Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) changed me, but it doesn’t define me.
As someone who hasn’t received a diagnosis such as cancer, this sentence may seem like a no-brainer. That is until someone close is diagnosed and the perspective shifts. In many cases, I believe this is probably a very unintentional shift, but one that I have noticed happens nonetheless.
Loved ones of cancer patients often walk through the process with them. Therefore, they see firsthand what the person is going through. In many situations, patients are experiencing an enormous amount of stress and anxiety at the beginning of treatments. Most of these impact you over the course of a short period of time. In the season from diagnosis to when things potentially slow down for a cancer patient, the opposite of the headline is probably even true. At first, cancer defines every moment of our life. It defines every moment of our life at that point, but it doesn’t define me as a person.
There is more to me than just cancer.
Why have I decided to share this topic with you? Why do I share it with the healthcare providers treating cancer patients, when in fact, cancer does define us in their eyes? It is most likely the only reason someone like me would be in your care.
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I am hoping that by detailing this experience, you will see past the cancer patient to the person behind the diagnosis. In some ways, we could also use help from healthcare providers in letting our families see us behind the diagnosis.
Maybe, that is the driving force behind writing this column. I remember a time (probably within the first year after my diagnosis), when my mother would introduce me to other people as, “this is my daughter. You know, the one with cancer.” It was a strange feeling. It was almost like I was being reduced to my diagnosis, even by the people closest to me.
After going through some therapy, I understand that it was my family’s way of dealing with a lot of the things they had to do based on my diagnosis. However, they did not grasp what a comment like that may do to my own mental well-being.
Eventually, I realized this behavior wouldn’t change unless I actually spoke up. Especially since, as I said, I don’t think my family realized how it made me feel at the time. When I broached the conversation with my mom, she was shocked when I explained to her how her comments made me feel. She apologized profusely and I don’t think it ever happened again.
It did bring up another ‘problem/conversation’ however, a dilemma so to speak down the road. Even though cancer doesn’t define me, as I previously stated, it did change my life in more ways than I can probably explain in a single column.
Therefore, it may be understandable that celebrating dates such as the day I got my diagnosis is very important to me. It is the day my life changed forever.
Shortly after explaining to my family that I would like them to change the way they speak about me and my cancer, one of those “cancerversaries” came along. There was no acknowledgment from my family about it. When I brought this up to them, there was some confusion on their part. They didn’t understand why I would ask them to refrain from talking about my cancer as defining me, but then would like to have them recognize this date for me.
I understand that in the big picture, this is a complicated concept to grasp. For cancer patients, however, it is critical. It is a key concept to help cancer patients, like me, feel like a person despite their cancer diagnosis. Someone who can still have and live a full life even while fighting chronic cancer, such as MTC.