Cancer Impostor

Feeling Sheepish

Coming close to six years of being cancer free, meeting so many Survivors and weeping with the families of those who did not survive, I look back on my cancer experience feeling a little sheepish, a little like a Breast Cancer Impostor.

My Stage 0, Grade 2, diagnosis of DCIS required two breast sparing surgeries (although my right breast is dramatically diminished from its former identical twin) and six weeks of daily radiation.

Sitting in the radiation waiting room at Beaumont Hospital, I listened to the horror stories other women told of repeated surgeries, infections, complications, low blood cell counts, hospitalizations, hair loss and in some cases I learned, the radiation they were about to receive, was a last ditch effort to save their very lives or simply a remedy to control unbearable pain.

I, instead, was in a last ditch effort to save our livelihood, to save our home, to keep our car in the driveway, the lights on and that all important COBRA insurance premium paid.

Unlike Amy Rauch Neilson, I was not worried about looking normal with a full head of hair—-I was worried about the ability to maintain a “normal” life should we lose everything due to my treatment and inability to procure full time employment.

In the end, what I’ve learned is that we cannot measure the effect a cancer diagnosis has on a woman (or man), that we should not dismiss our problems, because somebody has it worse.”  Because the facts are, we can always find someone else in a worse case scenario.

Regardless of my diagnosis, I remain  one of the 1 in 8 women diagnosed in her lifetime, but as a new SurThrivor friend, Kathy McEnvoy of Celebrate in Pink, told me, “One in eight will be diagnosed, but the other seven are affected as well.”

Here’s what Amy has to say:

Does That Make Me a Fraud?

I feel like a fraud. But I’m not alone.

Two weeks ago, when The Pink Fund Founder Molly MacDonald stopped by  my chemo treatment for a visit, she confided that, as a Stage 0 breast cancer survivor, she, too, sometimes feels like a fraud.

Last week, one of my blog subscribers wrote this in response to my post, Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow? Maybe, Maybe Not (Feb. 18):

“I understand far too well what it’s like to be a bald woman. I live on the other side of the coin – I have alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes my hair to fall out. When I’m out bald I feel like such a fraud, because people come up to me and assume I have cancer. I’m told how brave I am, that they’re praying for me or, suddenly, they share their stories about their hair loss from when they had cancer.”

Saturday, the handicapped placard that I applied for the week before last arrived in the mail. I put it in my glove box, “just in case.”

I used it for the first time yesterday, to park in a handicapped spot at Meijer so I could dash in for a couple gallons of milk. I was already running on empty after attending a family wedding over the weekend. And though I’m often too proud to show it, by the time I’m done pushing a cart through a grocery store, I’m ready for a nap.

The main parking lot was jammed with people preparing for the major snow and ice storm that was already underway. And there was more than one handicapped space available.

So, I pulled into one, parked, attached the placard to my rear view mirror.

I’ve never, ever parked in a handicapped spot before.

As I made my way to the door, this thought ran through my mind as if on a continuous circuit:

What might people think if they see me getting out of my car? I look perfectly healthy.

I know I’m not a fraud. Of course, I’d give anything not to be fighting the Stage 4 breast cancer that’s in my left breast, lymph nodes, clavicle, both lungs. My doctor wouldn’t have authorized the paperwork for the placard if my condition didn’t merit it. And, as my husband Don said, it’s good to have it for those days when I’m really worn out. Days like yesterday.

And of course, Molly isn’t a fraud. Whether Stage 0, Stage 4, or anywhere in between, the terror and trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatment is like no other.

Nor is my blog subscriber a fraud. She has a very real medical condition that causes hair loss. If she’s out in public and a stranger approaches and assumes she’s a cancer patient, that’s certainly not her fault.

Still. Why do I feel like one?

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

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  1. Jackie

     /  February 22, 2011

    Reaction #1: Don’t compare yourself to any one else.

    Many years ago I was going through a particularly rough time (not health related). I had gone with a group from my church to serve dinner at a local homeless shelter. As we were finishing up, I looked out over the room of some 300-400 homeless men and commented to the young pastor who was serving her internship with us and said something like “This makes my problems seem small.” She said, “Don’t minimize your problems because they aren’t the same as other people’s problems. You have problems, big ones, they’re just different.” She was very, very wise.

    Reaction #2: Don’t compare the way you feel to anyone else.

    Recently I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. My goal is to avoid getting breast cancer because I don’t want to have to deal with that. Several people have told me how brave I am to do this. Brave? Because I don’t want to have to suffer through chemo and radiation? I don’t feel brave. I’m doing what I think is smart.

    As long as we are honest with ourselves and we know the truth, we are not frauds — and we shouldn’t concern ourselves with what other people think.

    (Yeah, I know, easier said than done!)

  2. Sara

     /  February 22, 2011

    I think that the reason is tied to this one question you asked yourself:

    “what might people think if they see me get out of my car? I look perfectly healthy”

    People judge others on what they see on the outside when they don’t have a clue what someone might be going through on the inside. Many people seem to have plenty of compassion toward those they can outwardly see are sick, but their response might be very judgmental toward someone who doesn’t “look” sick.

    You have no reason to feel like a fraud because you are not one. I pray that your blog today might teach people to not judge someone by what they see on just on the outside!

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us 🙂

  3. Scott Orwig

     /  February 22, 2011

    When I was 27 I was partially paralyzed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome and my wife got me a parking tag. I could barely walk but I never used the tag because I looked like a healthy young guy. I still remember that now when I see a seemingly able person use one of the spots.

    Some people will be judgmental and assume you’re just taking advantage. They aren’t your problem right now. Just plan on setting them straight later, when you’re better.

  4. In my opinion, you feel like a fraud because most people relate “handicap” to being visually physically disabled. You are not in a wheelchair, nor do you have one leg missing, etc. So visably, you look healthy and fine. What you are forgetting about is that the treatments you are receiving take a toll on your body and while not always visable, causes your body to be worn out. So take full advantage of the handicap parking because this is not something you would ever do if you weren’t battling this ugly disease! Handicap parking is used for a variety of reasons, so no one should be judging you. Hold your head high and park close!

  5. You feel like a fraud because you are a fighter, and a compassionate person who sees the positive side of everything. Yes, there are always people out there who have it worse than you do. And someone is looking at you, Amy, and saying the same thing about their life.

    We all need a helping hand now and then. If that placard gets you through this, hang it up and take the handicapped spot. You just left an empty spot somewhere else for me to park in, because I don’t have access to the handicapped spaces, LOL.

  1. Does That Make Me a Fraud? « It's in the Genes

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