I had to change blogs in mid-blog stream. Something came up that was too offensive not to blog about. This was a blog that was published by the Huffington Post by Cindy Finch, called The 6 Injustices of Cancer. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cindy-finch-msw-licsw/the-six-injustices-of-can_b_6573648.html) I am reluctant to include the link because it will mean more traffic and better metrics for an article that I don’t think deserves it.
Why six injustices? I have no idea. They are not even the six that I would have chosen if I had written a blog about the six injustices of cancer, but, as a thyroid cancer survivor and veterinary surgical oncologist, you peruse this kind of thing. It starts out with,
- When it’s over, it ain’t over
- Cancer now, may mean cancer later
- Your doctor may dismiss your concerns
- Cancer is humiliating
Ok, sure, although I don’t find this list particular groundbreaking or visionary, I can relate and half-smile my way through. Then comes #5:
- Some cancer patients get off really easy
Here are some quotes from provocative section #5: “I’ve heard it a hundred times, “I’m a cancer survivor, too.” “Oh, really? What type of cancer did you have and what was your treatment?” “Oh, I had thyroid cancer and had to take a radioactive pill for 30 days then I was all better.” Blah blah blah, lots of crap on who has it bad and who has it even more bad, blah, blah blah “High on pain and often low on quality of life afterwards (if they live), these folks represent the worst among us.” (Clearly not talking about easy-peasy thyroid cancer here) “If you’re not one of these folks, perhaps you should be quiet and sit down and let someone else tell their war story.” (Clearly talking about thyroid cancer peeps here).
Let me just say that the thyroid cancer community is not amused. Currently, there are over 100 angry comments on the Huffington Post Site from thyroid cancer survivors pointing out the hypocrisy of this article and it’s making the rounds with the thyroid cancer survivors Facebook pages. I should say that Cindy Finch is sorry. She apologized. She is trying to make it right. She now sees the light and is going to write more poorly-written blogs about things she doesn’t know anything about, like thyroid cancer. I don’t really understand this because she says in her article that she has heard it “one-hundred times” so now that she has heard it two-hundred times, she sees it differently? I accept the apology, but the call for thyroid cancer survivors to share their thyroid cancer experiences with her is a bit too much for me, I don’t want this to be the person who tells my story.
This article unintentionally but accurately sums up the struggle of the thyroid cancer community. Most thyroid cancer survivors have struggled with the perception, both internally and externally, that thyroid cancer is easy cancer. The first thing that most people say when you tell that that you have thyroid cancer is, “That’s good cancer, right?” Yeah it is great cancer. Thyroid cancer does not measure up in the cancer hierarchy because it is not well-publicized or well-funded and what people do know about it is that it is cancer-lite.
The majority of people with thyroid cancer have a curable form of cancer. This is partly because most forms of thyroid cancer are slow moving and also because of science. Science has figured out that you can make iodine radioactive and that, because iodine is only taken up by thyroid cells (cancerous or otherwise), it will selectively kill thyroid cancer cells and spare normal cells. So let me just say that again, this is a form of cancer that has been cured by science. Thanks Science! Instead of celebrating this, thyroid cancer is dismissed for its curability. Also, after you have had your entire thyroid gland surgically removed (which is not actually as fun as it may sound and often more than one surgery is required), you have no thyroid hormone, which is a vital hormone for activities that people enjoy, such as being alive. Our friend, science has also found a way to replace thyroid hormone. That is also great news for thyroid cancer. Having said that, not all forms of thyroid cancer are a walk in the park, not all forms are curable, and not having a thyroid gland is a real challenge sometimes. Some people actually die from thyroid cancer. Surprising, but true. The people that are struggling with recurrence and metastatic disease from thyroid cancer deserve respect and support. Please do not marginalize them.
For the rest of the thyroid cancer survivors who apparently are not allowed to share their experience because it was too easy, they are silently struggling with fatigue and the small possibility of recurrence. When you have no thyroid gland, you look completely normal, but you just feel off or fatigued sometimes. You will again be dismissed if you dare to bring this up and told that this is just aging, or that you need to suck it up when you are tired (just got told this last week when I brought up the difficulties I was having with early mornings, thank you very much). The thyroid cancer survivors are constantly on defense about their cancer and they are also, as a group, really tired. I’m sorry we are not survivor-y enough for you. As a group, I don’t think that we are trying to prove anything or compete for cancer-pity dominance, we are just trying to get our thyroid levels in order, raise awareness, and get people to check their necks.
There are only two types of people that have had cancer. Dead people and alive people. Not all people with cancer live to blog and whine about it. A lot of people with cancer die. The dead people are silenced by death and the cancer-lite people are silenced by not suffering enough. What about the injustice of being dead? This did not even make the list of the six injustices of cancer. If it was possible to blog from the afterlife, I suspect that the grave-bloggers would tell this author that she actually has a lot more in common with the thyroid cancer survivors, considering she is alive and all.
I am a veterinary surgical oncologist at the University of Florida. I think about and work with cancer every day. I am also in the privileged position of learning from my physician colleagues at the human hospital. Because of this, I am very aware of the fact that I am incredibly lucky for everything that I have in my life and for having a cancer that is most often curable. The human experience that I learn from often has some tragic combination of bad genes, bad luck, bad disease, bad financial or social situations, bad or no health insurance, fear, and ignorance, which conspire and in many cases, cause death. But can’t I just feel lucky and happy without feeling guilty or invalidated? Why do we always feel the need to compare our scars? Things that all cancer survivors (and even people who have had cancer scares for that matter) have in common is that we thought about dying and we realized that sooner or later, we are all going to die. Maybe we should just focus on our fragile common ground.