Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Tips on Surviving Your Cancer

Or, what I did to make my life as easy as possible while battling ovarian cancer. These tips — when taken with a dose of some Western medicine prescribed by your board-certified oncologist — might be a key to your survival in some way. Maybe.

Make a Facebook status letting everyone know you have cancer. "Ewww, but I'm not an attention whore!" Hush, you blighted body! The only thing more exhausting than chemo is having a face-to-face conversation with everyone you've ever met about your battle of wills with a murderous tumor. So after you tell the important people in your life, make a public announcement. Otherwise, a lot of your casual acquaintances will bully you into long conversations because they want to be personally affected by your disease. These are usually the types who tell elaborate stories about their bad days; meeting a cancer patient is like meeting a celebrity to them. Nonchalantly noting the state of your health online helps deflate and deflect these sympathy vultures. In that same vein, tell your loved ones to openly mourn your bad news. I think my roommate literally told 50 people the week I was diagnosed, which was therapeutic for her and also saved me a ton of work.

Shave your head. Feel free to keep those luscious locks as long as you can, but the minute you see the beginnings of your first bald spot, it's game time. What no one will tell you — aside from the fact that this level of hair loss is both disgusting and terrifying — is that losing your hair to chemo actually kind of hurts. It doesn't come out gracefully, gently wafting through the air until it becomes part of a beautiful bird's nest; it falls out in vicious fistfuls that forever stick to your bathroom tile. At points, it feels like someone is ripping it out of your head. This is because your hair follicles are dying, and they are pissed off about it.

Always have a ride to and from every appointment. I would think this tip is a no brainer, but there is a scene in 50/50 where Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character is waiting for a bus after chemo. This is absolutely unacceptable. While you don't usually feel terrible until a few hours after, there is no point in further exhausting yourself by experiencing the inconveniences of public transportation. It is scientifically proven that all buses smell weird, and since your sense of smell is inexplicably amplified right now, the people with bad body odor are really gonna do a number on your overactive gag reflex. Secondly, buses are like a one-way ticket to Germ City, which you cannot afford to take right now. Fact: chemo kills your white blood cells faster than you can say, "What's pneumonia feel like?" You need to treat every germy situation like you are a 98-year-old plastic bubble dweller who accidentally fell into a greasy puddle outside a methadone clinic: wash your hands often, and for god's sake, call your mom to come pick you up!

Obtain at least one TV series box set and one reliable barf bucket. Having cancer means you spend a lot of time incapacitated. There are Lifetime movies where the cancer victim (I say "victim" here because these people are such pusses in these movies) will dramatically flee to the bathroom to politely vomit. This is not how it happens. The truth is: if you stand up, there is a huge possibility you will immediately black out and fall down because you are so sick and tired you can't comprehend it, at which point you will puke on your shirt and maybe pee on yourself. This is not Lifetime dramatic; this is the real deal. There will be many times during your treatment where you will not be going to the bathroom unless it's within crawling distance. So get a good television series with characters whose problems you can easily focus on instead of your own, and settle in. If you can't decide on a show, I would recommend Gilmore Girls — their zany conversations about easy-to-solve predicaments are super distracting.

Eat healthily, and as much as you can. Everything tastes like the chemicals being blasted into your body anyway, so you might as well take shots of wheatgrass and whatever other gross granola crud you have lying around. Someone who has never had cancer before will probably make the joke that they would take advantage of this aversion to food, using it to get down to their ideal Ukrainian supermodel body weight by weaning themselves off the junk food that stands in the way of this dream. This is not funny or relatable (even though it's true that I mistakenly ate Italian meatball soup while I was sick and now, almost five years later, still can't be in the same room as a bowl of it without experiencing pre-vomit goosebumps). Regardless of the truths behind this joke, I assume whoever says this has a gray area eating disorder, and that sucks and I am sorry, but we're talking about my sickness here so knock it off please!

You can be a jerk sometimes. Now that I've recovered — physically and emotionally — from my cancer, it's easier to look back on my actions. I realize now that I was a huge pain in my roommates' collective asses a lot of the time, in part because I was always sprawled out in a way that took up our entire living room couch, meaning no one else could ever sit down. I even left a permanent body dent. But that is okay. You are allowed to be a little grouchy and take up too much space when you feel more horrible than you will probably ever feel again in your entire life. Everyone will still love you. You know this to be true because they sit on the floor, watch Gilmore Girls reruns with you and assure you that your breath doesn't smell as barfy as it tastes. Appreciate it, because this kind of love doesn't come around often.

Rebecca Pederson lives in San Francisco and is an editor at Yelp. She publishes the food puns her bosses reject (as well as some other stuff) on her blog.

136 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott

Good for you. And the standard cancer-patient advice which my mother (cancer survivor!) doles out you seem to have already zeroed in on: YOU DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. Whatever it is.

My mom had breast cancer when I was about five, and I don't even want to contemplate what it's like to have to deal with (1993-era!) breast cancer treatment with a rambunctious five-year-old running around. I spent a lot of time at friends' houses.

simone eastbro

@The Lady of Shalott my mom, in 1988, when i was 5, didn't actually tell us she had cancer, while recovering from a radical mastectomy and doing most of the childcare? I'm baffled/not totally sure what I actually remember from that time.


@simone eastbro Right I have this problem. I know my mum had a breast lump removed when I was young (maybe 7 or 8?) but I don't know if it was cancer. I know I need to ask her about it cos it can be hereditary, etc etc, but it's never mentioned in my family. Not in a we don't speak of that kind of way but still. Is there a non-weird way of being like MUM DID YOU HAVE CANCER?

simone eastbro

@rayray oh it was totally a "we don't speak of that" thing til she said in the car when I was 19, "you know, when I had cancer and your father taped over all my SCTV episodes" [record scratch] "when you WHAT"


@The Lady of Shalott My Mother also had breast cancer when I was five, my brother three and sister two, in 1991. I remember that she had to take me along to her appointments and I got mints from the vending machine to be shut up. I don't think that it worked for long. Man, respect.


@simone eastbro Yeah, my parents didn't tell us that my Mother had cancer until after she died. I think we just thought that she felt unwell sometimes. Kids are always sick and getting immunisations and check-ups, so they don't get too worried about their parents at that age.


I love this. My mom had breast cancer twice (she didn't survive the second round, sadly), and reading this made me feel a lot of feelings (mostly happy that you're doing well!). I did laugh a little at the hair advice, because my mom chopped off her hair almost immediately after being diagnosed both times, and I have memories of helping her duct-tape her head at both 11 and 18 to get all the stray fuzzies.

Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@samigator Haha yes, my mom scrubbed my fuzzies with a wet washcloth and then shaved the strays with a straight razor. Sorry to hear your mom wasn't as lucky.

Blousey Brown

You are so brave! JUST KIDDING! This piece is super informative, and it makes me want to punch any vain asshole who'd riff about cancer-related weight loss. Thank you for sharing your experience so we can all be better friends and, if it ever happens, more prepared patients.


I totally agree about the food thing. Due to the wonders of steroids (and by "wonders" I actually mean "horrible reality"), I gained weight despite eating nothing but caesar salads and mashed potatoes (Smash to be precise - this is England after all) for weeks straight. This was not by choice mind - it was the combo of being a vegetarian faced with hospital food and the fact that my mouth felt like it had been sanded down with really angry sandpaper.

But the worst part was people telling me that at least I'd get super skinny. But it appears that I was one of the unfortunate ones who had to battle cancer while I stayed pudgy. To be fair, I had other kinda important things to worry about at the time. But on the bright side, I'm 7 years clear of Lymphoma and never have to eat caesar salad again if I don't want to. Ah, sweet freedom!


@schmorie Yay! Lymphoma is the pits, man, I'm glad you beat it!

Princess Slayer

@schmorie There's nothing I hate more than prednisone. NOTHING.

Nancy B

@schmorie Prednisone is the worst. I have to take it, sometimes for months at a time, for a blood disorder. I got so fat, I can't even tell you. Plus, it made me very moody and wacky - I couldn't sleep, but I'd wake up in pool of sweat when I did. I'd get up at 2 a.m. to make very OCD-like lists of things I needed to do. I hate that drug with a passion.


@schmorie So glad that you're 7 years clear.

Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@schmorie I got death's doorstep skinny for .2 seconds and then I got steroid fat. Oh well!

Congrats on being 7 years cancer-free, though I'd be DEVASTATED if my chemo made me hate caesar salad.

sceps yarx

@schmorie My kindergarten-age son is in maintenance chemo for leukemia and he has to take big doses of Prednisone for five days out of every month. It really is the worst! Puffy, sweaty, pouring soy sauce on every food, and of course the insomnia. And the mood swings. We taught him to call the mood swings "waves of feeling", and hearing his little voice say "I'm just having a wave of feeling" kills me every time. I love hearing adults talk about their cancer experience because it gives me insight into what he's going through.


@schmorie Lymphoma sisters!
Exclamation point, but not actually happy feelings about it.
Prednisone is my mortal enemy for all eternity, even after six or seven years. Those f***ing steroids, seriously. I turned into this angry, bald sixteen-year-old with no eyebrows, and I once threw a tuna-fish sandwich at my mother.
As if chemo doesn't make you feel like the walking dead, the steroids turn you into a bitchy monster on top of that, just to make sure that everyone supporting you REALLY MEANS IT when they say they love you no matter what.


@sceps yarx I called the mood swings "dark moments" because it made it sound like a maxwell house international coffee flavour.

I'm so sorry about your son - it breaks my heart to think about little ones going through such pain. I know that my parents had a hard time dealing with my illness and I was 25 - I can't imagine how hard it is to go through this with a young child. You must have so many "waves of feeling". But my dad taught me that at the very least, try to have a little bit of fun every day. Laughing and love were the things that saved me. Well that and the medical staff and the kick ass chemicals.


@illegalseagull In the midst of one of my bad times, I looked like Matt Lucas from Little Britain (no joke) and I told my girlfriend that I hoped she went blind. She just laughed and said that she'd try to if I'd just take my stupid medicine. She put up with a hell of a lot and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for her. So yeah - I agree that the really meaning it part of love is super important.

Awesome that you're still here too! Whoop whoop!

sceps yarx

@schmorie yeah, it's funny how, as awful as it's been, the laughter and love shine through. It sounds like you love your dad a lot. I never thought being a parent would be this hard, but at the same time, I never thought I would be able to experience a relationship this deep and meaningful...even though it sometimes feels like being chewed up by giant molars of grief. And yes, let's hear it for the medical staff and the kick ass chemicals! I'm SO grateful I get to keep my kid. And i'm glad your parents got to keep theirs. :-)


This maybe made me cry a little bit.

ETA: Also, starting a caringbridge. That way you can update people without telling the "and then there was poop AND VOMIT mixed together on the floor of the bathroom" story to 85 different people, you can just put it on the internet for everyone to read!


@DullHypothesis YES CaringBridge. I set up a page for my mother and everyone in our family/wider circle gets the news, whether or not they are social media types.

Anita Ham Sandwich

YAY for an actually useful piece on cancer. I went through breast cancer treatment a couple years ago.

One suggestion: when you're shaving your head, buzz the sides and take a mohawk pic first. This is my absolute favorite picture of me ever taken.

Also, my husband sent out regular e-mail updates and pictures to a long list of people. It saved me having to have the same conversation over and over again.


@Anita Ham Sandwich I would make that pic my profile shot for EVERYTHING.


@Anita Ham Sandwich My family doctor (who I love infinitely) went through breast cancer treatment, in her 50s. She had lovely salt-and-pepper hair that looked great on her, but when she knew she was going to lose it in a few weeks/months she dyed it. PINK. Like, the most pink you've ever seen.

It was amazing.


I really liked reading this, and you're adorable with a shaved head, according to the picture. I know that's not really the point, but still. It needed to be said.

Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@kayjay Thank you! That polaroid is a little deceiving though; once my eyebrows fell out I looked like a fish.


Lady, I salute you! Fuck cancer.


Two tips: You can still be an asshole with cancer (because having CANSUH doesn't change your basic personality), and people can still call you out on it.

Nothing's worse than being treated with kid gloves.

Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@Mingus_Thurber True that! My wonderful roommates put up with a lot of my bullshit, but they also called me out when I was being ridiculous. I will always appreciate them for it.


@Mingus_Thurber WORD.


@Mingus_Thurber YES. I knew a girl on fb who had cancer and would make announcements like, "my house is so messy and I have cancer, can anyone help me clean up?" and then defriended anyone who didn't leave a message on her wall about her cancer (if you didn't post "HUGS!" at least twice a week you got cut) and it was like, lady--it sure is hard to feel bad for you when you're acting like such an asshole!


@parallel-lines If any of my FB friends pulled that shit, cancer would be the least of their worries. (Unless they had colon cancer, in which case I'd probably be doing them a service.)

Killer Kitties

Wow, this pretty much echoed my best friend's experience with Ovarian Cancer! Facebook is 100% awesome at enabling you to update countless friends, even when you feel shitty. Also? Trashy tabloids were always my favorite thing to bring on visits (my friend told me she had a lot of people "visit", and they'd just come and stare at her for a while).

Also, yes, friends and acquaintances react in the WEIRDEST ways. And those one-upper friends that try to best anything you tell them? They will still be doing that, trust me.

Best of luck, Rebecca! This article is one of my new Hairpin Favorites.


Love this. Much as I like to learn things from TV, there's just so much you can't know without hearing someone's experiences.

My "closest" experience with cancer was my father's stage IV melanoma, which wasn't treated by chemo and is a somewhat different experience. I would add to anyone who might need tips on surviving cancer via IL-2: 1) When you find a food that doesn't make you want to vomit at the mere thought of eating it, make sure it's brought to you as often as possible. Try looking in the "slimy" family. 2) Get yourself some really, really comfy pajamas--they're all you'll be wearing for days. 3) Have people at your bedside as often as possible. Drug-induced confusion can lead you to do some weird and dangerous things. And maybe warn people in advance that you won't remember a word of your conversation later.


@DahlELama after one in-session, i called my friend and told her i was bummed she didn't come because i had brought a new game for us to play. turns out, we played the game. three times. oy vey.

The Reigning Lorelai

Great article, although I'm sorry you went through that. I never knew that it hurt to have hair fall out — it does look so graceful and ethereal on TV movies. I totally agree about Gilmore Girls, it's perfect escapist television and has seen me through many relapses of a chronic health condition. And THANK YOU for saying what you did about people who are all, "Woo! Illness! Weight loss!" because that attitude is not even funny.

Cara Motts@twitter

This was exactly what I needed. My mother was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer last Tuesday night (after a 4 hour surgery where originally they were sure it was 'oh, just fibroids'. She needs to recover from the surgery first before the chemo starts (6 rounds, every 3 weeks) and so we're really just focused on that right now. But my mom really wants to read stories about women who have had ovarian cancer and are now doing well (because she's just not sure). Thank you for this!


@Cara Motts@twitter My mother's best friend has been through it twice and my aunt is going through it now and is doing quite well. The friend just went to China for two weeks and my aunt just flew to Florida for the birth of her grandson, and both women are in their 60s, so please tell your mom that there are definitely some success stories!


@Cara Motts@twitter I'm so sorry, and I hope for all the best for your mom.

a horde of great crab things

@Cara Motts@twitter My ma was diagnosed with ovarian cancer not quite a year ago and, after a hysterectomy and chemo, is now a picture of health. She is celebrating her 70th next month and is totally rocking the suedehead, which she accessorises with 16 hole DM boots. Best of luck with it all.


@Cara Motts@twitter When my aunt gave birth to my cousin in 1987, they discovered that she had a HUGE malignant tumor on one of her ovaries. She had a hysterectomy and went through a bunch of chemo in the following year or so, came out fine, and has been healthy for 24 years now. Best of luck to your mom!

Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@Cara Motts@twitter Good luck to your mama! Six rounds sounds like a lot but it will be over before she knows it!

Cara Motts@twitter

thanks you everyone! This helps so much.


I wished I had given myself the Mohawk look when I shaved my head! Also, The question of whether to wear a wig or a scarf took up SO MUCH TIME. I went through chemo in the summer, and even though I bought a wig, I never wore it. I opted for these instead: http://www.4women.com/index.php. They are scarves that are sewn to look like they're casually tied so you only have to slip it on. It won't "untie" or slip off. And so much cooler than a wig.


Until I read this, I woud never have believed people make weight loss jokes to people (friends! family members!) with cancer. And thennnn I started reading the comments. WOW.

And, also, you are awesome! The picture helps prove it.


@SarahP I am only now realizing how fucked up it was that, in the midst of kidney failure/ dialysis/ transplantation, my mom was like, "Oh but you're so thin, you look great!" Well yes. I was thin. That's because my body was going into critical meltdown and using whatever it could to keep me alive. And when I went on dialysis/ started taking Cytoxan and high-dose prednisone, my diet was so restricted and I felt sick enough that I could't eat enough to gain the weight back.
Mom has weight issues. I'm trying- desperately!- not to have them too. I'm sorry, I'm just realizing now how angry this makes me.


@SarahP My mom died of cancer, and her mom told her it was nice that she finally looked thin.


@Gnatalby what the fuck is wrong with people


@area@twitter and @Gnatalby There are a lot of misguided things that people say because they think it would help, and I can see giving some leeway sometimes, but I honestly can't fathom how anyone could think that the above comments you guys mentioned are good ideas. :( Ughhhh people.


@SarahP it can give you some fascinating insight into your own, & other peoples', relationship to food & body image. I lost a ton of weight after an extended illness (at my lowest, I weighed what I did when I was 11, & I was not a chubby child), & when I finally went back to work, "you look fantastic! you're so thin!" was usually the first thing people said to me.

it was also interesting to realize the extent to which "oh, but that's fattening" is a common mental refrain for me, even as someone who really enjoys eating unhealthy things. I remember eating an entire movie-theater size box of Whoppers with this weird sense of empowerment--"yes, this WILL make me gain weight, which is a GOOD THING." now, more than a year later, I'm back to my "normal" weight (& then some), & I feel very conflicted when I look at skinnier pictures of myself from last year.

it's all been said before, but it's pretty messed up that we live in a culture that so prizes thinness, even/especially when that thinness is only attainable through some kind of bodily harm. I like to think I have a pretty healthy relationship with food, & with my body, but this stuff gets to me nevertheless.


@SarahP I've never had cancer (knock on wood) but I do have celiac disease, and before my diagnosis I lost 20 pounds in a single month. I dropped two dress sizes, barely had the energy to walk up a flight of stairs, was cold all the time, and could feel my tailbone and spine grating against any but the most padded chairs. I was unhealthily thin. And I got so many compliments on how I looked.


@nonvolleyball @kentuckienne It's so fucked up, because people are telling you "oh, you're so thin! You look great!" and I found it hard, on some level, not to believe them? Because for me, it was one of the first times in my life I was getting positive reinforcement on my weight. Oh and I feel you on the fattening foods thing. It was very liberating to say "nope, sorry, have to drink WHOLE milk." Like you're giving the finger to the entire dieting industry. Feels good, man.


@SarahP @kentuckienne @area@twitter. I'm so with all of you on this. In 2009 I lost 60 lbs. in 10 weeks due to Crohn's disease, and I was not particularly large to start with. Even though I couldn't walk more than 15 yards without either doubling over in pain or fainting, I got so many compliments! On my last day at work before going on disability, my (male) boss of 7 years said that he was sorry that I was feeling bad, but I looked better than he had ever seen me. SOME PEOPLE, WHY SO VILE???


@SarahP I got the "omgursothin iwouldlooksoawfulwithabaldheadbutyoulookfantastic omgsoooooooothin" several times. I wanted to be like, bitch see this moon face? Straight roids. How's the moon face look with the 90 pound body? ugh.


@katyswims before the pre-pubescent thinness kicked in, I had a ton of crazy bloating in my stomach/lower abdomen, but the weightloss was readily apparent in my arms, chest, & face. I legitimately looked like a lady who was ~8 months pregnant despite her eating disorder/serious drug habit. unless I wore a really baggy sweatshirt, I got gawked at by random strangers.


@katyswims I want to take people like this and hold their faces RIGHT UP against the list of prednisone side effects and read them out in a clear ringing tone, starting with "buffalo hump" and ending with "steroid psychosis".


@kentuckienne I had a colleague who went through this. She looked so ill and frail, and yet people would say 'hey, you've lost weight, you look great!' So apparently it's better to look like you are literally about to die, than to have a few extra pounds? It was so awful, and then when she got better and put the weight back on, she really struggled.


@Craftastrophies I've been thinking about this (ha ha, can you tell) and I feel like in some cases it's people trying to find a bright side to this horrible thing that is happening. And I get why we do that as people. But when you say how good I look when I'm horribly thin, are you telling me that my body is more acceptable when it's impaired and betraying me than when I'm healthy and capable and incidentally not super-skinny? Because that is impressively fucked up right there.


@area@twitter Yes. There are a lot of comments that people make in this situation that you really want to be nice about, because they are trying really hard. But they just make everything worse. And really, when you are ill, you should not be doing the filtering. They should be doing it IN THEIR HEADS before they say anything out loud.


@area@twitter Are you still talking to your mother? Because I'd put myself up for adult adoption at that point.


@Xanthophyllippa No, I definitely am and we have a good relationship. I just don't talk about weight issues with her anymore at all, because I know she's got such a broken viewpoint on it. I'm at the point where I can feel bad for her? (sometimes?) because she's this smart, funny, incredible woman who can't see the whole of her value because she thinks her arms are too flabby and her thighs are too big. That's really sad.
(Also, thanks everyone for putting up with me while I Have Revelations in the comments section. <3 u, commentariat.)


@area@twitter I want a t-shirt that says "commentariat" on it. I would weaar it ALL THE TIME.


@SarahP I had oral cancer last year and, after surgery to remove my soft palate, was unable to eat anything that wasn't pureed. Plus, I was trying to recover from having a close encounter, head-wise, with a bone saw, so you know, major ups to the metabolism.

I lost 21 pounds in the 20 days after surgery, and felt like shit. Pretty much everybody I ran across told me how fantastic I looked. Yeah, I'm back to being fat, but SO MUCH HAPPIER than I was when managing to swallow anything was a victory. I also am grateful to know who would be a cheerleader for an eating disorder and who'd be normal about it.


@Mingus_Thurber I'm so glad you're doing better! the whole getting-healthy-burns-calories things is no joke; I was in the hospital for a month, barely moving AT ALL beyond trips to/from the bathroom (if that), & while I was on IV nutrition they were giving me 4,000 calories a day. & yet I lost weight. that STILL blows my mind. I don't know what would happen if I took to my couch for a month & maintained that same calorie intake as a healthy person, but I can guarantee no one would be saying "oh you look fantastic!" afterwards.

@area this is exactly what I'm talking about. (&, incidentally, my well-meaning parents, when I mentioned how much I was enjoying the process of putting weight back on, were like, "well don't enjoy it TOO much! might as well take advantage of this, you know?") even creepier, almost, than the bodily stuff is when I look at pictures where my face is kind of gaunt; there's a part of me that can't help but read it as "prettier, more like a model." even though that is SO not what I want to be thinking.

oh, bodies. I guess the one upside to getting over a major illness is that your perspective shifts a bit, & you start to see yourself as a brain attached to a messy, breakable, pissant-y appliance (or at least, that was my experience). & who cares how that meat-machine looks in a bathing suit, anyway?


@evilmilkpudding @The Reigning Lorelai Amen! I had reconstructive jaw surgery and therefore had my jaws strapped together for 6 weeks and lived pretty much on Carnation Instant Breakfast, and most women I know fell into three categories: those that were jealous they couldn't lose weight like that, those that were happy for ME to lose that weight (because being 5'1" and 115lbs is apparently cause for alarm), and those that were sane. It was SO annoying when people would compliment me on how great I looked because I was unhealthy.


Loved this. My aunt just lost her battle with CANSUH about a month ago. She was so awesone through the whole thing. Her strength, even in death, is what i will always remember! Thank you for this and so glad you made it through!! FUCK CANCER!

Kira Goldenberg

I'm almost done getting treated for my own brush with cancer stuff and, even though didn't need chemo, lots of this rang true. Another great TV show—a few friends pooled and bought me the box set—is Black Books, this British comedy from like 2004. I watched a marathon while recovering from surgery.


@Kira Goldenberg Black Books is pretty much the best thing ever.


This is an awesome article- thanks so much for writing it. I think a lot of this is good for any chronic illness, particularly the Facebook post and the calling in favors/ allowing yourself to be a selfish jerk. I've found the little pocket games to be really good too- it's nice to have something on your iPhone or a little Nintendo you can carry around and whip out when you're stuck in a waiting room somewhere.


@area@twitter I concur (on the awesomeness of the article and the utility of pocket games-- Peggle, anyone?). I also want to thank Rebecca for bringing up the weight thing. I haven't been brave enough to tell everyone on facebook that I have a chronic illness (one that requires weekly low-dose chemo) but amen to the annoyance and frustration with people who act like you should be happy to be losing weight. My mom is one of these eating-disordered mothers who says things like "at least you're benefitting from your illness somehow" in regards to my weight loss. Umm, no. Every time someone comments about my weight and how "good" I look (where good = skinny, never mind the dark circles under my eyes), I want to say "I'll trade you ten—hell TWENTY— pounds in exchange for my [lifetime?] of weekly chemo treatments."


@Megan@twitter I am so, so glad Rebecca mentioned that too. It's- there are a lot of feelings in there for me, that I mention in other posts here, but the only time I felt like my mom has been happy with my weight was when I was seriously ill. so many issues.

And keep your chin up. I have a friend with Crohn's, and I can't even imagine. Yes! He's thin! He also has to deal with a chronic illness that, at the best of times, is a big pain in the ass. I would rather stay heavy and healthy, thanks.



sceps yarx

@area@twitter when my son got leukemia, my husband bought me a Kindle. You can read it with one hand while hold in a toddler hooked up to an IV in the other arm! And you never know when the clinic will be running behind and the 45 minute visit magically turns into a 5 hour visit...


As a current cancer-thriver, I can totally second the facebook for necessary updates. Also, get over it, and let people take pictures. I have pictures of a bottle of betadine being poured on my head. Come'on it doesn't get better. But I avoided pics for a long time. Also... caringbridge.org is amazing. A commenter said that too.

Also SOME cancer patients GAIN weight because of the steroids that we're often put on. That happened to me. I've since lost it... but seriously... cancer, bald and fat. My autobiography right there. (Snarky sarcasm not optional).

Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@Emilyinthecity I would buy that book!


@Emilyinthecity The facebook tactic is actually really great for any negative life event. I wish I'd posted when my dad died, it would have saved so many awkward conversations. I've used it since, and it's the greatest, even though I hate being an exhibitionist.


I've lost my mom and two friends to ovarian cancer, so I'm very sincere when I say FUCK CANCER and I hope you've kicked its fucking ass forever and ever.


Thank you for sharing this.


My mother passed away two days ago due to lung cancer/bone cancer. I kind of had the same issue with updating my FB status ("My mom is dead"), because I didn't want to seem like I was trying to collect virtual attention. So, I haven't said anything.
My mother was actually very happy to be losing so much weight and liked to talk about that often. At first, I'd tell her that she has CANCER and that's WHY and no, you didn't just finally discover the glamorous answer to glamorous thinness. Then she'd say, "Well, of course, I would never recommend this." She'd never recommend CANCER, everyone. But then, I just let the issue go and just let her enjoy her weight loss because it was a small bright spot in the short life she had left.


@Piegasm I am so. sorry.


@Piegasm I am so sorry for your loss.


@rayray @liznieve Thanks, ladies. Reading the Pin and finally getting off of my bed has helped a great deal.


@Piegasm I'm so sorry. My father passed away a few years ago, and I let my friends know via a blog I kept at the time (that pretty much only they read.) Could you notify a few specific people over Facebook? I found it very helpful to not have to tell people the same thing over and over again.

Also -- give yourself plenty of time. Don't expect too much of yourself for a while. From my own personal experience, you will eventually feel like yourself again.

simone eastbro

@Piegasm oh. yeah. just do the facebook status update. and then turn off comments on your wall.

also, robin romm's "the mercy papers" might be of interest to you if you ever go through a compulsive death/grief reading phase.


@Piegasm ::fierce Internet hugs:: I'm so sorry.

And for whatever it's worth, I think you should update your status and/or write a note. You can keep it very short and to-the-point (basic facts, information on services and where to send flowers/donations if you're doing that). Just to let people know what's going on right now, and what they can do to help you and your family out.


@Piegasm I am so sorry.


@Piegasm I'm sorry to hear that.

While I think the weight comments are a total jackass move coming from third parties, if it gave her some little degree of happiness I think that's probably a good ting.

And I'd say facebook update is fine, if that's what makes it easier/better for you to deal with. I have a friend who did this when her mother passed and I feel like it probably saved her a lot of awkward questions and conversations. It's certainly not attention whoring or insensitivity to do what works best for you right now. Screw anyone who says anything.


@arrr starr Thank you, all of you, for the kind words. I am going to go ahead and update my status, with a little info about the memorial date/donation info, and disable the comments. I agree that it would save me a million awkward conversations. I'm glad I posted here. I have been hiding from my friends since it happened.


@Piegasm I'm so sorry. Good luck.


@Piegasm So, so sorry, condolences to you and your family.


@Piegasm I'm so sorry. I remember when my aunt was battling breast cancer, she told my mom how she could finally start her new diet when the chemo was over and my mom, who was concerned with her own weight all her life, started yelling at her about it.


@Piegasm I'm so sorry. I hope you are as ok as it is possible to be.

Definitely disable the comments. I got some 'heartfelt' messages on my wall after my dad died, and they were 100% those sympathy vultures.


@Piegasm So sorry. It sucks. My dad died of lung cancer last year, and facebook was a real help. For one, the not having the same conversation over and over again. For two, I got some really touching stories/ comments about my dad. For three, some old HS friends materialized out of the woodwork to help me with stuff while I was home. And four, one of the most awkward conversations I had when I went back to school was with someone who thought I'd been gone for three weeks because I was sick, and then was really, really embarrassed to find out that they'd had it all wrong. And then I was embarrassed for making them feel bad.

I still feel bad that bringing up my dead dad is awkward and makes people sad. But I work on just casually dropping it into conversation, because trying to hide that I'm short one parent can get even more awkward. So weird all around. Do what works for you, and when things are really extra awkward, remember that people mean well, even if they say inappropriate things, and also, that they are totally giving you the benefit of the doubt. Pretty much anything you do right now, people will be ok with.

Lots of hugs. Things will eventually get ... well, not better, but easier to live with.


I hate cancer; I love this and the Hairpin for posting it.


There is a terrible chick lit book about a woman who has breast cancer and throughout the whole book the characters kept talking about how great the main character looked because she was losing weight. And at the end she kept her shaved head and her svelte post cancer body. It was really, really awful.


@batgirl That's a book I'd happily burn on a pyre.


i had the cancer when i was 19 and i was laughing my ass off. it's so true-- especially the crawling to the bathroom part. except i slid to the bathroom because i had some surgeries so i couldn't crawl.

did anyone have the temptation to do the eyebrow of the day when they lost theirs? like, angry eyebrow, quizzical eyebrow, curious eyebrow? i did it once and the reactions were glorious.

Terror of the 416

This totally ruled. I love your ballsy attitude, the fact that you called bullshit on post-chemo bus rides (what WAS that scene!?), and I loved that you shared this.

My younger sister is a cancer person - victim? survivor? she's still alive and hates all the battle-talk the cancer narrative does, as do most people affected by it. Thanks from both us.

Magpie Shinies

I just got back from radiation - Thanksgiving is my third anniversary of diagnosis & I've never been in remission. I guess I have about a ten percent chance of reaching 40 years old (I'm 37), and what no one could prepare me for was extended, chronic illness. I'd add this to advice:

Check your pride at the door: You'll be poked and prodded, you'll need lots of help sometimes. NEVER say no to help. Also, your body will sometimes betray you. It's ok.

Try not to be too sad about losing friends, some people just don't care about you enough to deal.

Take treatment advice from your doctors and nurses and treatment-related professionals only - not your friends, your aunt, the internet, whatever. I'm fine with alternative therapies, but only the ones suggested by people directly related to my treatment. for instance, my radiologist just suggested touch therapy, and I'm completely trying it.

Don't go to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. It's a scam.

Have an Advocate. This should be the ballsiest person who you are close with. Sometimes random doctors and nurses need to be yelled at if they are acting like assholes. For instance, a doctor botched my liver biopsy after my BC metastasized, and wouldn't issue me any morphine, which I'd had numerous times. Your advocate should ideally be the executor of your Living Will.

Scarves, not wigs. I've lost my hair twice, and scarves/turbans rule.

And this is just MY personal experience, but social workers are better to talk to than psychologists. I don't know why.

We're all faking that "Strong Cancer Person!" shit.

I had to laugh about the couch thing - my couch is My Own Private Idaho. It's got a shape in the form of me now, kind of like a Sealy only the shape doesn't go away when I get up.


@Magpie Shinies Thank you for your tips - sharing knowledge of living with illness is so important.


@Magpie Shinies Many thanks for excellent advice, and many more <3s to you...


@Magpie Shinies Best thoughts and hopes to you, and to Rebecca. My 32 year old cousin passed away a few weeks ago from cancer (first diagnosed less than 18 months ago), and it's 2 years since my 34 year old friend passed away from years of cancer. But this year also marked 6 years in remission for another cousin who had cancer in her 20s. I hope you're getting through everything in the best way for you. <3


@Magpie Shinies i loved the social worker at my hospital. i hated the therapist. social workers help you figure out how to live with what you have. therapists tend to blow whatyou have out of proportion.

i hope that you spend this holiday feeling at peace


@Magpie Shinies Hey- greetings from an AZ metster. Just finished some radiation last month & started Xeloda. I hope we both exceed the odds.

Peden Fitzhugh@facebook

I love this post! I just finished chemo a little over a year ago and had a remarkably similar experience - roommates and all. Glad to hear you're healthy five years later. xoxox


This is great! Glad you hear you're on the mend!


I went to your blog and saw your tag cloud, which yelled


at me and I laughed.

(excellent piece, obviously, and I'll be thinking about how to use your advice to help a friend who currently living a bit hermit-like during chemo).

Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@Q HAHA, thanks. I'm sure my boss loves that too :)


I loved this piece. Thank you so much. My partner went through 3 months of inpatient chemo for lymphoma this summer (yes, you read that right. 3 months. Inpatient).

I've got nothing to add, really. I just wanted to say thanks, thanks, thanks!


I'm going through some weird/scary medical shit right now and this piece + the general positive attitude up in the comments is making me feel a lot more optimistic. Thank you, everyone.

oh, george

Thank you for sharing this <3


Ohh, I thought you sounded familiar. Facebook just confirmed that you are that friend-of-my-friends. I remember a few years ago there were pictures floating around Facebook of you wearing a delightfully un-restrained shirt that said "FUCK CANCER" and I thought to myself, "Man, she sounds like good people." Then when I looked at your Facebook just now, your profile picture is a picture of the exact same world's-best-pug-costume that I used a few months ago. So my earlier suspicions were correct.


OMG This is amazing. I fell in love with Gilmore Girls during 6 months of chemo when I was 19. Bravo.

Beryl Shaw@facebook

Sad though I am for your having to endure cancer - as I did; I do wonder why ever you write as if other people's cancer experience will automatically parallel your own.
To me this is a very damaging thing to do, because others just starting out on this journey may believe you - and be troubled, angered, unhappy etc by this difference.
The other thing I would note here is that many of the responses to your post prove what you said about others 'getting a kick' out of being a friend - relative - of the person with the cancer. And here once again, they've written about it. Poor darlings!
Let's get real; I came very close to death until middle of the night surgery for a blocked bowel when my cancer hadn't been diagnosed over a period of 18 months and by that time it had progressed to Stage 3 (into the lymph nodes) and the first thing I ask others who've had - or have - cancer is, What type. Because I do know each cancer is as different as each person - and their experience - is.


@Beryl Shaw@facebook I think that when people share stories of loved ones who dealt with cancer on an internet thread at the bottom of an article about cancer- maybe they are just trying to connect and feel better and share a very human experience. We can all agree that it's terrifying and destructive.


I'm a 48 year old w/ metastatic cancer. My first bc diagnosis was in1996. Gotta tell you all, no matter well intentioned, good wishes that begin with a litany of everyone you've known who died of cancer- are not really good wishes IMO. If you want to wish someone well just do it. You can be kind and supportive without knocking the wind out of my sails with death stories. In my 15 plus years of this crap I can't say that I got any significant support from folks who did the recital of the death list or folks that asked if I thought I had caused my own cancer. Also i had a principal at my firm who asked me what it was like to have stage IV cancer because her husband's friend had just been diagnosed with stage IV liver cancer. ANother WTF moment.


I totally loved your post! I agree about getting hooked to a TV series during treatment. The only problem is that I was so loaded up on Ativan that my memory is shot and I can't remember most of the episodes my husband and I watched during my treatment time. Thank you for sharing your story!


Rebecca Pederson@facebook

@JenLW HAH, this is so true! I should have specified that the TV series be slightly boring and ultimately forgettable.

E Sieff Steenbergen@twitter

I love what you've written. I had chemo for breast cancer earlier this year and while I was in an ativan-steroid induced stupor, I watched the Gilmore Girls over and over again, and NCIS. I also crocheted things. Over and over again too since my brain was on vacation.

For the hair thing, I had my hair cut to about 1/2" as it was falling out, and used packing tape (wide tape) on my head to pull the hair out. Hard to believe, but it didn't hurt, and it came out faster. Also gave me periods of bizarre fun.

Seriously, I wish you all the best! Thanks for sharing.


Myles Beskind@facebook

Rebecca, I love this post! Laughing with, at, and about it helped me beat colon cancer twice at the ripe old age of 45. I blogged a ton about this most recent round and wrote a book about the experience. I wanted people with cancer, and especially those caring for someone with the disease, to learn a little about what goes on, physically and emotionally, and how they can help - all while laughing.
Love your advice about a TV series. As I write in my book, when too strung out on steroids to sleep:
"I considered the cable series Spartacus, but decided the combination of slow motion gladiator gore and regular motion gladiator soft-porn wasn't likely to result in restful slumber (at least not for me, but possibly for the gladiator)."
The blog is at http://kickincancersbutt.blogspot.com/ and you can link to the book from there, if you're interested.



Hi Rebecca,just had my 2nd round of Chemo and then drove straight to the local barbers for a Number 2 shaved cut. It feels amazing. Don't think I'll bother with a wig? Too hot in the Australian summer. I have also done the facebook thing. So thanks for your terrific article, I kept laughing hysterically.
Cheers Karen, Newcastle, Aust.

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