Cancer vs Chronic Illness

As of two weeks ago, I officially have cancer: basal skin cell carcinoma, arguably the easiest, lowest-impact, most curable cancer there is.

The experience of the last two weeks and my debut into cancer-land has been, uh, interesting from my vantage point as a long term chronic babe/ sick chick/spoonie.

Some insights into my surreal existence these days...

1.) It is fascinating, FASCINATING, having an illness that is not socially taboo. Whaaaat? I can talk about this like it's no big thang? Yes, yes, I can. No one gets squeamish or quickly changes the topic. Wow.

2.) But of course, people do seem to think it is at least kind of a big thing, and something that they ought to acknowledge when they see or talk to me. "So sorry to hear....!" "But you're so...." "It's just not..." Dude. Why have you never given a damn that I have spent the last 15 years of my life battling illness after illness after illness, all of which greatly affected my ability to function, and yet now that I have a growth that doesn't impact my quality of life at all I am now worthy of sympathy?

3.) Well of course because cancer can kill people. And to that I say, oh honey, my mortality is not news. It's the only thing on this planet that is not news. I will die and so you will you. And yet...cancer...! [Insert sucking in of breath, tears, clucking, soft nodding, blah blah etc etc...] The association with death gets the reaction, whereas I cannot pay people to give a damn about chronic pain.

4.) To wit: I will get to spend my birthday with my husband this year because that's the day my surgery is, and when you tell your boss "I have to drive my wife to surgery to get her cancer removed" you get the day off. You never get the day off because your wife has a chronic pain disorder. Just sayin'.

5.) Back to 3 - cancer can kill people. Yes, it can, but basal skin cell carcinoma pretty much never does. It seems almost unfair to call it cancer. Many people in my life have had what I am now referring to as "real cancer." Ya know, chemo, surgical removal of body parts, surgical mending of said body, weight loss, hair loss, radiation, deep suffering? Basal skin cell carcinoma is like being at the cancer dinner and sitting at the kids table. It's the junior club. Cancer-lite. Diet cancer. This is not real fuckin' cancer, people. If you wish to care for me in my time of suffering, then by all means direct your care to my many other debilitating issues.

6.) Oddly enough, cancer, for me, is the easiest health problem I have ever dealt with. (Back to 5 - of course this isn't "real cancer," but it is my experience of what is technically cancer.) Get this - they just cut the cancer off and it's gone! AMAZEBALLS. I wish one day of outpatient surgery was all it took to get rid of v pain, SI joint pain, an effed-up left shoulder, bum wrists, a non-functioning left knee, acne, period cramps, infertility, scoliosis, migraines....

7.) Despite the fact that this is the easiest health problem to deal with, it's the one for which there is the most support! WTF! So easy to get the names of good surgeons, hear about other people's experiences, learn what to expect, etc etc etc. Where was all this support when I really needed it???? Eyeballs popping out with frustration!!!!

8.) "But you take such good care of yourself!" I KNOW, DAMMIT. A lifetime of daily sunblock, hat wearing, and sitting in the shade did not prevent me from getting stupid skin cancer young. Neither did eating my vegetables, exercising, meditating, praying, or trying to live a good upstanding life. Because as I learn and constantly re-learn, life on Planet Earth has nothing to do with fairness. Not a thing. Zip, zero, zilch. Fairness is a stupid concept we teach children, who then think it should be there to support them when times get rough, but surprise, it never does. We need to amend "Life isn't fair," and add on "nor does fairness have anything to do with anything, really." So let it go. 

9.) I suppose because the carcinoma is on my face, I was referred to a surgeon whose practice also involves a lot of elective cosmetic work. (Or maybe not. It seems like many Mohs surgeons also practice cosmetic dermatology.) Understandable. Hilariously enough though, this means I get the same treatment as all the other posh people at the doctor for their expensive elective work. The waiting room is really nice and has high-quality chocolate and beverages out. The receptionist gave me a "welcome gift" for becoming a new patient. Upon receiving the beribboned box, I snarkily replied "Who knew cancer would be so much fun!" By the look on her face, she was not used to getting that comment. (In case you were wondering, my gift was a water bottle, chapstick with sunscreen, and hand sanitizer - all branded of course - packed in shreds of silvery mylar stuff.)

10.) Silver lining (in addition to getting to spend b-day with hubby) - insurance is paying to take this ugly thing off my face. Sweet! I've lived with it for years, thinking it was a scar that hadn't healed properly, and was super-irritated that it was so unsightly. But it's not a scar! It's cancer! So having cancer is like getting insurance to pay for elective cosmetic surgery to make me prettier! Cancer = I'm prettier! I can't believe I'm writing that. 

Can you see why my world is feeling so surreal these days?


Anyway. Yes. I never would have thought as a child that in adulthood cancer would be the easy thing to deal with, or that it would make me prettier, or that other health issues would actually be the hard ones, and yet that is my weird, weird, reality these days.

And if anyone tries to brush off your complaints regarding v pain, you can now tell them "This is harder than cancer!" Because, for one person at least, that is true.


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PS Did this post get your brain gears crankin'?

Feel free to start a conversation below (it's okay, you can be anonymous)!