Just for the Record: Cancer isn't always fatal
OK here's the story behind this post:

Last night I decided to go out and enjoy a cocktail. I mean it's saturday night and why the hell not? So I am being chatted up by, well, let's be honest an idiot. He was about 6 foot 4 and kicked off our conversation with several short jokes. Brilliant tactic, if what you want to end up with your body parts scattered across NJ in unmarked baggies. To try and get my phone number? Not so much. He was also cock blocking me from the pack of hot cute guys who were drunkenly roving around the bar like puppies. (There was a big college grad group there.)

So, we end up in a conversation about what kind if insanity we have witnessed in bars. And I tell him the story where I saw a guy and girl fighting-and the guy came out with "YOU BROKE UP WITH ME WHEN I HAD CANCER YOU BITCH!"

And his response? "Well, I mean if you have cancer you are going to die. It's a death sentence, so why would you want to put someone through that?"

Um, what?

And see this is why 1. I drink and 2. I should just stop talking to people.

Incidentally this isn't the first time I've heard this. Some of my students at NYU have echoed the exact same sentiment.

So let me make this CRYSTAL CLEAR. Not all cancers are fatal. When initially diagnosed there are a lot of factors to consider including the type of cancer and how early/late it is detected. Furthermore, even with the most dire cases, you never know. For example, I know a guy who was not only diagnosed with terminal cancer, but given at best 6 months to live. That was 6 YEARS ago, and he is still hitting on chicks. I was diagnosed with an aggressive often fatal form of cancer, and, well, I'm still here. (No, I am not blogging from the Great Beyond.) Lucy Grealy, who wrote Autobiography of a Face, was diagnosed with a cancer with a 1% chance of survival. Yet live she did.

So here is it kids- cancer IS NOT always fatal. And even with an outstandingly poor prognosis, some people manage to defy expectation. Now do people still die of cancer? YES, but that doesn't mean all of us do.

This comment from an adult should make you wonder what a child with cancer might be asked by his or her peers. Their classmates are likely to be even less informed, and the parents of their classmates may be filled with misinformation, or even worse, prejudice. While it may seem strange to hate a child who is sick, hate is often caused by fear. Parents filled with a zealous desire to protect their children from unfortunate truths or the disease itself may cause an already sick child even more pain by unconsciously heightening the fear by failing to discuss the illness or some issues surrounding it. This fear driven hate can result in insults, ostracism, and even death threats, like this case of a child with leukemia receiving multiple death threats on her blog. If the child is in a school system like the one I grew up in, he/she may find the school authorities less than willing to help ameliorate the situation by intervening when bullying occurs or by relaxing certain requirements that may be difficult to fulfill (in my case by refusing to change or eliminate the gym requirement while I was in a wheelchair). And this isn't even taking into consideration the toll the actual cancer and the treatment may take on the child itself.

Now this is not to say that childhood cancer will inherently result in a nightmarish social situation. There are, again, multiple factors at play. How are the parents coping with it? How old is the child? What is the attitude of the current school administrators? Are just a few factors that will figure in to how the community reacts. Sometimes a community will really rally and be key in the child's treatment, other times it will be a hindrance.

Whatever the case, cancer is painful and difficult without having to deal with comments from misinformed schmoes. So schmoes take note.


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