Cancer Don’t Know Jack

My friend shared this comic on Twitter yesterday and I thought it did a good job of describing of my perceptions of cancer pre and post diagnosis.

I mean, it’s all hunky dory to have a “curable cancer,” until you learn the chances that it will be cured. Even if it is cured, you live your life in fear that it will return. Because let’s face it, a lot of the time when cancer comes back, it’s with a vengeance.

It’s with these thoughts that I, along with the rest of Canada, digest the news of the passing of Jack Layton. For those foreign readers who don’t follow Canadian politics in their spare time, he was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party. He was one of the “good guys” of politics. He and his party have always been the underdogs, but still led them to become Parliament’s official opposition in the face of the mighty Conservatives.

Layton was one of those people who practiced what he preached, meant even more by the importance of what he was preaching. He was incredibly energetic, persistent, and hopeful until the end. A vibrant personality, who until yesterday, I thought was vibrant enough to keep away from the final clutches of cancer.

When he stepped down as leader of the NDP last month because he was struck with cancer for a second time, I was devastated. Having just been discharged from the hospital, I knew all too well the look of a person being overcome by cancer. Even though I’ve never met Layton, it hit me hard. I lived in his riding in Toronto, saw him out at events, and was continually inspired by his dedication to other people. Why does cancer always go after the good guys?

For those like me, who find themselves particularly affected by his passing, I think it says a lot about cancer as a disease itself. It reminds me, as a cancer patient, that the disease does not discriminate. That it doesn’t matter how hard you want to live, and how much good you want to do, it can still cut your intentions short. It reminds those who’ve lost loved ones of a scenario they know all too well.

It is really hard to stay positive when I hear of people dying of cancer every day. I am always certain I will come out on the other side, but the “what ifs” start to litter my head when I hear of other patients passing.

If there is one thing I want to use this post to say, it’s that no one “loses their battle with cancer.” That implies that someone dying from the disease wasn’t a good enough fighter to win. And if there’s one thing I know, Jack Layton was a man who fought and fought hard. He didn’t lose anything to cancer, because he lived his life despite it.

I know it is imperative to keep my own hope and optimism as I travel this road, because being dragged down by the “what ifs” are far too much. If anything, I am happy to still have a road to walk on, and will do it with as much vigour as those, like Jack, who walked it before me.

Posted on August 22, 2011, in Cancer and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. Thanks so much for this, Susan. My mom passed away from breast cancer three weeks ago. Like a lot of people, this wasn’t her first go-around with cancer, and when it came back, it came back with a vengeance.

    I’m not sure if it’s up in Canada or not, but here in the States there’s a movement called “Stand Up 2 Cancer”, and it really pisses me off because to me, it makes this assumption that cancer is just a mean schoolyard bully, and if we all stand together and “fight” it, it’ll slink away. And that’s simply not true. Cancer doesn’t discriminate; like you said, it doesn’t care how much you want to live. And no, my mom didn’t “lose” her “battle” with cancer; she died of a nasty disease that took over her body.

    I am wishing you all the best with your treatment.

    • Yes, I’ve heard of that organization!! I have the same feelings about it. I mean, I guess they need to do what they have to do in order to raise money for cancer research and to help patients. But I think it’s also just making people more confused about the disease and what it really entails. I wish I had enough control over cancer that I could just will it away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that :(

      So sorry to hear about your mom xoxo

  2. I have never for one second thought that you’d be anything but okay, and even after yesterday’s news I still believe it … so for today I shall believe it enough for both of us :D

  3. I thought of you when I heard about Jack. I thought about how frightening it must be to hear that news when you yourself are affected. I don’t know why we use fight, battle and win/lose when we talk about cancer. It might be because the disease is such a villain in people’s lives. I promise you this though, from the moment of your diagnosis you have been an inspirational source of courage, strength and hope. If I had to fight a battle I would 100% want you on my team. I am with Morgan. I believe in your recovery.

  4. I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago. I came across it while searching for a recipe and was struck by your story (and also interested because I live in NS). I find all the military language around cancer really frustrating. I’m especially frustrated by the term “survivor” as, to me, it demeans people who died from cancer by suggesting that they didn’t have the resources to overcome the disease.
    If you haven’t seen it yet, there is an excellent column in the Globe that, I think, captures this really: well

    Both of my sisters lived through breast cancer and are healthy today.Thanks for sharing your story of living with cancer.

    • Thank you Gina! I have the same thoughts around the term “survivor.” I don’t think it’s something I will comfortably call myself, because there are people who struggled with cancer A LOT more than me and didn’t make it.

      Read that article this morning. Loved it. The comments section is a good read too.

  5. I just want to say I LOVE YOU! I have such good memories of Jack Layton and like so many am heartbroken to see him go. He has been such and inspiration and I couldn’t agree with you more Sus. Karim wrote a post here you might enjoy as well

  6. Wow. That cartoon puts cancer into a perspective I hadn’t considered. Your thoughtful commentary that cancer – as with most diseases – does not discriminate is appreciated, and Jack Layton’s family and friends are added to my prayers.

  7. Thank you for sharing a perspective I hadn’t considered!

  8. ((hugs)) Heard yesterday that a friend of M’s mom got diagnosed with breast cancer yesterday. It always stops me in my tracks, makes my heart hurt, but also hope and pray. You captured this perfectly with this statement: It reminds me, as a cancer patient, that the disease does not discriminate. That it doesn’t matter how hard you want to live, and how much good you want to do, it can still cut your intentions short. <- couldn't be more true. XO.

  9. “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. ” -Jack Layton

    Canada lost a great leader.. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered.

  10. So sad to hear about Jack.I just love that he was so
    energetic anc passionate about helping the disadvantaged and
    that he always had hope and vision for a brighter future for
    everyone. Plus he seemed a really sweet dad and husband.
    The kind of person who really tried his darndest to make a difference
    in Canada.A huge loss.

    “Courage my friends, ‘tis never too late to build a better world.” Tommy Douglas

  11. I just read the recent article about Kris Carr in the NYT on 8/14/11, where she also noted feeling uncomfortable with the term “survivor”. It was during a talk she was giving that she referred to herself as a “cancer thriver”, and realized that was how she genuinely feels. Much better term! Thanks for sharing about Jack Layton. As one of the “foreigners” (from Pennsylvania!), I’m unfamiliar with him, but will Google him now to read up on his journey with cancer and politics. Sounds like a guy we could use here in crazy Washington DC!

  12. This was a really great post. Although in general, all your posts are inspiring and thought provoking. You truly are a great writer. :)

    I never really thought about the military tone in cancer terminology, but it’s definitely there.

    My mother had breast cancer about 8 years ago and thankfully they caught it early on. She never considers herself a survivor and I can just tell that it’s a term she’s uncomfortable with (even without her saying it).

    I think I’m OK with the term “fight”. People say they’re fighting a cold. I only see that as actively working against the “enemy” as opposed to just sitting back and letting it walk all over them.

    Perhaps the term “lost their fight/battle” just came logically because if two people are fighting, yes, one is going to lose. But you are so right about how it suggests that the person wasn’t good enough to win and that is not correct. Just being a fighter should mean being a winner in this context.

    I don’t know…i’m rambling and I apologize, but just felt the need to comment and say RIGHT ON! Thanks for making us all think.

  13. You perspectives and posts on cancer are truly inspiring.
    I just love how real your writing is.
    I believe with all my heart that your road is long and well paved <3

  14. God I hate cancer…so much. This was so well written, Susan. And so true!

  15. I was also deeply saddened by Jack Layton’s passing. Yesterday was a sad day. I live in Ottawa and work for the government. I’ve only had the opportunity to meet Jack once and it was completely by chance on a patio outside a Sparks st pub 2 summers ago. The energy and positivity that he radiated was refreshing. It’s not often that someone like him comes around, especially in politics. Canada lost a great man who loved this country.

    I think it’s so amazing of you to share your cancer story here. I think many people are unaware of what someone actually goes through with cancer, just even the treatments alone. For the most part, when you hear someone talking about cancer, that has cancer, it’s sugar coated. I’m not saying everyone is that way. It’s just one of those situations that you don’t know what you’re in for unless you’re there.

    I’ve known so many people that have had cancer, some are no longer with me and others have gone on to be cancer-free for years. I’ve never personally had to deal with cancer in my own body but your journey has given me a different perspective and understanding.

  16. Thank you for posting this. Also, that comic was very helpful. I haven’t been directly affected by cancer, so I assumed that you were “cured.”

    Best wishes for the future. Even though I am a new reader, you are still in my thoughts daily.

  17. I agree with you that the battle terminology needs to go. Personally in my family there are people who have recovered from cancer and those that did not. We never have used terms like win or lose. My aunt for instance had breast cancer and recovered. Later she got lung cancer. Two days before she died she was out shopping, visiting, and doing her usual activities. After her death we learned the cancer had spread everywhere. She was going blind and deaf. Her bones were affected. The doctor had no idea how she was able to be walking around. She was living a full life until the very end! She may not be a “survivor” but to me that is winning!

  18. I’m sorry you are feeling the loss. I’m sure you will always be more sensitive to people’s battles (and losses) with cancer because you know what it feels like to battle it. Hugs.

  19. Great post! As someone who works in the medical research field, one of our biggest challenges has been to constantly explain why we, as a field, haven’t cured cancer yet. Obviously it’s much more complicated than one simple drug or intervention, and even at our best there’s a lot of unanswered questions. It’s a struggle for everyone involved.

  20. You’ve created a valid point about how cancer doesn’t pick and choose. My grampa got cancer because he was a heavy smoker, but he’s only one out of the several people I know who’ve had it and could have possibly avoided it. The other few just randomly got sick…. Healthy people; good people; people who wore sunscreen and avoided charred chicken; people who went to the doctor on a regular basis and did all necessary self examinations. My heart goes out to these people and their coping families, as it does to you and yours. Keep kicking your stupid inconsiderate cancer in the butt, and kick it hard! For all of us…

  21. Wow, I never thought I’d say that a comic was powerful, but that’s some heavy stuff! Thanks for sharing- it definitely helps put cancer into perspective.

  22. That comic really does say it – cancer sucks! I have seen family members taken by it & it is ugly – yes. It does not discriminate for sure! My mom had liposarcoma which is a rare cancer with little funding because enough people don’t die from it – because it is RARE! Imagine, we can’t give money because enough people don’t die….. yet they have no idea why it comes or why the same form of sarcoma is different in different people & that is keeps growing back & all the rest of the crap. The we have an insurance system that rather let people die than help them.

    I am so sorry to go off – but you write so eloquently & it hit home…. I am so in awe of your attitude & strength.

    Wishing you all the best!

    • Jody, not a day goes by that I don’t thank the universe for at least giving me a cancer that is somewhat common and has had TONS of research done on it. Hodgkins was the second kind of cancer chemotherapy was used on I believe about 50 years ago, and they’ve just been doing more and more research on it ever since.

      Sarcoma is nasty. My heart goes out to your mom. The more I learn about cancer, the more I learn that it is such a HUGE disease with so many forms and ways of growing. Our knowledge of it is still in the early stages and we have so much farther to go…

  23. That’s interesting you bring this up. We’re (I’m a health reporter for Global News) running a story tonight about cancer-speak. A McMaster Oncologist professor says we need to stop referring to cancer as a battle and think of it as a chronic disease that people live with.

    What are your thoughts on that advice?

    • I totally agree. Especially with the advancements we’re making in cancer treatment, and even more the drugs that help people get through treatment, more and more people are living with incurable cancers for longer periods of time. I’m not sure how cancer is the one disease that people decided could be “beat” just out of sheer internal strength and willpower. No one tells you a positive attitude will help you beat heart disease! Perhaps it’s because cancer treatment is so notoriously brutal. But again, living through treatment isn’t a war either. Treatment is what helps you live.

      Happy to hear Global is talking about it too :)

  24. Seems cancer definitely has it’s own set of rules. I didn’t know who Jack is, but am glad you brought it to my attention.
    Missed you this year at HLS! I imagine your ears were burning bc there were many others who wished you could be there too! <3 love ya girl!!

  25. I want you to know this: I had the same thing as you; didn’t beat it with AVBD but beat it after having an autologous stem cell transplant over 11 years ago. It was a scary few years, sure, and who knows what the future holds, but now I am “hopeful and optimistic”… it’s the only way to truly live. :o)

  26. That comic really makes you think, I F**king hate cancer too.

  27. Hi There,

    I came across your blog a couple of months ago. I wanted to just drop a short note to thank you for your courage to put yourself out there. I’m not sure I would as brave as you are.

    Keep strong and tell your story. You are educating the many that haven’t seen the other side of cancer.


  28. Susan,

    I thought about you when I heard of Jack’s passing because I knew the day would be especially hard for you and all those who are living with cancer. Jack was a champion for so many, including cancer survivors. Your post was beautifully written. Truly if anyone could “fight” cancer, Jack or Terry (Fox) could not have been more worthy opponents. You are so right. Thank you for explaining this to those of us who can’t possibly understand, but who want to try.


  29. I’ve been quietly reading your blog for a while now, and thank you for having a voice. My aunt passed away from ovarian cancer. She lived through the surgery, the chemo, the recovery and its vengeful return a year later. All the while she lived, singing, dancing when she could, telling stories and she smiled her way through it (at least while I was around). The only time I saw her cry was one week before she passed. It was the last time I saw her. I don’t want to say the cancer won, because she fought, she fought hard, and in the end, she is the one that chose to go. On her terms, by her means, surrounded by family.

    I’m not quite sure where my point is, I’m crying too much to remember heh, but thank you again for sharing your story with us. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, young, old, healthy and ill, it doesn’t care. But with voices like yours, those living with it and their family and friends, will have a better understanding of it and its effects not just on the body but heart mind and soul of everyone connected to the afflicted person, and perhaps, learn how to heal as well.

  30. Love this blog post. I totally agree with needing to not say ‘he/she lost the battle with cancer.’ It’s denigrating and demeaning to say that to everyone with cancer, especially those who die from it. It’s not like they choose to die or all particularly ill-equipped to deal with cancer…cancer just kills some people, that’s all. End of story.

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