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7 Things I've Learned About Cancer by Age 27

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Cancer is one of those things everyone hears about and knows exists, but assumes will never happen to them or their loved ones. Growing up, I was the type of person who was very far removed from cancer. I was lucky. Nowadays, approximately 21.1 million adults have been diagnosed with cancer at one time or another – my mother and me included.

For a large portion of my lifetime, I was one of the lucky ones. I was the minority. I was one of the people who only heard about the horrors of cancer through movies or television shows. Now I’m clumped in there with the millions of other families who are affected by cancer each year.

My ovarian cancer diagnosis struck me at age 27, but my symptoms really started to appear by the time I was 26. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer two years prior to my diagnosis; she was in stage four when she found out she had cancer and I was in stage one at the time of my diagnosis. In the past two and a half years alone, I have learned far more about cancer than I ever did in my first 25 years of life. My mission is to explain to you what I’ve learned.

1. Cancer isn’t 100 percent preventable.

I was the type of person who thought I was completely exempt from cancer. During the time of my diagnosis, I had been vegan for three years, meaning I didn’t eat any meat or any animal products including dairy. I did yoga, ate as clean and organic as possible and I avoided eating many of the foods my natural practitioner told me I was told I was sensitive to, such as grains, gluten and all refined sugars. I avoided using chemical-laden products and switched to natural products.

At the time, I even took birth control pills, which are supposed to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer. In my eyes, I was doing everything right, except for the fact that my writing job required long hours of sitting at a computer and I knew I should be exercising more frequently. Other than those two things, I could’ve sworn I would never get cancer.

My cancer diagnosis reminded me that cancer isn’t 100 percent preventable, even when you think you’re doing everything right. Cancer always has the possibility of happening because there are so many factors that come into play. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t handling stress well and I wasn’t giving myself the self-love, rest and care my body needed to thrive. I am thankful that at least my diet and lifestyle choices were as healthy as they were.


2. Everyone battles in their own way.

If you received a cancer diagnosis, maybe you would listen to your oncologist word-for-word and would complete your cancer treatment exactly as your doctor suggests, but not everyone has the same opinions about cancer treatment. Maybe conventional cancer treatment is something you strongly believe in, or maybe you’d rather work on healing yourself and boosting your immune system through integrative practices. Whatever you choose to do, it should be your decision and free from other people’s criticisms. Every consenting adult should have the right to choose how they wish to battle their disease.

3. People sometimes ask thoughtless questions.

A cancer diagnosis may attract nosy people. When someone makes the decision to announce their cancer publicly in order to ask for prayers, support or positive thoughts, some people think it’s an open invitation to ask incredibly personal questions.

For example, while my mom was in the hospital recovering from her cancer removal surgery, someone from her church called her hospital room asking to speak with her, but my grandma ended up answering the phone. The woman proceeded to ask my grandma if my mom ended up needing a stoma after her surgery.

This was hugely inappropriate and still bothers me to this day. We had contacted my mom’s church to put her on the prayer chain (something that was very important to her before her surgery) and instead we received a nosy phone call that was not helpful in any way. When we invited the same woman to my mother’s cancer benefit a few months later, the woman didn’t respond to the invitation.

On the other hand, I have also noticed that people tend to act like cancer doesn’t exist, which can be seen as a blessing or a curse. No, we don’t want you to ask us hurtful, inappropriate questions, but checking in and asking about how we’re coping is always a nice gesture. When in doubt, empathize kindly.

4. Cancer isn’t a definite death sentence.

Between my mother’s cancer diagnosis and my own, I’ve learned that there are two main types of people who make assumptions about cancer: the people who assume that cancer is a definite death sentence, and the other people who assume that you’re automatically cured of your cancer after completing treatments and/or surgery. I have learned that neither one of these is true. Each and every type of cancer is different depending on the person battling the disease. Each case is completely different and unique to each individual.

There are many factors to consider with cancer, including diet, lifestyle, genetics, environment and more. Just because one person lost their battle to metastatic breast cancer doesn’t mean everyone with metastatic breast cancer will too.

On another note, I have also learned that there are people who assume that cancer can come and go at the snap of their fingers. For example, I have received many questions about my mother’s diagnosis in addition to my own, where people ask things like: “Did they get it all?” or “Is the cancer completely gone?” There is no real way to know the answer to this unless you’re having multiple scans and blood work done on a regular basis, which would be an incredibly nerve-wracking way to live. While most cancer monitoring does include scans and blood work, it’s impossible to know what is going on inside of your body at every given time.

Plus, the emotional and mental scars that cancer may leave on a person don’t automatically disappear after one, two or even three clear scans. The worry is always going to be in the back of your mind until the next scan comes around. As much as people with cancer appreciate your interest in their clean bill of health, it’s best to not ask questions that one cannot possibly know the answer to.

On the same note, I have also learned that people don’t actually die from the disease of cancer itself. Instead, people often to lose their battles to cancer through illnesses they pick up due to a weakened immune system, or from their organs not being able to function properly. A large and cancerous tumor can prevent organs from functioning properly. The cause of cancer death is not the same in every case.

5. Cancer isn’t always painful.

It’s interesting how someone with stage four cancer can experience no pain, while someone in stage one can experience debilitating, painful symptoms. Unfortunately, many people assume that every person with cancer is in physical pain and that they suddenly become helpless. Again, each and every person’s cancer is different and one cannot be directly compared to the other. Cancer is a disease that cannot be compared like apples to apples. It all depends on the person.

6. Cancer doesn’t care.

Cancer doesn’t care that you are an amazing mother, woman, wife, husband or friend. Cancer doesn’t care if you have people who love you, depend on you or need you. Cancer doesn’t care if you’ve already battled cancer once before, or if you have a loved one with cancer. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, happy, unhappy or whether or not you’re a good person. Cancer just doesn’t care about any of those things.

7. Cancer is still taboo.

Even after numerous medical advances in cancer and the growing number of people in the world with cancer, it is still a topic that is oftentimes off-limits. It’s a topic that makes people uncomfortable to hear about, and it causes people to leave the room when it gets brought up. Personally, I’m growing tired of hearing about people dying of cancer in fictional movies and in books since I like my entertainment to be a nice escape from reality. But at the same time, I want people to hear about cancer and realize how many people are affected by cancer in reality. I want people to get comfortable with hearing the word cancer and talking about cancer. I want people to get angry that cancer is still a major problem in the world and there still isn’t a cure. If we continue to see cancer as a taboo topic that shouldn’t be discussed, we may never see a change.

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Thinkstock photo via olgaaltunina.

Originally published: June 1, 2017
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