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Am I a Bad Survivor?

Published on December 5, 2019

Key Takeaways

  • You don't have to "do it all" as a cancer patient.
  • It's okay to feel pain and fear and to ask for help when you need it.
  • It's okay to say no. Being a cancer survivor means admitting you still feel like a cancer patient sometimes.

My husband went to Machu Picchu without me. We were both invited on a trip to Peru and I declined, and I’m reflecting on one thing that I said to him before he left: “I think it will be freeing for you not to have to worry about me for 10 days.” Not that he wouldn’t think about me—because he would, of course—it’s just that since my breast cancer diagnosis, he’s had to be acutely aware of my physical and mental well-being every single day. 

From the second the doctor said, “It’s cancer, and it’s stage IV,” we’ve both been living with a constant awareness of the toll that cancer and medications take on my body and psyche. In the beginning, it was dealing with the baldness, nausea, pain and all the issues that come with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Then it was the slow recovery. Even now, there’s a constant show of physical and psychological concerns that crop up. Whether it’s continued pain from the surgery and radiation (something very few people talk about in public), the side effects of my daily medication, or nagging fears of recurrence or lymphedema—there’s always something.

Our lives have changed dramatically since my diagnosis, and in some ways, for the better. We are definitely trying to focus more on bringing joy into our lives, and we are probably even stronger as a couple now than we were before.

I am sure that many of the brave and strong women I have met with breast cancer and far worse prognoses and issues, would have jumped at the chance to go on a Peruvian adventure. Part of their new desire to live every day to its fullest. Am I a bad survivor? A bad role model? Maybe I would’ve inspired someone if I had gone and then posted all about it. After all, aren’t we survivors supposed to be able to do it all? 

If you read the articles, watch the movie of the week and the network talk shows, it seems like the proper survivor soldiers on during all manner of surgery, treatment and side effects, can complete a 39-mile walk in two days, all the while wearing just the right amount of natural-looking makeup, writing inspirational articles, founding a charity for local women and only eating organic, locally-sourced food. You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but you better not eat it!

I definitely still eat bacon occasionally, regular fruit from the grocery store, copious amounts of chocolate, and I stayed home and didn’t go to Peru. I’ve decided that being a survivor gives me permission to be more true to myself. I don’t often give in to the fears and pains, but sometimes I do, and that’s okay.  It’s unrealistic to think that you can go through what breast cancer patients go through, and not need a good cry and a whine once in a while. I think it’s really important for women and their caregivers to know that it’s okay to feel pain and fear and ask for help. It’s necessary. So when my body said, “Machu Picchu is not for us,” I had to listen. And I bet my husband enjoyed just a few days of listening to the sounds of the wind and the birds, instead of my aches and pains.

~Andrea Hutton

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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