Do Not Compare Your Breast Cancer Recovery to Others

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • You know, when you think of it, “should” is one of the most downbeat words in the English language. Consider the ways it’s used; aren’t most of them like sticking a pin into a balloon? Say you’re having a great time at a party. “I should go home, I should get to bed early tonight.” Or you’ve suddenly noticed that the scenery out the car window is looking decidedly unfamiliar, and you lean over to your spouse and say, “I think you should have taken a left back at that stop sign a few miles ago.” Or, that most famous of all malapropisms, characterizing a day that’s gone entirely wrong: “I shoulda stood in bed!”
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    Our lives are riddled with these “shoulds.” When you’re healthy, you can handle their guilt. (And that’s what “should” is: a guilt inducer. You’re telling yourself you did something wrong, that you had a choice and made the wrong one. ) But when you’re not feeling well¬–from chemo or radiation, from surgery, or just that mental and emotional queasiness that comes from the knowledge that you have cancer–the word should is just one more stick to beat yourself with. Herewith are ten “shoulds” you should dismiss from YOUR vocabulary, starting now. Go ahead: I give you permission.

    1) “I should write thank you notes to everyone who sent me flowers in the hospital.” Well, that might be nice, but believe me, the last thing your friends expect, when you’re recovering from surgery and can barely lift your arm, is that you’ll write them. Or even call. Take a pass from Emily Post, for now at least.

    2) “I should be feeling better by now, shouldn’t I?” After radiation, from surgery, 2 years after the whole experience… Whenever it is, DO NOT compare YOUR recovery path to anyone else’s. How you feel is right for YOU. No comparisons, please.

    3) “I should have had a port.” OK. And…? You didn’t. If there’s a next time, you will. Forget about it.

    4) “I should get a second opinion.” Ah. Now this is different than “I want to get a second opinion.” The former denotes uncertainly, with perhaps some persuasion coming from friends or family. The latter, a true desire to hear from another doctor. If YOU feel good about your oncologist or surgeon, then place your trust in him or her and forge ahead.

    5) “I should get some exercise.” OK, this one is true. It’s one of the “shoulds” that makes sense. Don’t feel like exercising? Revise your definition of the term. When you’re 24 hours past surgery, exercise means getting out of bed and standing up, maybe walking to the door of the room and back. Nothing more. A year later, it could mean a walk around the block… or a marathon. Assess what you’re capable of, then do it: no more, no less. Don’t push yourself to walk 2 miles when you can barely totter through one. But yes, totter through that single mile, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

    6) And then there are the “should” questions. “I just finished chemo. Should I volunteer to help with my daughter’s softball team’s carwash Saturday?” Under ordinary circumstances, of course. But for now–no. When you’re having (or have just finished) chemo, there’s really no “should” that applies, other than “I should take good care of myself because I’m at real risk here, and now is a good time to say no.”

  • 7) “My hair should be growing back by now, shouldn’t it?” See #2. We’re all anxious to get our hair back, to doff that itchy wig or those uncomfortably hot fleece hats. But your hair is going to grow at its own speed, and nothing will speed it up. For those of you currently fussing about hair growth, I finished chemo in November and in July, 8 months later, my hair was about half an inch long. I sported the Sinead O’Connor look for quite some time! And now–well, you can see from my blog picture, it’s baaaaaaaaack…
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    8) “I should have taken the morphine.” (Or the Zofran, or the Ativan, or whichever drug they offered you for side effects). If you had, you wouldn’t be feeling so bad now. Don’t be a hero, a stoic, or sport a stiff upper lift. Pamper yourself; take the drugs.

    9) “I’m all finished treatment. I should be really happy. How come all I feel is scared?” Take a deep breath, relax, and see So Who’s Taking Care of Me Now?

    10) “So, let’s see, my grandson is starting kindergarten, which means he’ll be graduating from high school in 2019. I should still be around then…” Yes, you should. And you will be.


Published On: September 14, 2006