February 02, 2023

Ten Cancer Truths


I spent five hours sitting on a dumpster dived sofa in an apartment in San Francisco, transfixed in conversation. I was interviewing Wafa’a, a lymphoma patient in her early twenties, for my book Everything Changes. We ranted about parents, dating, and loneliness. At the end of our rapid-fire conversation, Wafa’a clearly, slowly, and eloquently stated a list of pointers she would give to newly diagnosed patients. I thought I’d make my own list too:

1. Climb. If it makes you feel good to climb a mountain or run a marathon with cancer, fantastic.

2. Cry. If you cry yourself to sleep and cannot scrape your depressed head off the pillow in the morning, that’s pretty normal too.

3. Reality. Don’t believe the hype that we can choose whether or not cancer is going to get the best of us. Cancer is not an attitude. It is a disease.

4. Smash. Put one foot in front of the other, roll with the punches, yell, cry, and break things as needed. (I recommend smashing a dozen eggs in the shower: cheap, satisfyingly messy, yet easy to clean up.)

5. Ask. Ask for help when you need it from people who are good at giving it.

6. Learn. Make educated choices while realizing there is no guarantee that the right choice will yield desirable results.

7. Love. Love those who support you and take a break from people who just don’t get what you are going through.

8. Science. Get constructively pissed off at the system, but stay curious about science.

9. Change. Don’t work too hard on using your cancer experience to change your outlook on life; it will do that all on its own. (And if it doesn’t, don’t worry, some of us prior to cancer already had great outlooks that didn’t need much changing.)

10. Vulnerability. Create your own definition of strength and let it change as needed. For me, strength comes from recognizing that I am vulnerable.

What are some cancer truths, or pointers, you would give to newly diagnosed patients?  Are there any of mine that you disagree with?

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  1. Lori Hope Says:
    February 2nd, 2009 at 12:03 PM

    Powerful truths, Kairol!

    Here’s one of mine:

    Know: Know you’re not crazy, hypersensitive, or different from anyone else who’s been punched by cancer if people’s insensitive, thoughtless, or simply ridiculous comments drive you up a wall!

    Also, want to give you a heads-up that I just talked w/Heidi at Planet Cancer because I’m beginning a series of blogs about young people and cancer to promote your book and add energy to our battlecry, and am thrilled that she’ll be promoting your book as well! You know she also thinks you’re a fabulous writer!


  2. Matthew Zachary Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 9:20 PM

    Your new website is teh awesome!!! Rock on! MZ

  3. Sara Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 10:17 PM

    I like the truths and would add, not just ask for help, but ask, ask, ask your health care providers and health insurance people everything you can think of

  4. anonymous Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:03 PM

    this is such a helpful, thoughtful list. thanks for posting it!

  5. Corey Says:
    June 11th, 2009 at 1:04 PM

    Thanks for the list and the posts. I really like Lori’s comment that people should know that they’re (we’re) not crazy!

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