the way we are pigeon-holed into age categories, either. Though I was encouraged to seek out a support group for women my age (I had just turned 34 at the time), there weren’t any in my area — and I probably wouldn’t have joined anyway! And though I’ve been handed plenty of pamphlets from groups like YSC and other breast cancer groups for younger women, I must admit that I’ve never visited their sites.
While I agree that some issues are specific to certain age groups, I feel as though cancer is cancer. And I second your feeling that it sucks no matter what your age is. In fact, I often feel more defined by my stage than age.
Even though two women may fall into the same age category, it doesn’t mean they can always relate. In my case, there have been times when I’ve felt alienated in my age group because I wasn’t eligible for reconstruction & have remained completely boobless and because I lost my uterus and my ovaries, etc. because of large masses that my docs thought were mets (they weren’t — thank goodness!). Being plunged into complete surgical menopause at the age of 35 has been isolating at best and makes me feel like I don’t fit into any of the categories these well-meaning groups have created.
I think we all have unique experiences & we all have something to offer each other, regardless of how many wrinkles we have on our foreheads. You are right, it is a shame that “society” is trying to group us into categories and divide us rather than unite us.
Sorry for the long comment — but you inspire me to speak my mind! 🙂
Amen. These days, age distinctions have become less relevent anyway. The distinction that matters to me is that, before I was diagnosed and treated, I was a ball of fire. Now? A limping train wreck.
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I mean, I’m sure the age stuff matters to patients with kids or wanting them–where I live women in my support group had to ask about fertility issues upon DX, the information was not brought up–and that is an issue for sure. But like everything, the pendulum has swung too far when I wrote this post, it seemed any time I went to a site for women in their 40s, it was all about how to juggle kids while having cancer. I realize there cannot be a group for EVERY. LITTLE. PERSONAL. situation, but damn! I get a bit tired of feeling alienated in cancer culture. And I’ve really been feeling it lately.
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It’s not where we should find alienation. No two of us are alike, but still, we should be able to relate to how much we share. ❤
I was diagnosed at the age of 63 and sometimes I felt like I just didn’t count as much because of my advanced decrepitude.
Very interesting POV! You see the support group I mentioned here was created because there were so many support groups for older folks (bear in mind, I work in a resort/beach area with a high percentage of people who’ve moved here upon retirement–so the percentages get skewed a bit).
I do understand that there seems to be a push, culturally/within medical or hospital systems, to better serve the younger patients’ needs. I get it, maybe those needs were not met so much before–I don’t know because I never paid attention before I got cancer! I do know my local support group was formed by an acquaintance of mine who got 2 gyno cancers before I got cancer, so the support group for younger patients was pretty new. So there was a bit of luck for me.
All that said, I don’t want to create a backlash or something, because younger patients’ needs were not met and now they get all the attention–because I still think I’m on the younger side of it. It just seems the lines that are drawn to better serve previously ignored demographics are still, just wrong for me. Hope that all makes sense! Thanks xox
This is an excellent post. I don’t think I read it before. Yes, the age thing… and the divisions drive me a little nuts sometimes too. As you know I think. I have finally reached the average age for a breast cancer dx. Guess I was an early “achiever,” too, though not as early as you and so many others. Even now, I still don’t feel average at all or that I fit in. I am sorry you feel so isolated. That shouldn’t happen, regardless of our ages and if we are moms or not. Geez… Like Kathi said, I tend to think more in terms of before cancer dx and post cancer dx. Bottom line is, cancer at any age for any living creature totally sucks. Period.
Yeah it does suck no matter what age or life point a person is in–I say that because it seems I have nothing in common with others my age either lately, because of the parenthood issue. And there seems to be this subtle undercurrent lately that maybe I’m blowing out of proportion, that the live should be saved because women are mothers–and it’s been plucking my nerves for some time now. Slogans like think of the children left behind are effective, I get that, but slogans are just not as good as deep thoughtful conversation and education (but no one wants that–yes, sarcasm).