A friend recently posted about how much of what the US population is feeling is relatively common on Planet Cancer. I agree with that sentiment so much I feel it’s actually understatement and needs more enagement.

My local supermarket shelves are empty. Which is odd; I’d always assumed that it was standard operating procedure to keep a weeks’-worth of essentials on-hand at all times (to be fair, I was raised in the Earthquake State). Still, it seems like America is, emotionally, only capable of two emotions: dread, or panic.

My family have all chastised me about my recently-acquired disdain for planning, pointing out that most things go according to plan. As someone who got a life-limiting diagnosis, then turned 33 (then turned 34, then turned 35), let’s assume the word “most” is applicable to a point 30 km distant from my body whenever discussing anything regarding normality. Still, that sensation that you’re trapped in an inevitable David Cronenberg-type nightmare is one most survivors can relate to. You privately pray for bad news, because the inevitable alternative is worse news. You no longer reach for the phone at 11 pm thinking, “Oh! It might be him!” you reach for that phone thinking “Oh, it might be her.” (seriously, after-hours calls tend to come in only two flavors; jubilant relief that your very worst fears won’t be realized, just your fears; or amazingly bad news because your oncologist needs to see you when the clinic opens). There seems to be that sensation that we’re no longer quietly anticipating good news; we’re dreading an honest assessment that things are really that bad. Welcome to Planet Cancer, healthy people.

Forced to self-isolate out of fear that a handshake could be dangerous? Welcome to leukemia treatment. Forced to plan your entire day around a bizarre, abitrary scenario to avoid making a potentially bad situation worse? Say, avoiding school zones because of those disease-ridden urchins? I know some of my lymphoma friends have done exactly that. Trying to figure out if it’s Covid 19 or just allergies? Welcome to my 2018, when I was warned that experimental chemo might crash my marrow. Worrying if you’re at-risk, or if someone in your postal code has this disease? Welcome to the first week, post-diagnosis, of every survivor, as we comb through studies (of varying reliability) trying to figure out what our odds are, really. Afraid that you’re being inundated with information, not all of it helpful, reliable, or good-faith? Let me tell you about my uncle who cured his melanoma by injecting ozone into his throat (yes, I heard that one), as opposed to the advantages of adding methotrexate to your chemo infusions (I’m being hyperbolic, but not as much as you’d think). Afraid that your entire existence is tenuous and might rely on something as distal and relatively unimportant as some nitwit spring break student deciding to take an earlier flight home? This is our entire lives. Afraid that, if you get sick, your hospital will be woefully inadequate and unable to treat you effectively, that they might do more harm than good? That’s every day for brain cancer patients.

My point in writing this isn’t to drive home the point that cancer patients and chronic disease survivors have it so much worse than you able-bodied jerks (though we do). It’s to make you realize that this is but a glimmer of every single minute of our lives (yes, even our sleep — I haven’t had a good dream since my last infusion of Marizomib), and, when you realize how delightful your humdrum existence is when you can return to it; please be compassionate and kind to those of us who don’t get to return with you.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store