Finding ways for cancer patients to not be defined by their illness
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Living A Normal Life With Cancer – As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, I saw that Texas Children’s Hospital hosted their 2nd annual prom for their patients. This amazing event, hosted by their Child Life Department, gave almost 50 kids, both in-patients and out-patients, the chance to do what so many teens with chronic illness don’t get the chance to do – dress up and go to a dance. Even the therapy dogs at TCH got involved as the kids’ escorts for the evening. With loving community members donating formal wear and helping with hair and makeup, these kids got to just be teenagers for a night – not patients.
Another fantastic group that is out there helping cancer patients is the Bite Me Cancer Foundation. I mean, their name alone is hysterical, but their mission is fabulous. They provide support bags to teenagers with cancer and have also funded five research grants focusing on thyroid cancer. One of the fun events that the Bite Me Cancer Foundation funds is taking teens and their families to various sporting events.
For the littlest of our littles, there are amazing local groups such as Operation Snowstorm, that provide a fun filled snow experience for terminally ill cancer kids in the Houston area.
Another special group of patients are our ladies with breast cancer. Let’s be honest, from the moment we realize what it is to be a woman, for many of us, our breasts become central to that. We think about how our clothes fit, how others see us, etc. They not only nourish our babies, but they become a symbol of our femininity. (Side note – this is not meant to be any statement on whether a woman’s breasts should/should not be seen in that way. I firmly believe that we ladies are more than our lady parts, just as gentlemen are more than their bodies. Ask any person that has lost a part of their body – it has a massive effect on their mental health. That’s all I’m saying here.) When disease takes any part of our womanhood, it can be difficult to feel like yourself again and yes living a normal life with cancer. Fabulously, there are many companies out there that can help ladies that have dealt with mastectomies to feel womanly and yes, sexy again. Check out our page dedicated to mastectomy products – some of these may even be covered by your insurance!
Not letting cancer define us
Years ago, before my cancer diagnosis, I was at an investigator meeting for an investigational product for diabetes. These are the meetings that clinical research teams attend prior to the start of a trial, so we can be well trained in the conduct of that trial. As we were about to conclude, another coordinator stood up and said this to us. “It is important for us to remember to not define our volunteers and patients by their disease. Just as we say that a person has albinism and is not an albino, we need to give the same respect to our volunteers in this and every trial. Don’t call them diabetics. They are people with diabetes.” To be honest, at the time, my young twenty something-year-old brain rolled my eyes. My thought was how is possible they could be living a normal life with cancer?
The thing is though – I was wrong for that reaction, even if it was only in my brain. As I have gotten older, I’ve realized that the coordinator that said that was right. In my youth and inexperience, it didn’t occur to me how diseases can unfairly define us. I’m a hell of a lot more than a cancer survivor, although that is a badge that I wear proudly. I’m a daughter, wife, mother, and friend; I’m a researcher and a writer. Has cancer influenced my life and my thinking? You betcha. I wouldn’t be visiting with you today had cancer not touched my life.
I think that it is so important for us as cancer patients, survivors, thrivers, and caregivers to take the time to remember that we are so much more than our diagnosis. In the past, we have talked about the power that cancer has – it can consume our lives in so many ways – but it is vital for us to remember who we are beyond the sickness, beyond the treatments, beyond the appointments.
As my friend Sophie Sabbage has said, when we get that diagnosis of cancer, we are immediately welcomed into a family of others being treated for these diseases. We instantaneously become brothers and sisters, but we need to retain our personal identities.
Just like the fabulous people at Texas Children’s, the Bite Me Cancer Foundation, and Operation Snowstorm are giving kids and teens the chance to shed the persona of patient, even if only for an evening, we ALL need to remember that we are more than a diagnosis.
Here’s my challenge to you my friends – comment below and tell us who you are, share on your social media page and tell your friends who you are. We are cancer patients, survivors, thrivers, and caregivers – and these struggles have undoubtedly shaped our lives. Tell us about what you’ve learned and how it has shaped you and the ways that you have learned that living a normal life with cancer is not only possible but should be expected.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!