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Diabetes: at least it's not cancer - revisited

March 21, 2017 by Barbara Campbell

It’s been 5 years since I originally wrote “At least it’s not cancer,” and 6 years since my cancer diagnosis. I’m told I am finally considered cancer free since I’m 5 years out and haven’t had a recurrence. Cancer is no longer a part of my life, and now I can focus on just my diabetes management. At least I don’t have cancer. Right?

I remember wondering if there would ever be a day in which I wouldn’t think about cancer. I remember asking my Dr., “when will I stop feeling like a patient?” Every pain, lump, bump, bruise, cramp and cough left me wondering if this was the cancer coming back. It really can drive you mad. Happily, I can say I finally feel like I’m on the other side of this diagnosis; I no longer think about cancer every day.

In my previous post I said that if given the choice of my cancer or T1 Diabetes, I would probably choose the cancer because I received treatment which was completely effective and it is gone; while my diabetes will be part of my life until I’m divinely healed or a medical miracle is found. As I contemplate this again, this many years later, I’m torn and don’t think I can so easily answer this question.

The complications of cancer and the side effects of the drugs have taken a toll on this ol’ body.

  • I have several, very visible scars across my chest which are a constant reminder of my battle. Parts of me which were removed in surgery have been replaced by tattoos, which look quite convincing from a distance … but aren’t real. Because everything was removed during the mastectomy, my chest is completely numb and always feels cold to the touch.
  • Chemo-brain is very real and does not improve over time. Remember in high school, when they warned us about the dangers of alcohol, we were told that once we kill brain cells, they don’t come back? Yep … Same holds true for pumping your body full of poison to kill off an invading mutation.
  • I continue to deal with the neuropathy caused by the last four chemotherapy treatments I received. I can’t feel the bottom of my feet and have pain which radiates from my feet, up to my knees.
  • I am also quite immune deficient and have to wear a mask in places where infection might sneak up on me; church, planes, hospitals, conferences, etc. I don’t eat at buffets or accept samples at big box stores. Any food which can be touched by the public is off limits.
  • I am still taking medication, including having a monthly “pellet” injection into my belly, and will take an aromatase inhibitor long-term.

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Diabetes also occupies much of my thought life and it really likes to exhibit its power while dancing the tango with the symptoms above.

  • My surgeries were complicated by diabetes and the wound sites healed more slowly and with much more scar tissue because of it.
  • I’m also told that while the neuropathy from The chemo is temporary for most patients, D made sure I would experience this, long term.
  • Like cancer, D invades my thought life, but not out of fear. I am constantly having to calculate, analyze and guesstimate insulin doses, carb counts, reasons for highs/lows, second guessing those calculations and recalculating. With the help of my pump and continuous glucose monitor these calculations are much easier, but having a CGM alarm sound during a meeting can seriously upset your mojo. And then, of course, you’ll the need to explain the interruption to those around you, and it’s just one more reminder that you’re not “normal.”

While hearing the word “cancer,” causes you to face mortality, I have more of a chance to die from diabetes. Which I mentioned in my previous post. There are many lessons learned from each of these conditions.

  • We no longer have a bucket list. If there is something we’ve always wanted to do, we make a plan and make it happen. We “eat dessert first.”
  • My diet has definitely improved. While I occasionally slip into old habits, I try to eat more organic, fresh, plant-based foods.
  • I try to reduce the toxic load on my body by using natural cleaning products, and personal care products, making many of these at home.
  • I’m studying herbalism and incorporating natural remedies and essential oils into our health and wellness plan.

More than all of this comparison between these conditions, is the comparison of any issue with cancer. When offered the phrase, “at least it isn’t cancer” I immediately want to tell the person that they have no idea what they’re talking about. The phrase is so dismissive and the speaker, while facing your diagnosis, just doesn’t know what else to say. Many times they don’t know how serious your current condition is and their thoughts go to the one deadly thing they know, cancer.

It is never fair for them to compare your condition; diabetes, MS, arthritis, fibromyalgia, to any other condition. Even in the diabetes community, we have the phrase, “your diabetes may vary.” Additionally, your cancer may vary. Your MS may vary. Your CF may vary. We find ourselves on the other side of recovery or as we learn to self-manage our condition becoming a voice for those newly diagnosed.

Find your voice, advocate, educate, be a light for those who are just entering the darkness and step in answering for those who haven’t found their voice yet. Especially when they are being told, “at least it isn’t cancer.”

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