You might remember Donald Wilhelm from the blog post ‘Should You Write A Cancer Book?’ He’s back today musing on the nasty little subject that none of us want to think about but some of us have to: recurrence. Donald’s new book This Time’s a Charm: Lessons of a Four-Time Cancer Survivor tells his real-life story from a patient’s perspective about surviving cancer four times.
Q: What is the stupidest comment someone said to you when you told them you had a recurrence?
A: Most people are sympathetic, but I have heard several times, “Well, at least you know what to expect.” Not helpful and unlikely to make it onto a Hallmark greeting card.
Q: When you meet recently diagnosed lymphoma patients do you reveal how many times you’ve had recurrences? If so, do you worry about scaring them?
A: I often go back and forth on this topic, especially if they’re Hodgkin’s patients. Overall, I usually tell them because it seems to put most people at ease. Most folks want to know that someone has had it worse than they have it.
Q: Did you ever have friends who disappeared when you were first diagnosed but were there for you during subsequent recurrences?
A: Yes, that does happen often. Some folks are just not comfortable with their own mortality, so being around someone who’s facing a challenge makes them uber uncomfortable. I don’t judge them though, because their reaction is simply a symptom of our society’s overall issues with death.
Q: How has your relationship to science changed with each diagnosis?
A: It has ebbed and flowed. At times I watch the latest studies into things like stem cell research and monoclonal antibodies. And with other recurrences, I just trust in my own body and my oncologist to kick its butt today with drugs we have now. All in all, it may likely end up being a combination that finally does the trick for me.
Have you ever had a recurrence? If so, how would you respond to the questions I just asked Donald? Are your responses similar or different from his? What is the stupidest thing someone has said to you?