How I’m Showing the Side of Cancer That Brochures Leave Out


There’s something eerie about the way cancer survivors are portrayed. It starts with the smiling, hat-donning models that look out from rows of informational brochures at the cancer center. Touting headlines such as “Lymphoma and You” or “End of Life Options,” the brochures make for macabre advertisement.

A bright-eyed woman holding hands with a loved one on the cover of a brochure titled “All You Need to Know About Colon Cancer” seems to say, “Look how fascinating this cancer diagnosis can be! I’m looking forward to this process. You should, too!”

A stoic grandfatherly looking gentleman leans against a tree on cover of brochure titled “Understanding Your Prostate.” The look on his face seems to imply that he never wanted his prostate, anyway.

After the diagnosis of cancer, the next images that are typically laid out for public consumption are those of  “survivors.” You know the ones: pink hats, smiling faces and strength, strength, strength.

So here’s the deal: There’s a lot that happens in the middle. And it’s not all knowing smiles and pretty pink hats.

I understand why images of smiling, happy people are chosen for “the face of cancer.” No one would pick up a brochure with grandmother breaking down and mouthing, “Why me?” But I also believe it’s important to be honest and to be able to really prepare those who are on this path.

Cancer — and its treatment — isn’t pretty. Surviving means getting down to the core of being human with all the grit and grace that goes along with it.

This is why, on a cold day in October, my best friend and I ventured out into the woods to document “the middle” of cancer. At that point in time, I had completed five of six chemo treatments. I was not at my thinnest; I would lose another six pounds, require saline and blood to get through my final treatment. And though these photos would never be used on cover of a brochure titled “Breast Cancer and You,” they are reality.

Cancer is a brutal adversary. But there is beauty and strength in standing up to it – and being honest. I was here. This is part of my story, too. I am not afraid.

Heather Caro the mighty.1-001

Heather Caro the mighty.2-001

Heather Caro the mighty.3-001

Heather Caro the mighty.4-001

Follow this journey on My Life, Distilled.

Photo credit: Jennifer Borst


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Cancer

Why Phrases Like ‘Stay Positive’ Don’t Help My Life With Chronic Illness

I have had so many individuals question how I deal with the undeviating devastation of a progressive and fatal illness. When bad news seems to be a constant in my life, how have I not fallen into a deep, unfathomable depression. I have thought long and hard about this topic and found that the answer [...]

Why Mark Zuckerberg and His Wife Opened Up About Their 3 Miscarriages on Facebook

While miscarriages aren’t discussed regularly, they’re more common than you might think. Anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriages, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Friday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his wife Priscilla Chan’s pregnancy in a Facebook post. While the couple is excited to welcome a [...]

The Moment I Saw How Others See My Sister With Down Syndrome

Being the oldest of three siblings, I naturally keep tallies — making sure my brother doesn’t eat the last Pop-Tart or that my sister doesn’t take all of my popcorn. Despite my attempts for food fairness in the house, other people have never seemed to see it the same way. Likely because my 12-year-old sister [...]

How a Britney Spears Song Helped This Girl Recover From a Stroke

When Maegan Johnson was 7 years old, she had a ruptured brain aneurysm. She underwent a 10-hour brain surgery and couldn’t speak for six weeks afterwards, according to one of her Facebook posts. During recovery, cheerleaders, dogs and even clowns came to lift her spirits, but nothing seemed to make Johnson happy — that is, until she heard one of Britney [...]