Running on The Cancer Failure Track

Laura Zigman Health Guide
  • As I started saying last week, cancer has failure written all over it. More than other diseases, there's something about cancer that makes the patient feel like a complete and utter failure all the time. One of the hardest parts of getting through my experience with breast cancer was trying to assure myself that I wasn't failuring at every single point along the way.


    Let's review the laps I made around the Failure Track:


    1. Insisting on another diagnostic test besides my annual mammogram.


    A radiologist who'd read my most recent mammogram had been the one to suggest an MRI because of my dense breast tissue and family history so it's not like it was my fault for wanting one, and yet I couldn't help feeling like a neurotic paranoid weenie for trying to extract this expensive test out of my obviously reluctant doctor who made me feel like I was over-reacting to my risk factors. I almost backed down -- she talked me out of the genetic test -- but in an uncharacteristic moment of self-assertiveness, I didn't. I left her office with an order for a breast MRI on a slip of paper and a big huge cartoon bubble of dialogue -- the first of many -- over my head:

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    You are not a failure or a neurotic paranoid weenie for wanting something other than a mammogram.


    2. Laughing at and then having trouble positioning myself correctly in the breast MRI machine.


    I'm sure I wasn't the first person to arrive for a breast MRI and then laugh openly at the giant machine with the big white metal tray with two holes in it. And I'm sure I wasn't the first to stop laughing when realizing that I had to lie face down on that big white metal try and put my breasts into those two holes. Contorting myself in order to assume the required position wasn't the hardest part, though: the hardest part was not moving an inch for 45 minutes as the machine went into the tunnel and controlling my sudden wave of anxiety/claustrophobia.


    You are not a failure for feeling like you're going to have a massive panic attack inside the MRI machine (which would totally suck because then they'd have to start again and you'd have wasted a lot more money than you're already wasting because of your neurotic paranoid weenie fears).


    3. Feeling fraudulently proactive and guilty for never having done a self-breast exam.


    Despite the fact that friends and family applauded my proactive (pushy) behavior for practically chasing down my own diagnosis and despite the fact that there was no lump I could have detected, I couldn't help but feel like a giant fraud for appearing proactive when I never ever gave myself a self breast exam.


    You are not a failure for being negligent in checking your own breasts all those years (even though you really should have been doing that).


    4. Getting confused about my diagnosis.


    When the radiologist called to tell me that the biopsy was back and that I had Stage 0 DCIS, I could have sworn she said that even though it was called ductal carcinoma in situ, I shouldn't let the word carcinoma fool me because this was a pre-cancerous condition, not a cancerous condition. I think I must have been sniffing glue at the time because I was later informed that this wasn't the case at all.


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    You are not a failure for getting all confused by big scientific words and long complicated medical explanations because big scientific words and long complicated medical explanations are really confusing.


    5. Not feeling pink ribbon-worthy.


    Shortly after I was diagnosed with my Stage 0 DCIS and told that I would (thankfully) not need chemo or radiation after my double mastectomy, a close friend of mine was diagnosed with advanced Stage 3 breast cancer. She was facing surgery (double mastectomy) with all the trimmings (chemo and radiation) and I couldn't help feeling guilty that I was going to have a much less horrible time than she was going to have.


    You are not a failure for having a less severe case of breast cancer than your close friend, and even though cancer without chemo and radiation doesn't really feel like cancer it is cancer.


    To be continued... Read Another Lap Around the Cancer Failure Track

Published On: February 19, 2008