Saturday, April 2, 2011


I had the TV on one mid afternoon while I was making lunch and stopped what I was doing to watch one of those prescription drug advertisements.  I always love at the end of those commercials when they speed read a host of warnings and possible side effects making you wonder what is helpful about the drug in the first place.  It made me think of all of those product labels and health warnings out there on the market.   Everything from foods, paint and Christmas lights have some warning about cancer.  Even some cell phones and common electronic devices we use every day come with warnings.  One such warning reads:
WARNING: This product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.
The above warning label is 10 times its original size.  I seem to remember a brief time in recent history, the only place I saw such labels warning about cancer, was on cigarette packaging.  I thought I was washing my hands every single time I use the remote control because of all those nasty germs.  So far though, it seems only the State of California knows about this.

These warning labels seem to be on everything anymore.  Do we really heed these warnings or think about them?  When it says cancer, do we consider what that means or do we ignore it thinking "that won't really happen to me"?  Cancer has become such a common word.  When people hear the word, does it really strike fear and loathing that the labels should evoke?  I know, it is really more of a disclaimer than a real warning.  But should we dismiss it so easily?  Have we become desensitized? 

We may not yet understand everything that causes cancer, but there is one thing that remains clear:  remission is not a cure. 

Maybe instead of the usual warning label: "known to cause cancer", it should read:

Chemotherapy may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use Radiation. Women who are trying to get pregnant, may not be able to after receiving many miserable months of chemotherapy and/or radiation.  If you've never worn a wig before, now is your chance.  These treatments are horrible, not fun and include all of the following and possibly more that are too numerous to mention below.  Chemotherapy may help you survive longer, but is not a cure and does not guarantee quality of life.

Side effects may include:
- Dizziness
- Nausea
- Vomiting day after day after day
- Balding, loss of eyebrows, eyelashes, body hair and loss of dignity 

- Soft, brittle nails which may fall off
- Attention focus issues and severe mood swings
- Swelling of joints and unbelievable pain
- Overall weakness and inability to get up off the couch
- Loss of relationships and friends who don't like to be around sick people
- Loss of the ability to enjoy life, go on walks or play
- Loss of money

- Anxiety, depression and fear
- Loss of employment
- Insurance rejection
- Headache

- Shortness of breath
- Chronic fatigue and misery
- Dehydration
- Dry mouth

- Dry skin and chronic infections
- Horrible pain that will make Morphine seem like water
- A permanent room at the cancer ward 

  • Chemotherapy may last several months causing all of your veins to collapse
  • Chemotherapy may make you sterile if you are pre-menopausal or haven't had a chance to have kids yet
  • If you survive Chemotherapy, you may need to continue taking pills that you can't afford and cause similar side effects for the rest of your life.
  • Radiation may cause lasting tissue damage and pain.
  • Chemotherapy is not a cure and may not prolong your life.
  • All chemotherapy and radiation does not work the same for everyone and you still may require surgeries to remove cancerous growths
  • If you don't like blood work, needles, surgery, medical tests, MRIs, bone scans, X-rays, CT scans, or lying motionless on a hard surface in an uncomfortable position for hours day after are pretty much screwed.
  • Don't believe all the statistics you hear.  It doesn't matter when you get your hospital ID bracelet.
I don't know how or why I got cancer.  I don't know if it started with a gene, a virus or exposure to some environmental hazard I ignored.  Perhaps if I heeded all warnings we know of, and took away all of the possible blame,  I still might be fighting cancer anyway.  As much as we do know about cancer these days, it seems we know even less about it.  Are people living longer after going through chemotherapy and radiation than they did 40 years ago?  Perhaps the statistics don't matter much when you're sitting in the hospital under an IV pole wondering if you'll become a statistic.  If you don't know what it's like living with an illness like cancer, just read the warning label again above.  It's not comprehensive, but it gives you an idea.


  1. Wow. This is a powerful post. Some things made me laugh, some things made me get that icky feeling, remembering what chemo was like. You're a wonderful writer. I'm so glad to have found your blog!

  2. Thank you Deborah. I'm sorry you had to go through it, but glad to have found your blog and pictures. Your work is powerful!


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