Cancer Stories

Patient stories are woven by our experiences and become the fabric of memory, a tapestry which will be passed on even when we no longer survive. These stories are exchanged in clinic waiting rooms. They are told in midnight conversations on kitchen telephones, sometimes punctuated with tears. These stories are told in hospital rooms in hushed tones over sleeping or sedated cancer patients.
A cancer story is shaped by chronology and anecdote, by serious clinical events and by humorous incident. The story serves to somehow give structure to our experience. And by building upon and repeating this narrative, we hope to somehow discover answers to those questions which plague us – Why did this happen? Why now? Why me?

Sophia's Birthday

Sophia's Birthday

As health care professionals, we become intimate actors in the stories that our patients will tell. Our words and actions, whether good or bad, mark key points in construction of those narratives. They are repeated for years to come, passed around, shared among friends and family. Because what we do and what we say helps to shape the very meaning of our patient’s illness experience.
And yet throughout those two years in remission, glorious and fulfilling as they were, my re-articulated identity as a cancer patient persisted. Perhaps this phenomenon is more prominent in patients with cancer. And perhaps that identity is exacerbated by the knowledge that mine is at present an essentially incurable disease. But I do know that where I once thought of myself as a man, a father, a husband, …where I once saw a hard-working, essentially dedicated nurse, …where I once considered my life intact though maybe struggling towards some sort of actualization … where I once saw myself as the sum of these things, …that vision of my life must now compete with the preeminence of my identity as a person with leukemia. I feel almost compelled to inform new, even casual acquaintances that I have cancer. Cancer it seems, whether in remission or relapse, is the new “me”.


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


Cancer Stories — 1 Comment

  1. Hi Dennis, you said:

    “I feel almost compelled to inform new, even casual acquaintances that I have cancer. Cancer it seems, whether in remission or relapse, is the new “me””

    After reading this, I wondered if you have thought about why you feel the need to tell everyone you meet ~ not because there is anything wrong with doing so, but because the very act may be revealing your inner struggle to accept your illness. Forgive me if I sound like an amateur shrink, or one who is interfering in things that are not my concern ~ BUT I cannot help but think that the process of saying out loud that you have cancer is your way of constantly trying to come to terms with your condition. Maybe deep inside you still can’t belive that this has happened to you.
    I have never struggled with the questions: Why now? Why me? ~ because I accept that these occurences are random (a matter of genetics and environmental influences) although I have considered at length: Why did this happen? After I was diagnosed, I looked back over my life to see if there had been anything that O had done, or not done which might have contributed to me getting cancer ~ in the hope that if I identified anything, I could warn others. I didn’t find any ~ propably because I’d have developed cancer whatever I did or didn’t do. It was probably programmed into my gentic structure before I was even born.

    All this rambling of mine is really saying that I think I can understand why you define yourself in terms of cancer.
    I don’t feel any compulsion to tell everyone I meet ~ or at least I didn’t think I did. However, you will have noticed my blog has cancer survivor written at the top (as well as Author) ~ so maybe I too am telling every stranger (albeit only the ones I meet in cyber space). Maybe when people get cancer it is such a big deal that they want to tell people, as they need to convince themselves (after all, most people tend to think it won’t happen to them).

    Best wishes.

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