Lymphoma is a real cancer

The lymphatic system runs throughout the whole body. It is very real!

I have cancer, hence why I am writing this blog. My actual diagnosis is Grade 2 Follicular Lymphoma, a type of non-Hodkin’s lymphoma. Even before I knew what all of that meant I thought it sounded bad. Over the last couple of months I’ve come to find out that some other people don’t think it sounds as bad as it is. I will expand upon that in this post.

I should mention the origins of this post actually came about due a support-group conference call I was on earlier this afternoon. A group from Illinois invited me to attend their teleconference and speak about my experiences blogging. I enjoyed the chance to interact with other cancer patients and hear other stories. One topic that came up during this teleconference was dealing with people who perceive blood cancers, especially lymphoma, as a “fake cancer”. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard the term. Actually it comes up a lot in various support groups. Blood cancer patients, again especially lymphoma patients, are often treated differently from other cancer patients. It is an odd occurrence I probably would not have believed if I hadn’t seen it first hand.

One of the problems I believe is that the average person simply cannot relate to lymphoma. Lymphoma is categorized as a blood cancer, but it is the actual lymphatic system which is infected with cancer. How many people (other than doctors) actually know what the lymphatic system is or what it does? I’ve come to find out very few people do. When people think of cancer they think of breasts, lungs, prostates, or some part of the body that can be identified. I’ve had people give me blank stares when I told them I had multiple lymph nodes which had become swollen due to cancer. Actually more than once I’ve had people say “oh you have one of the good cancers” when I try to explain my condition. Every time that leaves me silent. I still haven’t come up with a good response to that. But I remember most people really don’t know what the lymphatic system is and they really don’t know how to relate.

Another problem is that most lymphoma patients, including myself, usually look pretty good. Even after four rounds of chemotherapy I have had multiple people tell me I look great. All of my pain and scars are on the inside. There aren’t any scars or physical signs advertising the fact that I have anything major going on with my body. Actually in my case I probably look better than I did prior to starting chemo due to the lymph node that was restricting my breathing. Now that I can breathe again I’ve been told my color looks better than it has in months. Unless I tell people that¬†every bone in my body hurts, especially my shoulders and lower back, they don’t realize I even have any pain. I do a good job of trying to hide that pain.

I have found a way to get more people to understand I have a “bad” cancer. All I have to do is say the cancer has spread to my bones, which it has. Actually that is probably what is causing most of my pain. As soon as I tell people the cancer has moved into my bones they will say something like “oh my gosh, I’m sorry” or “oh wow, you really do have a serious cancer”. Like I mentioned above people need something to relate to, and bones are definitely something people have heard of.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not writing this post to complain. I do think my situation could be a lot worse. But I think it is important to let other lymphoma patients know they are not alone in how their diagnosis is perceived by some people. I really don’t think any of the people acting as if lymphoma is a lesser cancer are trying to downplay the cancer. Instead I think they have problems relating to the type of cancer we have so instinctively assume or hope it is better than other more well-known types of cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I’m OK with that

Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon Background. Vector illustrationYesterday I was speaking to a friend and he asked me whether I was annoyed that breast cancer awareness gets its own month. The simple answer to this questions is no, I really don’t mind that breast cancer gets its own month. But since I am a blogger and like to ramble about anything I will provide a longer answer below.

First, I think it is great how the breast cancer awareness organizations have brought so much attention to their cause. The marketing efforts by these organizations have been insanely successful. When I see any pink item I immediately think of breast cancer. Every time I use my pink five-gallon bucket from Runnings I am reminded of breast cancer. Whenever I see someone in a pink t-shirt I think of breast cancer. I tip my pink hat to these organizations for having such a huge impact on breast cancer awareness.

Not only are these organizations raising awareness of breast cancer, they are also raising massive amounts of money to research and battle breast cancer. As someone with a type of blood cancer which is currently incurable, I have hope research will offer me a way in the future to rid myself of cancer. I was just reading about a cool new wearable device that will allow breast cancer patients to be monitored by light pulses to see the real-time effects of chemotherapy. If the trials of this device are successful it will help chemo patients with other forms of cancer. That would include those with blood cancer such as my myself. The funding for this research comes from The American Cancer Society, which of course benefits tremendously from Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Research done into any type of cancer has the potential to help all cancer patients.

I should also mention that breast cancer is not the only cancer with its own awareness month. Below is a calendar from Cancer101 website showing the different cancer awareness months and their corresponding ribbon color. My cancer type lymphoma has a lime-green ribbon and has the month of September as its awareness month (along with a LOT of other types of cancer). Personally I’m not really into these awareness ribbons, but I do see the value of them for raising awareness.

Calendar Source Cancer101 Website

I have communicated with some cancer patients who are somewhat annoyed that breast cancer seems to get all the attention. Personally I prefer to look at how every cancer patient benefits from any attention brought to cancer awareness, even if it is a type I don’t have. Life is too short to bring identity politics into such an important issue.