New and Improved!

One thing that continually irks me in Cancerland is the expectation that cancer patients are supposed to emerge from treatment a better person—healthier, better attitude, new respect for life, yada, yada. This issue pops up every now and again. I get mad, start a post, lose interest, trash post. But it has started to pop up with a monthly regularity now in a newsletter from a local breast cancer support organization, because they’ve started some kind of cooking class series with a name that implies cancer turns patients into new and improved versions of themselves, and that involves learning to cook healthier, you know, because clearly everyone who has cancer was living on fast food and soda before. (Yes, being sarcastic. Again.)

Several weeks ago, Nancy’s Point posted this great piece, After A Cancer Diagnosis, You’re A Better Person, Right?, and there was a lovely discussion that ensued. I was so happy to read it, and kind of thought this issue out of my system. Nancy talks about the cancer as a gift concept and how she is uncomfortable with that. She also mentions how this is yet another expectation of the cancer patient—to  “do” cancer right, as if cancer patients did not have enough to do.

But what else bothering me about this “better person” idea is that it gets too close to the blame game—as in, if I’m choosing to “do everything right” now that I’ve had cancer, does that mean I did something or maybe everything wrong before and therefore caused my cancer?

I was not perfect before cancer, and I’m sure as hell not perfect now. In some ways cancer has made me worse. I am much less patient and tolerant. And now I have a cancer-focused blog in which I write and share my rants with anyone who’ll read them. I’m sure there are many that would count that as NOT an improvement. Yet, I couldn’t, wouldn’t, have done this without cancer. (Hint: I like my blog and think it’s a good thing.) I documented in my post Punk Rock (Breast) Cancer that I once thought cancer was magic, that I would get this new, wonderful outlook on life and I’d handle things better. I learned that is not true real quick. Cancer just makes a person more who they really are—good, bad, ugly, and/or unable to behave in an appropriate manner while having cancer, or after it.

I often wonder if folks who throw themselves into this “new me” idea and action plan blame themselves for getting cancer in the first place, and hope they are not devastated if cancer returns. I’ve said too many times on this blog that cancer’s motto is “shit happens”, because sometimes illness is out of an individual human’s control.

I recently came into contact with a woman who had just finished treatment and was near tears as she talked about how she was improving her diet and exercise regime to do anything to prevent recurrence. I wondered if thinks she caused her cancer in the first place, since she is doing all these different things now. It was not my place to ask her, and I did not.

You see, I recognize myself in her. Oh, I talk a good game here in my various blog posts about how I refuse to blame myself for my cancer. But I’ve also admitted that I eat tomatoes now because of their cancer-fighting properties. Because in the center of me that is filled with self-doubt, I still somehow believe it was that hatred of tomatoes that put me in that damn infusion chair in 2010-11.

While I cannot judge how any other person “does” cancer, I sometimes think I must seem rather stubborn, or stupid, or both, in comparison to the “change my life” patients, for accepting that maybe I could not have stopped cancer from happening to me.

I’ve covered the diet-exercise angle quite a bit in terms of blame, prevention, and moving forward. And I suspect those things aren’t even the half of it. I’m too afraid to deal with the karma/philosophical aspect; as in if you shoplifted at age 5, is that why you have cancer now? (No, I did not shoplift, but I’ve done other bad things, who has not, unless you are some deity?) That is a whole other post, and I’ll get there someday. But I do know this, whatever bad things I’ve done, I’d already learned lessons from those things and improved (in MY way) because of them. I did not need the added punishment of cancer to motivate me to improve myself. It is sad to think that it takes something as dire as cancer to inspire self-improvement. I reject that notion completely.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

29 thoughts on “New and Improved!”

  1. People talk about cancer being a Gift!!! Well I am giving it back.. It’s no gift .. It turns your life to Shit!!! … If I could have my life again without it I would…

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  2. Well said by all. People who don’t have it are clueless. My thyroid cancer turned my life upside down and I’m still hangin by the toes, without a net, and with no one there to catch me when I fall….

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    1. Hmmm, there is also some pressure coming from those who do have it, to have an epiphany to be a better person. This is an issue I’ve been pondering a little lately; measuring one’s own cancer experience to others, and how that is maybe best NOT done. Unfortunately I cannot shake the habit of projecting my own BS onto others at times, and I know if I followed in the self-improvement path like the woman I mentioned, and then I got cancer again, I’d be incredibly angry…and I just don’t want that to happen to her, or anyone, quite simply. Of course, that gets into the larger issues of control, life happening while you make other plans, etc., more than my brain will handle today.
      I am sorry to hear you have no net to catch you. I hope by reading various blogs, including mine, you are finding comfort in seeing similar views. It helps me to see those things.

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  3. I have made some positive changes in my life since my diagnosis, and in many ways I am a much happier person now, but if you gave me the choice to not have cancer and return to what my life was before, I would do so in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t? How can anyone possibly think that having cancer is better than not having cancer? Idiots! I do, however, think we all make our own happiness, and how you choose to deal with a situation can make a big difference in your life. But that is no one’s business but yours. I have dealt with some traumas well, and others poorly. Shit does happen, but its how you choose to deal with that shit that impacts your life. I am not mad at my cancer, I’m not angry at my body for getting it, it is what it is. I want to be at peace and be happy. We all have our crosses to bear, and no one else should try to judge what is or is not a positive experience in anyone else’s life. Just worry about your own.

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    1. I’m sure most do make positive changes, even without realizing it. What bothers me is the “you must!” vibe I get. Then I wanna dig in my heels like a child, or like Grumpy Cat: “NO!”
      Funny you mention not being mad at your cancer; I’m starting to realize that maybe all this time I was only half mad at cancer, that maybe I’m half mad at the surrounding pressures to behave a certain way.
      Re your last lines, see previous post, I think you’ll enjoy. 🙂

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    2. AMEN – you guys are the best….it’s nice to talk to normal cancer people for a change, not smiley, happy, non cancer people who think they know. i’ve been told, you’re harping on it too much, try not thinking about it for awhle, join a club – LOL – I have joined a club – it’s called The Cancer Club!!! And how can I not harp on it when I am aware of it 24/7 and if affects everything I do. So, I stop talking about it, except with fellow cancer friends. And that’s OK too…I must sound depressing, however, if I heard me, I think I would let me talk about it……my dog listens. I think he may be a cancer sniffing dog. Right before my diagnosis, he started clinging to me for dear life – I couldn’t move without him being underfoot. After surgery he was better. Every time my TSH #’s get high, he does it again and now he is not only underfoot constantly, he is also getting sick, which is making me paranoid that somethign else is going on inside me. (No, nothing wrong with him – he’s been to vet countless times and they find nothing) he is just very closely connected to me……Righ now, .I want to be in a cabin on a mountain watching the sun rise and go down, watch the rain, and read my kindle…..that kind of “alone” I can handle.

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      1. Kerry I agree with you – reading Curmudgeon is Always a breath of realistic fresh air – love her.
        Wouldn’t mind joining you at that cabin with my kindle – can I bring my knitting too?
        If you need someone to talk to, look me up – I’ll get back to you when I can, but I’ll always read/listen.

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      2. Thank you, and yes, you would be welcome anytime and absolutely bring your knitting!!!! And an axe for splitting wood for the stove- hahaha. Or I should say, for cutting the logs to build it first!!!. Thank you for your support.

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  4. Well, I guess you already know how I feel about this one! This whole notion that you somehow morph into a new and better version of your self following a cancer diagnosis, really irritates me…Thanks for writing about this. And thanks so much for the link too!

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  5. Curmudgeon – yes, as always, thank you!

    My favorite parts (otherwise known as I resemble that remark):

    – I am much less patient and tolerant.

    and

    – Cancer just makes a person more who they really are—good, bad, ugly, and/or unable to behave in an appropriate manner while having cancer, or after it.

    But, um, oh well.

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  6. Thank you for this. Been trying to post about this exact thing, but haven’t been able to get the right words together. Thank you for your words. Perfect perfect perfect!

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  7. Bravo dear woman. Bravo.

    Here I sit in the hospital cafe, waiting for my check-up time. Cancer certainly hasn’t improved my life, my lifestyle, or my personality. I’d much rather be sitting at work, you know, actually being useful to my employer?

    But, here I sit. Listening to the two women in their 60’s next to me complaining about their aches and pains, and gossiping about their equally elderly friends. Being in my 40’s, I am outnumbered in this cafe.

    And, as a person I certainly aren’t feeling improved…

    Jenn

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    1. Unimproved persons unite! LOL. Yeah I know about being 40 in a room with older persons…and younger ones too! Like a 70+ grandpa waving a cane and yelling “get off my lawn”, the curmudgeon will stubbornly remain the same person, unless I really really want to change, not because others think I should!

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    1. Hmm, I take it by reading your comment you must’ve clicked the link within this post to Punk Rock Cancer? Yes, the job I left was my “dream” when I took it on, and ceased to be such a dream before I got cancer. Cancer did not inspire me to quit, in fact cancer delayed it (because I thought I’d be a better person after cancer) and had a negative effect on the way I dealt with my cancer. I’ll stop discussing it there, that is a whole other post.
      If I read your post (which I seem to remember reading before) correctly, you are writing a novel AND doing some consulting? Maybe having a couple of different jobs at once is a good thing. I know not doing the same thing with the same people all the time these days for me is key to helping my patience AND my short attention span. So, maybe no screw up!

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  8. Take it easy, dude

    Don’t blame yourself for getting cancer in the first place.
    This is all by design and evil intent.
    More often than not, we get what we deserve in life – for our ignorance and gullibilty.
    Get over it !!!!
    I know what i am talking about, i have the same illness

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