These four definitely got me thinking. What myths did I walk into my diagnosis with?
Well, here they are:
1. Cancer is a disease for older adults (aged 40+) and for people who have cancer in their family.I have no cancer in my family and I was 25-years-old when I was diagnosed. The result of me believing this myth? Shock.
2. Chemotherapy makes you throw up and lose weight.Wrong again. Nausea doesn't mean you throw up. It means you feel like a giant bag of ass and don't get the relief that often comes with throwing up. Also, 100 mg of prednisone taken for 5 days straight after each chemotherapy treatment made me an eating (and gaining weight) machine.
3. Cancer is what makes you sick.Nope. Cancer treatment makes you sick. Cancer can often be a silent disease. My body seemed healthy, fit and strong when it was overrun with cancer cells. It wasn't until I started treatment that I felt truly sick.
4. Your hair may come back curly or a different colour - hooray!Sure, for some people. But don't count on it, and definitely don't get excited for it.
5. Friends and family will handle your diagnosis as gracefully as you do.In some ways, cancer is scarier for the people you're surrounded by. The patient gets the advantage of defining their sickness, while friends and family have to try and follow your lead. But they may not always fall in line....
6. Life stops when you have cancer.It doesn't. It goes on. Some people continue to work, some people carry babies through treatment, and some people throw on a wig and hit the clubs. Normalcy is heaven after a shocking diagnosis.
Allow me to highlight the role storytelling plays here. Stories accentuate the uniqueness and difference of experience, a departure from the generalizations and assumptions that are made when information is passed on far from its original source. Hearing stories directly from the source, through blogging, volunteering, reaching out to survivors and the newly diagnosed, etc., reminds us that we're affected by similar circumstances very differently.
Publicly-accepted knowledge also changes rapidly. In a few years, the myths I've outlined above won't be myths any more... they'll have been effectively dispelled through storytelling, advocacy and evolving experiences. Treatment and diagnoses will have changed, and new myths will emerge as a result.
Then how do we dispel cancer myths? Let go of generalizations and assumptions. Listen carefully to the stories of survivorship. Talk about your experience openly and frankly.
The best way to learn the facts is to weave them into a tale of survival.