Myth of the “Good Cancer” – guest post

NOTE: a reader notified me that he was unable to leave comments.  The “Register” option has disappeared from the “Meta” sidebar section.  I don’t know why.  No one can “Log In” because no one can register.  I changed my settings so that you do not have to login in order to comment. Hopefully this will work.  If we start getting hit by spammers and bots, I may have to look for another solution.  Currently we block hundreds of spam hits every week.   Dennis

I found myself talking with an older patient last week.  He was being treated for lymphoma, sometimes more precisely called non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This is, as one can see, a definition of exclusion.  As cancers go, the Hodgkin’s type or Hodgkin’s disease (Hodgkin’s lymphoma) is relatively curable.  Unfortunately this disease primarily affects younger patients in the teens, twenties and thirties.  As if you survive it, as many do, your risks for other, chemo-related, cancers can haunt the rest of your life.  Calling it “the good cancer” is an understandable slip.  As this young blogger points out, it is all but good.  She writes at there is optimism in cancer.

Take care, Dennis

the myth of the ‘good cancer’

i hear this all the time…’oh, you had hodgkin’s? that’s the good cancer’, or ‘that’s a good cancer to have if you have to get cancer’. sure, hodgkin’s is very treatable, and in many cases it’s curable…but does that make it a ‘good cancer’? if you ask me, there is no good cancer.

how do we define ‘good cancer’? by those that can be cured? easily treated? removed surgically? i can only speak from my own experience, and draw from the experiences of warriors and survivors i’ve worked with – but, i’d say that no cancer is good. in my case, chasing a cure meant seven months of chemotherapy treatments every other week followed by three and a half weeks of daily radiation. i lost my hair, i got really sick, i chose to have treatments at twenty four that will certainley impact my life in the long term – if i’m lucky enough to get there. and, sure, i did well…but i personally know people who haven’t responded to treatment and gone on to a stem cell transplant, and i also know people who haven’t responded to the transplant and are living from clinical trial to clinical trial…and those who have passed away. so, no, i don’t think this is a good cancer…not even a little bit.

and what about the emotional aspect? forget the physical curability of the disease. i don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer (good cancer or bad cancer) who doesn’t struggle with the emotional burden of the illness. the ‘what if’ every time we have an ache, pain or even the most mild night sweat. the constant nagging in the back of our minds for the rest of our life that we won’t live forever. once you face cancer, you face death…and you can’t come back from that, you’re never, ever the same.

really, i think what gets forgotten in this myth of the ‘good cancers’ are the patients. in the day to day oncology world it’s easy to think that someone with a curable cancer is better off than someone with a terminal, metastatic cancer. and, sure, in terms of prognosis there’s a definite difference…but who’s to say that either patient is ‘better off’? i have a brilliant professor and mentor who said ‘it’s not the event, it’s the experience’…meaning, the way each individual experiences a traumatic event has nothing to do with the event itself, but it has everything to do with how that individual uniquely experiences the event. it’s our responsibility as professionals, friends, caregivers and fellow survivors to treat each person as an individual. let that individual tell you how they feel about their situation, and don’t let the diagnosis or the stage of their cancer on their chart determine how you perceive their situation.

telling someone they have a ‘good cancer’ effectively invalidates their entire experience. you leave that person thinking ‘well if i have a ‘good cancer’, my fear must be irrational’ or ‘they think i’m making this up’, or ‘i should be grateful’. none of those things are true. our experiences are honest, and are to be validated for what they are. try to remember that regardless of what our perception is from the outside, each individual with a cancer diagnosis is facing one of their worst nightmares (if not their worst nightmare). each situation is a trauma, and each warrior deserves to be validated and allowed to feel whatever they are feeling.

but, always have hope…if someone has a curable cancer, don’t be afraid to use the word cure. don’t be afraid to tell them you’re hopeful. but, don’t let that distract you from recognizing and validating the terrible, ugly and scary experience that the individual in front of you is having. and, please, don’t ever tell anyone they have the ‘good cancer’ again.

~ there is optimism in cancer


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.


Myth of the “Good Cancer” – guest post — 3 Comments

  1. Yes there is optimism with cancer but no there is not a curable cancer, there are only treatable cancers. There is no cure at this point. Treatment can get you to a point where you are healthy and there is ‘no evidence of disease’ but that does not mean you are cured.

  2. I love that you are a young social worker in training. I love that you write in all lowercase…so do i and i’m not really sure why.

    I’m an LCSW with 31 years of practice under my belt. After my diagnosis and treatment I left social work administration in a hospital to go back to the bedside. I work as part of a three person inpatient palliative care consultation service. I couldn’t be happier.

    You give me great hope for the future of the profession I love so much!

    Sending you good wishes and much love…

  3. Finally! I can leave a comment! It’s been months.

    Anyway, I hate to be negative towards your post, but speaking as somebody with Stage IV breast cancer metastasized to the liver, I think any kind of cancer you have the chance of surviving from is the good kind. No cancer is fun. Yes, it all changes you. Yes, it will leave scars, both emotional and physical, and yes, there will be fear for years if not forever. But, if you get to live through it, you got the good kind. I wish I had the good kid. Moreover, I’m sure my 14 year old wishes I had the good kind.

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