Anyone with a Facebook account has no doubt seen a variation of a status, one that has been passed around and slightly altered so many times, it can not be attributed.  The status basically says something along the lines of, “We all wish for a bigger house, a new car, to be thinner, etc… But a cancer patient has only one wish, to beat cancer.”  Then it goes on about how X% of people won’t repost this (usually 97 on these stupid things) but I know my friends are the 3% that will.  Then it tells you to repost in honor of someone who died of cancer or is currently fighting it.

This post popped up on my feed last night and made me so upset, I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Beyond exploiting cancer patients to make your post spread further, it is a flat-out lie.  Who does the original author of this garbage think he/she is?  How dare anyone speak for the wishes of all cancer patients.

When I was diagnosed, all through treatment, during the complications, and now living in the aftermath I can definitely say that beating cancer has been my number one wish.  But my only wish?  Hell no.  I wouldn’t mind more money, a new car, a vacation to Ireland, a nice house, and no debt.  I wish for my family and friends to be healthy and happy.  I wish for people to be able to quit being so stupid as to believe crap like that post.  Regular wishes don’t go away just because you have cancer, they may just be shifted in order of priority.  Which brings me to widely accepted lie

#1.  Cancer patients become cancer.

Once you let people know you have cancer, suddenly all they want to talk about is your cancer.  Or other people’s cancers.  Or the bullshit things you can do to cure cancer.  Or what you did or didn’t do to get cancer.  No more do they acknowledge your other non-cancer related life, which until you die, does go on.  Speaking of death

#2.  Survivors are “brave” or “fighters”.

Not so fast, Speedy.  Go up to a loved one of someone who just died of cancer and try telling them that the person they just lost wasn’t brave enough or didn’t fight hard enough.  If you survive the beating they give you, you might realize how saying the survivors are brave or are fighters is essentially saying those who didn’t make it aren’t.  Do you see how this might be a bad thing?  The only fighting required is sticking with the treatment prescribed and continuing to try to breathe when it isn’t easy.  And bravery?  No, not really.  Bravery would be not fighting the cancer.  The terminal patients who make the decision to die with dignity, they are the brave ones.  It is actually the fear of dying at the particular time that causes most cancer patients to continue treatment (fight).  I say most cancer patients because

#3.  Cancer is a terrible disease.

Wrong again.  Cancer is a group of diseases.  The symptoms, prognosises, lasting effects, survivability, and treatments vary widely.  Solid tumor cancers, blood cancers, chemotherapy, radiation, relapse rates, they are so different they really shouldn’t even be mentioned to anyone with a different type.  The only thing cancers share are messed up cells.  And about being messed up

#4.  Cancer patients all look like bald, walking skeletons.

Despite the Hollywood depictions, not all cancer patients lose their hair.  Because there are different treatments, different drugs, different doses, and just people being different and therefore responding to things differently, not everyone undergoing treatment for cancer looks like a bald, emaciated invalid.  Many cancer patients actually gain weight from either water retention or the effects of steroids.  Since we’re on the subject of steroids

#5.  The cancer is gone, things go back to normal.

For some, perhaps.  I’ve had no evidence of cancer since August of 2012.  However, in destroying the cancer my bone marrow was also destroyed requiring a transplant that I got in January of 2013.  The lasting effects are too much to list, but some of the major ones are PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, loss of hearing, cataracts (from those steroids), adrenal insufficiency (also from steroids), liver damage, kidney damage, fatigue, GI damage, low blood counts, no B cells, and so much more.  As recently as August of last year I was intubated in the ICU undergoing emergency surgery.  And I was feeling better in the days just before that than I am today.  You may not become cancer, but for many, it will always be a part of you.  Do you know what won’t always be a part of you?

#6.  People you thought would, will be there for you.

I really learned who my friends weren’t in these last few years.  Others have stepped up and shown just how good of friends they can be.  When I think about the people I thought were some of my best friends now, I can’t help but feel really let down.  But I have quality friends now, and I’m also very lucky because

#7.  Cancer is romantic.

Fuck you, Hollywood.  I have known way too many people who were abandoned by their significant others, or their spouses (the ones who said, “In sickness and in health”) because the going got rough, or their sex life suffered.  I’m very lucky, my wife has been so supportive and strong.  She’s been by my side and I am so lucky.  It really doesn’t usually work out that way.

As survivors, some of us perpetuate these lies.  I myself often use the “I beat cancer” line when trying to show how I’m not afraid of something else (like I lost my social anxiety and my fear of heights) or as some sort of evidence of how strong I am.  We don’t do it on purpose, the mind tricks you into believing that if you survived your own body attacking you, you can survive anything else.  (But then you collapse on the floor in a puddle of tears if you think you might be getting sick again.)

Not that we don’t deserve some credit.  I worked my ass off in physical therapy to be able to walk and regain my balance.  I’ve been utilizing the tiny amounts of energy I get to build strength.  I didn’t down overdoses of pain pills when I thought it was too much and actually would have welcomed death.  I didn’t stop breathing when my lungs were filled with fluid and it hurt so bad.

But if you believe that the grey faced people I saw at the clinic yesterday, who are obviously near the end of a battle they can’t win, aren’t just as brave or didn’t fight just as hard, and that I just wasn’t a bit luckier, then you should get your head examined.  It might be cancer.


Author: Josh Wrenn

Cancer survivor, wanna-be artist, musician, author, and all around good guy.

28 thoughts on “Lies”

  1. “I myself often use the ‘I beat cancer’ line when trying to show how I’m not afraid of something else (like I lost my social anxiety and my fear of heights) or as some sort of evidence of how strong I am.”

    I feel the same about having survived, on my own, a cold-turkey detox from 10 years of prescription medications (to manage intractable pain). I keep telling myself, well, the pain is really bad today, but it will never again be as bad as that time period while I was detoxing. And if I get cancer? Well, the pain can’t be as bad as that time…

    But as that detox memory slowly begins to fade, all I’m left with is the pain, with no way to manage it. Funny, I don’t feel strong or courageous any more… Beat the pain? Dude, I am no match for this constant pain.

    So when anyone asks me, how are you today?, my response is always: Well, I’m still breathing. Because in my mind, that’s quite an accomplishment. 🙂


  2. Thank you. I wish I had read this when you posted it. A dear friend, a girl who at 26 had squeezed more adventure and happiness out of her years than most people could in four lifetimes, passed away on March 2nd after an 18 month battle with hereditary diffuse gastric cancer. She would thoroughly approve of every line in this post. As we grew closer in her last year I saw what really mattered to her, and it was rarely the fact that she had cancer. There was so much more to her story, always, even though anything that could go wrong did go wrong for her during treatment and she suffered so much I will claw someone’s eyes out if they try to tell me there was some kind of reason or lesson or gift in her cancer. In my mind, she beat her disease months ago, by retaining her sense of self no matter what, and by having the bravery to work with a palliative care team earlier so that the end was at home, with family and friends, and it was as much under her control as possible in the situation. I can’t write about her properly yet, I keep trying, but I really can’t without breaking down. There is no way to capture what a badass she was. I wish people would think before they repost those lies that are so hurtful and infuriating, and which lump all people fighting disease/cancer into generalized categories or try to ascribe meaning to things that are senseless and horrible and should not happen to anyone. You totally explained something I have been trying to put into words for a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. That was definitely a hard post to write, anything having to do with it is for me, but occasionally, I have to. I’m very sorry for your loss, but glad she was able to live a full life in her short time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad you wrote it. I know how rough it is to sit over the computer with bleeding wounds and let everyone see them, but it’s valuable in so many ways. Your willingness to say what others cannot, your willingness to teach people what is acceptable and what is not, that is huge. Thank you for posting and writing on such a personal and difficult topic. Every line I kept thinking “Cassandra agrees”.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on My Friday Blog and commented:

    I’m re-posting this so my newer dear reader(s) can get an idea of what they are in for. I have also updated my About page if you want to learn more. Not every post will be like this, sometimes I try to be funny, but this post says a lot about me in a lot of ways. I’m not out of ideas, and will post something new later.


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