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Does chemo define a cancer patient?

Does chemo define a cancer patient?

Am I less of a cancer patient because I chose to not have chemo? I feel that way at times…

I always cringe when the question “did you have chemo?” is asked from a fellow survivor. I automatically feel like I’m being judged. I cannot help but think that someone who chose or had no choice in the matter looks at me and thinks “she had it easy.”

I just want to clarify that it WAS in my treatment plan: surgery, chemo, radiation and five years of tamoxifen. There are a lot of advanced tests they can run now that let you know your chances of reoccurrence, and in my case chemo was only going to change it by 6 to 8 percent. It was not enough for ME and I’m completely aware that 1 percent would be enough for some people; however, I felt the risks outweighed the benefits.

I have said before in past blogs that this is a personal journey for every single person who has ever had to hear those unfortunate words. One would think that there is an automatic feeling of family and support from the survivors club; for the most part, that has been true.

chemo 2

As with anything, there are always exceptions. I can brush off some of the things that non-cancer people say to me because they have no idea, they don’t know what it feels like to get a diagnosis that changes your life, but survivors are supposed to know.

These are the people that should have a basic idea and understanding of the treatment process, the emotions, the decisions, sacrifices and the possible outcomes that come along with cancer. To hear someone belittle my cancer who is familiar with my struggles is disheartening. There should be no judgment, just empathy and understanding.

I have personally heard from another breast cancer survivor, “Well, you had a good one.” Is there really any “good” cancer?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful for how my story turned out, I know it could have easily went the other way, but I don’t feel like ANY cancer stories should be compared, it’s not fair.

There are obviously different types of cancer; destructive, intrusive, not going to back down cancer; that no matter what the treatment, unfortunately, the disease wins. Then there are the not so aggressive, respond great to treatment kind of cancers.

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t pick either, they both (for lack of a better word) suck for different reasons. Just like there are no two people alike, I feel it’s the same way with a cancer diagnosis. There is no cookie cutter cancer patient, or treatment plan.

This is a club that nobody asks to join, and no matter how full it is, unfortunately, there will always be new members. There are no presidents, vice-presidents or board members of this club, just members who are all in the same boat when it comes down to it; wishing to cancel the membership, but can’t because once you’re in, it’s for life.

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  1. Thanks for another great post Jeannine!

  2. Barbara Fletcher August 11, 2014 at 11:13 am · Reply

    Thanks Jeannine, for a great, honest post. I too, am stage 1 breast cancer survivor having had surgery, 6 weeks of radiation and about 7 years of tamoxifen. When deciding treatment options, my oncologist indicated that chemo would only change the chance of recurrence by 1-2 percent and did not feel it would be beneficial for me. Yet I have felt the guilt when I’ve meet other cancer patients who went the whole nine years and had chemo. I’m sure they often think I had an easy time. It was not easy. My husband and I even held off on signing a contract to buy a condo until I had completed my radiation treatments since I did not want to make that kind of commitment during treatment. I’m happy to say that it’s been about 12 years now.

  3. Barbara Fletcher August 11, 2014 at 11:18 am · Reply

    This was a great post, Jeanine. I am a stage one breast cancer survivor and had surgery, 6 weeks of radiation and 7 years of tamoxifen. I have often felt the guilt when meeting other cancer survivors who went the whole nine yards and had chemo. When discussing treatment options, my oncologist indicated that chemo would only change my chances of recurrence by 1-2% and did not recommend it. Chemo or not, it was a hard time in my life. My husband and I actually held off on signing a contract to buy our condo until I was done with my radiation treatment. I’m happy to say it has now been 12 years.

  4. Sarah Scroggins

    Thanks as always for sharing Jeannine!!! You truly are an inspiration and so appreciate your honesty, I think you have helped so many women on so many levels! I feel privileged to know you and you inspire me to truly live life to the fullest!

  5. Jeanne it doesn’t matter like you said cancer is cancer !!! I hate when people say because they didn’t have chemo its not as bad bullshit . It changes your life forever I just pray people do the research on it and get more understanding because no one wants cancer we all have to fight it !! I’m so glad you are a beautiful young smart woman I’m glad you are doing this !!!

  6. Dear Jeanine; Thank you for posting this article. I am a Stage 2A breast cancer survivor and did not need to have chemo or radiation, just Arimidex for 5 years. I sometimes feel guilty that I did not need these treatments as I have several friends who had both treatments and had a difficult time with them. None of my friends have ever made me feel like I was less of a cancer patient because of it, and I am sad at the comments that were made to you. No matter what the treatment plan is, having breast cancer is an emotional roller coaster and changes your life forever. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers and hope that people will be more thoughtful and sensitive in their comments.

  7. Dear Jeannie, thank you for your honesty and bravery. I don’t have breast cancer but suffer from a situation that may or may not turn in cancer. I have discussed all sides of my situation with my doctor of many years and believe at this point in time that chemotherapy may not be the right way for me to go. I am 78 years of age with many aging illnesses. The likelihood of surviving the treatments you and others described most likely are slim. Still I live each day as a blessing.
    Continue to be strong.

    Minnie E

  8. Thank you for this insightful & informative post, Jeannie!
    I am stage 2 breast cancer w/2 different types of cancer in rt breast. Just had a bilateral mastectomy & will see my surgeon & oncologist in a few days to find out what the next step is.
    I have had a couple of dear people in my life express concern at possible chemo for my follow up treatment, stating it is just too dangerous. My feeling if there is cancer anywhere else in my body I want it removed & will deal w/the side effects to do so. So I rec’d just the opposite as you have, but reading your post gives me excellent help once I find out what the doctors recommend. Like you, if it is only a small percentage I may opt out of chemo. My mom had radiation & chemo & battled breast lung & liver cancer over 12 yrs. My mother in law had breast cancer & refused any sort of treatment & lived to be 97 yrs old after her mastectomy when she was in her 50’s. I am confident now that whatever I end up doing it will work out for good. Bless you in your journey.

  9. Dear Jeannie, You hit it on the nose. People do not understand and hopefully they never will. The only way is to join the club which I hope people never will but sad to say there will be more members so for those of us in the club make sure we support others when we can.

    Keep fighting

  10. Cancer is a chronic disease, as high blood pressure or diabetes. The treatment can be very aggressive or moderate; each person is following its own path. But, try to understand that people which are enduring chemotherapy (this controlled “poison”) are different. They are fighting with depression, worries, are trapped in “supplements”, they are dealing with side effects and more meds. Alternative medicine is a luxury, insurance plans are not covering and it takes a lot of time to achieve a result (i.e. a lot of money). Food is another problem, because of quality and prices and “comfort” food is popular and not easy to get rid off. In such circumstances, no wonder people are grading and comparing. Cancer no matter the stage is life changing.

  11. I am so blessed to know a person can have cancer and survive without chemo. My daughter had cancer at 5 and she is now 15 dealing with the side affects. I have several relatives that went without chemo and the moment they accepted chemo past away within one year. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  12. Jessika Castillo August 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm · Reply

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Jeannine.

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About the Author

Jeannine Canino Bieda
Jeannine Canino Bieda

Jeannine Canino Bieda has worked in the Options industry for the last 14 years and cannot imagine doing anything else; she enjoys all the craziness, the good, the bad & the ugly! She is a breast cancer survivor. She is married to the love of her life and does not have any children but hopefully that will change one day. She is a proud Southsider but lives in Evanston now because it’s where her husband is from; she learned quickly, you can take the girl out of the Southside but you can’t take the Southside out of the girl! She is highly addicted to reality shows & gossip magazines and is not ashamed of it.