“It’s the Best Cancer to Have”. MY ARSE.

This happens a lot when you get diagnosed with breast cancer. You get told “it’s the best cancer to have”. Family say it. Friends say it. Just people. Even oncologists say it. They say it because they want to make you feel better about that horrendous diagnosis. We even said it to our daughters when we told them about my diagnosis. Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything, and I understand the intentions are good, but now that I’m on the other side of active treatment, and staring down the barrel of long term hormone treatment, still feeling right there ‘in it’, I’m not sure how helpful it was, as I stand here now. 

Let’s just unpack it for a moment. Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with 1 in 7 developing it in their life-time (once more, just to drive that home, ONE IN SEVEN.). During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the UK alone, 5,000 people will be diagnosed.

What this means, is that Breast Cancer is a loud, hungry beast that attracts loads of dosh for research and support services that ultimately benefits the patients.  Critically, the survival rates are good – nearly 9 out of 10 women will survive for five years or more. There’s a lot to be glad about, statistically speaking.

But here’s the thing, there are humans at the end of those statistics and, when people refer to the survival rates, even the Oncologists, they’re not telling you how they achieve those stats.

What you very quickly realise when you’re down there in the trenches is that the treatments are still surprisingly, almost comically, blunt. Caught early enough, the approach is still very much to cut the cancer out, and/or chop the cancery bits off the healthy bits, nuke the bits, and/or deliver a whole-body contaminant to poison the cancery bits, and then hope for the best.

80% of breast cancers diagnosed have a hormone receptor which means the cancer grows with oestrogen. This is what I have. Or had? Difficult to say. Now on the other side of active treatment, there’s no way of telling if there’s any more cancer floating about and this is why the treatments are so brutal. The solution in my case, following phase one active treatment, is to create an environment in the human body where the cancer can’t grow back. Ergo, strip out all the oestrogen. Let’s take aaaall the oestrogen out of that woman, starve the bastard cancer, job’s a goodun’.

The result is an extreme, medically-induced menopause more akin to chemical castration that throws the surviving human into a bit of a living shit-show. Honestly, writing it, it sounds like the ‘in theory only’ solution you’d come up with on a work away-day shortly after building the raft with 3 planks to get you across the metaphorical river. I mean, you wouldn’t would you…?

The current ‘survival strategy’ after the last batch of trials is to keep women on hormone treatment for ten years instead of five because data shows it cuts the incidence of recurrence by a third. It does not, however, impact on overall survival rate according to this report. Call me naive, but that just sounds like a really expensive delaying tactic, not a scientifically brilliant line of treatment.

Now, I am going to say this with caution because I am sensitive to the ‘triple neggers’ out there who don’t have hormone treatment to fall back on once they’ve gone through the un-holy trinity of surgery/chemo/radio, which is another point in itself really, but surviving ‘the best cancer to have’ comes at great cost to quality of life, physically and mentally. The triple-neggers live in mortal fear of breast cancer’s incurable return, and the hormone-pozzies are a shell of their former-selves, moody as fuck, dry foof, rattling around with crumbling bones, knowing full well that IF they can endure this bollocks for 10 years, there are no actual guarantees of staying cancer free after it. Don’t get me started on the incurables.

I am still in the very early days of my hormone treatment and at the moment it’s really tough going particularly from a mood perspective; CAN YA’ TELL?!!!!. The big question is, I suppose, could I have handled a bit more realism back then about what the future held? In truth yes, or a least not an untruth delivered to ease the pain then to make the future harder.  ‘The best cancer to have’ made it sound like it was the easy one. ‘The best cancer to have’ made me think it was something I could just just do for a bit and walk away from.  The reality is, I am in treatment now for the next ten years even with an early-stage diagnosis (it was in half a lymph node. HALF). If I choose to forgo that treatment (there’s a 1 in 4 drop out rate, according to my oncologist), I risk incurable cancer spread.

But Can I tell you something else ‘the best cancer to have’ does? It engenders future guilt in the breasties for struggling with their treatment. Seven months on, it makes me feel like I should put up and shut up because I’m ‘lucky’ to have this cancer. Suck it up sister, you’re alive!  ‘The best cancer to have’ leaves a bitter taste in my mouth

All cancer is shit. Whether you’re walloped by chemo, cut to pieces, having an organ re-shuffle, shitting through your stomach, radiation on your unmentionables, losing limbs, or drained of your womanly hormones, all the treatment is horrendous and society needs to quit with the ranking business. So what should people say instead?

When in doubt, go full empathy. Maybe something like, “what a bucket of absolute shite mate. I’m not gonna lie, you’ve got tough times ahead but one way or another you’ll get through it, mark my words, and I will be with you 100% of the way, even when you’re a moody cow. Fancy a foot massage?”.

This blog was written on the 1st Day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2019. I’ve only recently had my ovaries switched off and started on aromatase inhibitors so there was a bit of angry-typing going on here – I don’t want to diminish the sterling work done by everyone in the NHS and anyone who works in cancer research. Although, please do hurry up with the cure ‘yo? And as for the rest of you… for the love of god, know your normal. Now go check your boobs.

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11 thoughts on ““It’s the Best Cancer to Have”. MY ARSE.

  1. I am one of the neggers (love that word ) and I totally agree with you . Maybe it should say your cancer is very well survivable. Still NO cancer is great to have . To encourage woman is good but don’t be too positive about treatment either , dear doctors !

    1. I like that, “your cancer is very survivable”. Just factual lols. My oncologists were strangely silent about things.

  2. Yes, yes and yes. I’m 15mos into hormone treatment and I’m still furious with the sledgehammer treatment. The rage burns long and strong.

    In Australia we’re told that with a triple negative diagnosis ‘you are cured’ if you get to five years. With ER+ PR+ the best you can hope for is NED – no evidence of disease. Because that fucker can come back 10, 15, 20 years later. And the stat is that it comes back for 20 – 30% of people.

    I have gently informed people about all this when they’ve told me I’d got a good cancer. They’ve looked shocked. Similarly when they say 90% cured. I tell them “at five years”. After that stats aren’t kept. I don’t know about you but I want more than FIVE years…

    My breast surgeon told me I had the good breast cancer when my pathology was in. There is a lot of glossing over at the beginning. I get that they don’t want to scare us even more than we already are, but SURELY there’s a better way?

    In my opinion the pink tide has served its purpose. I’d like to see some realistic advertising pivoting to the reality and frequency of breast cancer diagnoses.

    1. Yes yes and yes right back atcha Kate. There was a LOT of glossing over at the beginning. I distinctly remember going to an oncology meeting with my note book (I was going to ‘project manage the arse off cancer’ you see) and wanted to get a big=picture sense of treatment and what it entailed. i.e. how much time do I allocate to this? We got to hormone treatment and she explained it by saying we repress the oestrogen. I can handle that, i said. Menopause? Ok, well, I’m probably due to be peri-menopausal soon. And what are the symptoms and how long am I on that for? “OK, well, we’re skipping too far ahead now, let’s just focus on surgery for now”. Now… I get that appointment times are limited. I understand that me having a meltdown then and there about hormone treatment when I hadn’t even had my mastectomy may have been premature… but the management of expectations is dismal. xxxx

        1. Lovely to see you over here. The words ‘Suck it up sister” actually came from you from that instagram chat we had ages ago. I should have credited you. Thank you. x

  3. I was seriously about to start a blog about all the shit they tell you and don’t tell you about breast cancer. My biggest pet peeve was “you are so strong”. Fuck off. I have no choice! The second worse comment was “you look beautiful” saying this to someone who is bald as fuck all over, even lost nose hairs for goodness sakes, is a punch in the face. No o am not beautiful, I look like a bald old man so shut your face! Oh how I’m going to love reading your blog!!!

    1. Hey Maggie, yes, the beautiful this is grating. I think people want to say something nice but when you feel really awful on the inside it’s not easy. I will try and live up to the last rant lols, thanks for saying hi over here xxxx

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