Skip Navigation

Cancer - The Secret Change

This article, so very well written by a practicing oncologist, is superb! Dr. Salwitz truly captures the feelings that I (and probably thousands of other cancer patients) have. Cancer does suck! My cancer is rare. It grows slowly, but it grows. I do not “look like I have cancer.” I hear so often,“You really look great.” The problem is I put up a good front and I feel far from great. My latest chemotherapy has added a whole new layer of fatigue to the point that there are some days I can barely function. Fortunately, I have many days that I can function and I make myself get up and get going on those days. It is impossible to complain too much, though. So much of the last 5+ years has been miraculous and I have been living on the gift of extended time via a generous and loving GOD who still has a purpose for me.. How could I not be grateful? “How optimistic are you?,” perhaps you ask. My answer is, I already mail-ordered some flowers for the spring garden!

I could go on and on…. but I won’t. Please take a few moment to digest the content of this article. Try to understand how cancer impacts all of us. Please, please, remember, too, the spouse and family. They, too, are part of this incredible journey. They, too, are deeply impacted. They, too, need to be recognized and be shown the same (or perhaps more) degree of compassion and concern as the patient with cancer. Read this article, “digest it,” and you will be changed, too.

In Christ,

Jon

Cancer; the secret change
by James Salwitz, MD

“I had no idea how much cancer sucks.” My patient’s observation seems silly, basic. Of course, cancer sucks. It maims, humiliates and kills. It takes. What made the statement remarkable was its source. This is not a medically naïve person, waiting to die. Rather it was spoken by a patient in complete remission, likely cured, who is an expert in cancer care. To her amazement, it changed life forever.

I think that sometimes we confuse cancer with sudden maladies such as pneumonia, a heart attack or maybe trauma like a broken hip. These diseases are acute, painful and dangerous, but they are brief insults to the body and soul. Once the immediate disease is gone from the body, they usually do not recur or spread. We survive. We heal. They are not a permanent burden on our psyche or lives.

Cancer is not like that. Yes, it can be sudden, painful and debilitating. Yes, we are often cured; it may be very unlikely the disease will return. The difference is that deep in our minds we never heal. Cancer in remission does not leave.

Us, before cancer, is not the same as us, after. Patients and families do not expect this transformation and are baffled that life is not back to “normal.” It is hard to accept that a cancer patient is, somehow, always a cancer patient.

First, there are obvious and common physical affects. Residual aches and pains persist for years. Scars and permanent surgical changes like colostomies or mastectomies. Chemotherapy injuries such as loss of hearing, vision or neuropathy. There may be slight shortness of breath or factors that decrease endurance. Long term changes in skin, nails and hair. Taste, and smell losses limit appetite and the enjoyment of food. The collapse of sexual drive or satisfaction. Memory may not be as sharp. Sleep is erratic.

There is the scourge of fatigue. Even after a good night sleep, you are bushed. Vitality is sapped. Loss of concentration makes it hard to work or enjoy something simple, like reading a book, attending a play or watching TV. You just do not have the energy, the excitement, the moxie. Life may be drained of fun, satisfaction or purpose.

Perhaps the most pervasive change is the never leaving, always just around the corner, deep mental splinter, that reminds you that today or tomorrow, the cancer may come back. Every discomfort seems to be a sign of disease. Something “obviously benign” like the winter’s cold, a toothache, or heartburn after a spicy meal, can whisper like the first sign of a coming, growing, illness. It is very difficult to “put it behind you,” when it is always in the back of your mind.

The clincher? None of this is obvious to anyone else. No matter how much family or medical caregivers try to empathize, to connect, to understand, surviving cancer is a deeply changing and highly personal experience. The patient I quoted at the start is a gifted, loving and highly experienced cancer provider, with three decades at cancer’s bedside. None-the-less, she was astonished to experience the transformation in her own life, which is before and then after cancer.

The cancer metamorphosis is different for each person and each patient. None of us were the same before the dread disease and none of us experience its transformation the same way. There is no “normal,” except change.

Cancer sucks…and it keeps on sucking. Deep healing requires an understanding that things are not the same. It requires communication and space, counseling and thought, support and patience. It requires time to find the person you have become.

Hi, I'm Alicia

Thank you for sharing this. It is refreshing to hear this from an oncologist. It is well stated, and it’s all exactly true.

Blessings,
Alicia

Author
What a Blip: A Breast Cancer Journal of Survival and Finding the Wisdom
John Hunt Publishing, Dec. 2014

  • Sun Feb 1, 2015
Hi, I'm Alicia

Jon, could you tell me where the article originally appeared? Thank you.
Alicia

  • Sun Feb 1, 2015

http://sunriserounds.com/cancer-secret-change/

SunRise Rounds on the internet…

  • Mon Feb 2, 2015
Hi, I'm Marc S

Amazing. What is inside my head has been captured on paper. Thank you for this article it is the most insightful writing on cancer survival I have ever read

  • Sat Feb 7, 2015
I'm Melissa K., and I'm a survivor of Lung Cancer

This explains exactly how I feel. I sometimes will say things like PC (PREcancer) or AC (after Cancer). My life is totally different now. Thank you for taking the time to write that!

  • Sat Feb 7, 2015

For those who have found this article to be so helpful, thank you for your responses. When I read this, I immediately knew that it spoke to all of us who in some way have been involved with cancer. It is a universal message for patients, families, nurses, physicians, and anybody who knows a cancer patient/family.
Aa part of this, I just want to mention that I have found that writing has been a great release for me and that I “published” two books that allowed me to vent in a healthy manner. There is a cost if you buy them (I, however, receive NO money/profit. They are at Bookemon.com and the first versions had over 2,000 hits. I updated both in the Spring of 2014. You can download the ebooks for FREE. the links are:

My Journey with Cancer:
http://www.bookemon.com/book_read_flip.php?book_id=304569
Lessons Learned: http://www.bookemon.com/book_read_flip.php?book_id=410468
If you have problems with downloading, please write me at jschnei256@aol.com and I will send you the e-books.

Dr.Jon

  • Sun Feb 8, 2015
Hi, I'm Amy B C.

Wow! I have never read an article that said everything I was thinking. I was nodding my head the whole way through. This should be required reading for absolutely everyone who has been touched by cancer; be it a patient, family member, friend, co-worker. The worse thing you can ever say to a cancer patient is “You’ll be fine.” You are never fine; you are never normal like you were before. There is a new normal now; but it’s not the same. Thanks, Dr. Salwitz!

Amy – 3 1/2 year breast cancer “survivor”.

  • Mon Feb 9, 2015
Hi, I'm Julie Parker

This article does not reflect my experience of cancer AT ALL, I expect because I refused the recommended chemotherapy and chose instead to heal naturally. Cancer requires, I am convinced, a mind/body/spirit approach to healing (or should I say Healing). I am much healthier than before my ovarian cancer stage IIIa was discovered September 2013. I now eat a plant based diet, organic and as much as possible, local. I do not eat processed foods but fill my plate with green leafy veggies, colorful veggies, cruciferous veggies, turmeric, garlic, ginger, etc. I have taken up qi gong and I meditate regularly. I am doing all the things Turner says in her book Radical Remission: Turner travelled around the world in the course of completing her PhD, studying people who had healed from advanced cancer without (or sometimes in spite of) conventional slash/burn/poison cancer treatment. In some cases they had even been told by their doctors to ‘get their affairs in order’, but instead, once they walked away from conventional treatment and took charge of their own health, they experienced what she calls ‘radical remission’. She found nine things these people had in common: they radically changed their diet, they took control of their health, they followed their intuition, they used herbs and supplements, they released suppressed emotions, they increased positive emotions, they embraced social support, they deepened their spiritual connection, and they had strong reasons for living. That has been my cancer journey, these nine things – and more. And last week I was given a clean bill of health yet again by my oncologist. I have no intention of stopping my cancer ‘treatment’. I intend to continue with points 1-9, every day for the rest of my life. (And may I ‘live long and prosper’!)

Kelly Turner’s book is full of rich stories of healing. I also highly recommend Lissa Rankin’s Mind Over Medicine, and Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet (she also made a movie called Crazy Sexy Cancer about her own triumphant dance with cancer.) And read Eliot Cowan’s Plant Spirit Medicine. All four books show a deep understanding of healing (from differing perspectives) and are a must read for anyone with cancer or even those wanting to sit out that dance.

I do not wonder that those of you who do conventional medicine suffer the rest of your lives for it. How could you not, drinking the KoolAid of Big Pharma?

You say “Deep healing requires an understanding that things are not the same.”
Things will never be the same – cancer has been a huge blessing to me on all levels. You can see my blog called “The Vocabulary of Joy – Celebrating the Blessings of Life with Cancer” at http://julieparker.me

You all must know the power of the mind and as you accept the point of view that cancer is a Big Ugly you will suffer BECAUSE you have bought into it. Cancer is a GIFT. There is so much out there for healing….God has given us so so so much to heal, but none of it in the labs of Big Pharma.

Cancer does not have to suck!!! It is a beautiful opportunity to work with your body to heal. The body is a powerful self-healing system and you and your body and your cancer can engage in a beautiful dance of healing. YOU CAN.

  • Sat Feb 21, 2015
Hi, I'm Dale E S.

This article explains my daily life experience. You may be physically cancer free at the moment. They say I am. But you are never free from the fear of a return because we all know it happens. You can be grateful and fearful at the same time.

Cancer to be sucks because of what it did to my wife, my children and my grandchildren. My aged parents were also greatly affected. Nothing prepares you for not only the physical, but often worse is the emotional turmoil.

I am four years out on lung cancer recovery. I was a nonsmoker. But it crosses my mind every day, every twinge, could this be an outbreak. We just have to trust the Lord to see us through. I am blessed with an excellent support system.

An excellent article. Thank you for sharing.

Gene
4 year Lung Cancer Survivor

  • Fri Feb 27, 2015
Hello, I am a survivor of Head and Neck Cancer

Awesome! This article is for all of us on how we feel, and sometimes need this help to explain how living with Cancer is so difficult, mentally and physically. Then we try to explain this to those who seem to care.

  • Wed Apr 22, 2015
Hi, I'm Kathy R R.

I have metastatic cancer that started in my left upper arm, removed by surgery in April of 2014. A little over a year, I was having excruciating headaches that no medication would take away I have diabetes, so I thought maybe diabetic ketoacidocis, no such luck, CAT scan revealed 3.8 cm size tumor in occipital lobe. Have 2surgeries, but a part of the tumor is still there, only because it’s too risky to remove. 15 tx of radiation and so far 2tx of chemo. I loved your article, it completely described how I feel. I also don’t look sick and most of the time I feel great, lost hair from radiation, the only way to tell I have cancer is the 12inch scar running down the back of my head. Thank you for this article, it says everything I want people to know. Cancer does suck !!!!! But I refuse to let it beat me, I am a survivor !
Kathy R

  • Wed May 18, 2016
Hi, I'm Debra P.

This article is amazing. This article needs to be read by everyone that is touched by cancer in their lives. It says everything a cancer patient wants to say, but unableto express. In my mind, it is hard for me to understand all the feelings i’m going through. One day can be so positive and the next can be so depressing. I feel so alone. And I feel my doctors have heard the word “cancer” so many times, they do treat me like a broken hip or other tramatic case. They think we don’t have pain and suffer depression. I am in remission and I am fighting. Don’t give up the fight. Cancer sucks!!!

  • Wed Jan 24, 2018