A first person account: cancer is not a simple story

Written by Nico Poux

First of all, it’s impossible to generalize cancer. Not only are the types of cancer and their treatments extremely diverse and completely different, but everyone’s experience with cancer is completely different. That being said, I’m going to try to do the impossible.

You’ve got to remember that you’re talking about seven years of my life. I mean, it’d be hard for anyone to generalize seven years of their life, so how am I supposed to explain away the most tumultuous and difficult seven years that I’ll ever experience? What I can say is that I’ll never be the same. I believe that I’ve changed for the better, but who can say?

I can’t really explain what I’ve suffered during my treatments. It’s the kind of thing that unless you’ve experienced it for yourself (which is something I don’t really recommend by the way) you’ll never get it. Something that is true for all cancers is that the treatments are more painful, damaging and outright maddening than the cancer itself. Invariably throughout the treatment, cancer patients will always ask themselves why they’re enduring those treatments. The only difference is that the cancer will kill you, and the treatments will (hopefully) save you.

About that, uncertainty is one of the worst parts of cancer. You never know if you’ll live. Everything can be going well and in the span of a week, or even a couple days, you could end up in the ER knowing that you only have a couple hours left to live. Even when you’re in remission, or even declare cured (which, by the way, are COMPLETELY different even though the media likes to act as if they’re the same) you will never know for sure if you’re cured. The only way to know for sure whether or not there’s any cancer left in your body is for the cancer to come back.

Also, about the media, just don’t listen to it. When it comes to cancer, the media does much more harm than good. Not only do they spread misinformation about cancer–No, there is no quick or easy cure for cancer. You can’t go the hospital to be treated for cancer and come out cured in a week. For most cancers you have to spend months in and out of hospitals and the treatments will likely bring you closer to death before they start helping you–but some of the nonsense they spread actually do tangible harm to the cancer community. I remember talking with a person from the Joanne Pang Foundation (a nonprofit that helps collect umbilical stem cells for transplants such as the one I received) who said that a single episode of a medical drama led to a huge drop in life-saving bone marrow donations. The episode portrayed bone marrow donations as being extremely painful, and as a result of their desire to increase drama in their show, actual donations dropped and have never recovered from it. The script writers indirectly killed a great many cancer patients. When it comes to cancer in the media, the best thing you can do is to turn off the TV and go look it up for yourself from trusted sources (places like Mayoclinic or Stanford health or actual doctors, preferably oncologists or cancer specialists.

I don’t think my cancer experience was all bad. I’d never want to go through it again, but the lessons and experiences that I learned from my battles with cancer are invaluable to me. I’m still weak, and have a bunch of health issues due to side effects from my treatments, but cancer also made me who I am today. It helped me have confidence that no matter what happens next, I’ll already have conquered the hardest part of my life. I made lifelong friends who really understand me, and whom I really understand. A sort of “fellowship of suffering” as Andy Stanley puts it. And cancer shaped the way I view the world. You never appreciate how valuable your life is, how beautiful everyday experiences are, until they’re almost ripped away from your hands. I never want to forget how lucky I am that I can just go to school, or even that I am able to leave my house to go for a walk.

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