No right way through cancer

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

I often say that there’s no single right way through cancer. What do I mean by that?

Some people aggressively treat their cancers with surgery and chemotherapy long past the time that others would have switched to comfort measures.

Some people keep their cancer diagnosis a secret from nearly everyone while others make it a point to tell strangers on the street.

Some people join support groups while others cringe at the thought of the idea.

Some people, when finished with treatment, try hard to not think about cancer ever again, while others become engaged in cancer organizations and activism.

Some people want to hear only positive stories about cancer, while others want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly.

No single approach to cancer is right or wrong. What’s important is that you follow the approach that helps you.

This is why I don’t like most books written about cancer. They tell you what you should do as if everyone is the same. They’re written like cookbooks providing recipes.

We’re all different with varying personalities, living situations, and belief systems. In addition, our cancers are all different. Your breast cancer is unlikely to be exactly like my breast cancer.

And remember that you can and will change your mind over time. A support group might not work for you when you’re first diagnosed, but be open to the possibility when your treatment is ending.

Finally, no one really knows when they will choose to stop active treatment until they’re in that exact situation. I can speculate what I would do, but I don’t know for sure. Neither do you.

As for the rest of us, we can support each person with cancer by listening with kindness and without judgement.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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