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The Purple Fig


Five No-B.S Tips For Surviving Cancer in Your 20s

Posted: 02/04/2014 3:29 pm

"Mom, I have fucking Cancer. I'm a jobless, degreeless, broke 24 year old that's going nowhere in life."

That was me two years ago having a meltdown over the phone. I had just received a thyroid cancer diagnosis a couple of days earlier. Although I was shocked something like this could happen to me, I was mostly pissed off. I was in the midst of writing my master's thesis and in the final stages of the interview process for an awesome job I desperately wanted. It couldn't have happened at a less convenient time.

Forced to put my life on hold and unsure how to deal with the situation, I decided to put the textbook Cancer Society crap aside (i.e., reach out to others and be positive) and take matters into my own hands. From playing the "cancer card", splurging on designer accessories, to thoroughly enjoying Joan Rivers hating on people, here's my special take on dealing with the disease -- no bullshit included.

1. Surround yourself with people who are willing to put up with your bullshit
Usually a pleasant and happy girl, I turned into a little troll several (way too many) times during my treatment. Dealing with the emotional and physical effects of cancer and its treatments isn't easy. It can bring out the worst in people. Fear, stress, depression, pain and extreme fatigue can definitely make you cranky. This is why it's important to surround yourself with people that love you, preferably unconditionally. So when you throw dishes on the walls or shout to your boyfriend: "I cannot believe you even dared serving me THIS for dinner and don't think I don't know it was on sale" (I am not particularly fond of steak), you know you'll still be loved and cared for. Just remember to say "please" and "thank you".

2. Buy something expensive

Trust me. It will make you feel better. Actually, I should rephrase that. Buy something that makes you feel glamorous. In my case something glamorous meant something expensive. If it's fuchsia lipstick, so be it. If it's a pair of Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, go ahead. Should your treatment cause hair loss, please treat yourself to a beautiful Hermès scarf and rock it out. Through the course of your experience you will feel like shit. You know what they say: feel like shit, look like shit. You need something special to give you an extra kick and lift your spirits up. Make glamour a priority.

3. Play the card

Yes, I'm talking about the cancer card. I shamelessly milked that card until it ran dry. You have a condition others don't, so why not use it to your advantage? I'm sure you'd prefer not having cancer. But you do. So milk it to get special favours and free stuff. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I viewed my cancer diagnosis as the perfect opportunity to ask my boyfriend for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I had been harassing him for years and this was my lucky break. I told him it was for therapy purposes and I honestly thought he would finally agree because he felt bad I was sick. He saw through my manipulation technique and suggested I focus on the treatment plan I was given by my oncologist. That sucked. Who in the world says no to a cancer patient? Regardless, a couple of weeks after my surgery, I thought it might be a good idea to dress up and have a quick drink with the girls. I was a long way from being healthy again, but I desperately needed to rip my jogging pants off, slap some lipstick on and enjoy some much needed girl time.

When I arrived at the bar with my friends, the doorman wanted to charge us 10$ each to get in. Outrageous! I had no choice but to pull out my secret weapon: "Excuse me sir, this is my first night out in a long time and I have cancer. Let us all in for free. Look, here's my scar." And that's how five girls saved $50.

4. Expose yourself to meaningless and funny entertainment

When you're going through treatment, chances are you'll be spending a lot of time at home. If you're lucky enough to take paid sick leave, excellent. If your leave is unpaid like mine was, maybe you should return the Hermès scarf. Regardless of your financial situation, you'll need to take as much time as you need to rest and fully recuperate. This means you'll have a lot of spare time to think and feel sorry for yourself. I had no kids, no dog (it didn't have to be this way) and no responsibilities apart from brushing my teeth and taking my meds during my treatment. Nobody to think of except myself. I wasn't in the mood for soul-searching or figuring out the meaning of life. Too heavy.

I found that exposing myself to stuff without substance really helped me get through the rough times. Such meaninglessness can include: action movies with a lot of violence and explosions, reality tv, gossip magazines, etc. I spent months watching reruns of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I actually forgot I was sick and my mind drifted to an imaginary place filled with botox and backstabbing. It was great.

You'll also need to laugh. When I watched that stupid Keeping Up episode with the monkey for the fifth time, I was beginning to feel restless. I needed a new source of entertainment. I couldn't stand myself or anyone around me. That's when Joan Rivers came to the rescue. "I hate cancer. It's a big snore. Booorrrringgg!" writes Rivers, "Everyone's got it these days. Lung cancer, bone cancer, brain cancer - it's all the same, and the treatment's always the same: chemo, radiation, whining and baldness [...]." When her book "I hate everyone...starting with me" came out last year, I devoured it within days. I recently met her after a show in Montreal and told her how much her hating helped me get through cancer. Touched by my confession, Joan Rivers hugged me. I read a book, pulled out the cancer card and the Queen of Comedy hugged me. There's really nothing else to say.

5. Keep it real: you have the right to feel shitty

When people asked me how I was doing, some expected me to say stuff like: "I'm feeling better" or "Yes, that medication is definitely kicking in. How about we do all the same stuff we used to do before I got sick, like go shopping for 6 hours?" I felt pressure to put on a brave face and say that I was doing well (you know, because I survived my surgery and completed my treatment) when some days I felt totally miserable. When I actually did say "I'm good", people automatically thought that meant I was back in top shape and ready to take anything on. They didn't realize I meant "Today is a good day compared to the shitty one I had yesterday". I found their lack of understanding frustrating -- even though I knew it wasn't their fault.

Putting your life on hold, especially when you feel like you're gaining momentum and ready to take over the world, sucks. If you feel miserable, it's totally ok. You don't have to put on a brave face for anyone. You're entitled to your emotions and you need to be true to yourself. It's ok to be scared. It's ok to be mad about having to postpone your studies or not getting that dream job. Feeling scared, sad or mad doesn't mean you're hopeless. It just means you're cutting the crap and owning how you feel. My advice to you: just keep it real.

By Michelle Beland

The Purple Fig is a community where women share personal and relatable stories; no ego, no shame, no judgement. We're about life, love and all of the stuff that makes us yearn, squirm, and giggle. These stories make up the authentic and intriguing journey of a woman.

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