35 things we wish you knew about having a rare cancer, chronic disease, or rare illness.
Here’s the thing, before I start… I want you to know that I’ve asked hundreds of patients fighting this disease and others to chime in on what we wish you knew. This post is not entirely from my perspective, but it’s all the things I feel.
It’s important to know that we all don’t fit into one neat little box. We all have our own perspectives and things that bother us and things we wish you knew.
This is my effort to put as many of these together and help as many of our friends, family, and support systems understand where we’re coming from living with this disease.
It’s hard enough to live with cancer, chronic illness, or rare disease, but it’s even harder to not be understood.
We know we’re complicated, but we didn’t ask to be this way.
I sincerely hope that this brings you a level of comfort knowing that there are ways of communicating with your loved ones, if you just take the time to understand. Having a rare disease requires knowledge, patience, and a lot of understanding.
You may not always have the right thing to say, but it’s best to just ask.
So, here goes nothing.
1. I wish you knew that I’m in pain every.single.day, even when I don’t show it. It’s always there. Imagine waking up every single morning and every part of you hurting… with no hope of it going away, and every movement you make, it just gets worse throughout the day.
2. I wish you knew that I hate answering “how I’m doing”. I feel like you don’t want a long winded answer, but that’s often all I’ve got. So I’ll often tell you “I’m fine, or okay” just to answer. I wish you’d ask something specific so that I can be honest.
3. I wish you knew I don’t feel “brave or strong”. I didn’t have a choice to wake up with cancer or any co-morbidities. I’m not brave because I have cancer, I’m not strong because I have cancer, I was forced into this life.
4. I wish you knew I felt uncomfortable when you say I’m an inspiration because I have cancer. If I’ve done something to deserve it, and it’s well intentioned, I appreciate it. Actually, I appreciate it regardless. But I just wish it wasn’t such an automatic response to having cancer. Having cancer doesn’t get to all of a sudden make you not a shitty person if you are one 😂 it doesn’t immediately make you an inspiration. At least, we don’t feel that way.
5. I wish you wouldn’t say you’re sorry when I tell you I have cancer. I don’t know how to respond and it makes me uncomfortable. It’s like we’re forced to say “it’s okay”, but… it’s not okay. Please try and be sensitive to speaking to someone with an illness, it’s uncomfortable for all involved but it doesn’t have to be. You can be sorry, it sucks, but maybe ask us more about our disease, open up a dialogue to understand us better. We appreciate that more than being felt sorry for.
6. I wish you knew that not all pheochromocytoma is cancerous, but even when it’s “benign” it’s just as dangerous and often can turn into cancer. The C word is what scares people, but it should be the P word that frightens you more. Pheochromocytoma is the disease we fight. Benign, malignant, it doesn’t matter. It’s one of the scariest diseases out there.
7. I wish people would understand that just because I had surgery to remove the pheochromocytoma tumor, they often do and will come back. We’re never really “done” or cancer free. If it is cancer, we live with it for life. It’s a terminal illness. Despite all the treatments and surgeries we get, it’s a way of managing the disease, not curing it.
8. I wish people understood how many triggers there are with this disease. My tumors literally hate everything. My skin feels like it’s on fire within 30 seconds of sun exposure. I can’t take a hot shower without having an “attack”. I can’t walk far or fast without provoking an attack. I can’t get too excited. I can’t get stressed. I can’t blow dry my hair without being soaked in sweat. I sometimes can’t do the dishes without provoking an attack. It can be something big like exercising or something small like getting dressed, but it can and will happen without any notice. There are certain foods we can’t eat because it’s a trigger. Loud noises. The list goes on, it may be helpful when we tell you this that you do a bit of research yourself to understand us more and what we go through. Maybe start here.
9. I wish you would look up my disease every once and a while before exhausting me. I’m happy to talk about my disease, I’m happy to explain it, but I don’t want to have to repeat myself 1000 times because you refuse to do the research. If you care, you should want to know more.
10. I wish you understood that my cancer is different than other cancers. These tumors are different than any other tumor. They are adrenaline secreting tumors. I wish you understood what impact adrenaline has on the body. It’s debilitating, it’s dangerous, it’s lethal, and can be deadly. People hear “we produce too much adrenaline” and picture a scene from an action movie. No, it’s not fun. We don’t have superpowers, and it doesn’t give us more strength. It’s the opposite. Read here about what having an attack of adrenaline is like.
11. I wish you understood that even if I look perfectly well in photos or even in real life, you should see my insides! It takes many hours to look “normal”. We do it to take the pressure off of ourselves and you, but it doesn’t mean we’re even close to being ok. Many people do this with chronic illnesses, so that they can feel more like themselves. It doesn’t make them any less sick, in pain, or uncomfortable.
12. I wish you knew how uncomfortable I am when you say “well I hope they fix you soon” or “you’ll feel better tomorrow”. These comments can sometimes be belittling to our disease because they can’t “fix” us. We won’t feel better tomorrow. We will never be normal. These are just facts, it’s not negativity. If you don’t know what to say to someone with this disease, try to pick up on their feelings, responding with “wow that must be rough on you” or acknowledging our pain isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t always have to be cheery sunshines.
13. I wish people wouldn’t say “I lost the battle to cancer” or anything along those lines. Cancer didn’t win. Everyone dies. When someone dies of a heart attack, they don’t say “the heart attack won”. Fighting cancer isn’t a choice and shouldn’t be summed up to determine our strength or how well we fought it.
14. I wish you understood that getting a good nights rest or going out to get some fresh air isn’t an option for me sometimes. Yes these things feel good and I hope I can do them more often, but it’s not going to magically make me better. Please understand that this disease is more complicated than even the doctors understand, so no amount of nutrition, exercise, fresh air, will sort us out.
15. I wish you knew how much I just want to live a normal life again.
16. I wish you knew how different I feel and out of place I am.
17. I wish you knew that it will never be normal again.
18. I wish you knew the fear I feel even after the disease is removed, we have to wait in fear as it comes back one day.
19. I wish you wouldn’t avoid me because you feel uncomfortable talking to me. There are so many resources to be able to talk to a friend with a chronic illness, cancer, or any disease. A true friend will never be disappointed in what you said, but we will help you better understand it. We’d rather you learn with us rather than cut us off completely.
20. I wish you knew how much I appreciate when you say “no matter what happens, we will get through this”
21. I wish you knew how much I appreciate when you say “I’ll always be there for you, no matter what happens” and live up to that.
22. I wish that if it’s too hard for you to be there for me, you’d explain it. If you’ve lost someone with cancer and it’s hard on you to relive it, I wish you’d say that. We often blame ourselves when we lose friends gradually and never know why. We beat ourselves up about what we did wrong. We’re incredibly lonely. It’d be nice to have an explanation or try to talk things out, even if it’s difficult.
23. I wish people knew how many comorbidities this disease causes. High blood pressure, heart failure, adrenal insufficiency, chronic pain, kidney disease, bone disease.
24. I wish our doctors would actually SEE the patient in front of them. Understand that we are different. When I get my blood pressure taken and it’s in the “perfect zone” but for ME it’s actually considered high because of the amount of medication I’m on to lower it. Listen! When we tell you what the Pheo does to our bodies and what an attack is, listen! Learn from us. Know that we’re a different breed of disease. Take us seriously, we often know more than the medical staff. Just because we appear to be okay, and don’t fit in your medical mold you’ve created, doesn’t mean we’re not sick! This would prevent a lot of misdiagnosed patients, and speed up the diagnostic process if you’d just LISTEN to us.
25. I wish that you knew behind my smile, there’s so much pain. I’m exhausted, I still have to go on everyday and live my life despite this illness. But I’m tired. Not just take a nap tired, but physically and mentally exhausted from living with something that’s trying to kill me everyday.
26. I wish you knew what living in “constant fight or flight” meant. Never being able to shut off. Always having adrenaline pumping through your veins.
27. I wish you understood that your anxiety is not the same as what my anxiety from this disease feels like. I’m not talking about normal anxiety that anyone can get, I’m talking about chemically induced anxiety panic that is caused by an overflow of hormones in my body. It’s like anxiety on steroids mixed in with impending doom and a dash of dread.
28. I wish you knew how much this disease alters the trajectory of our lives. We can’t plan, we have to live minute to minute. We’re often told were lucky because it’s a slow growing illness and so even if we die, we’ll have plenty of time. Excuse me?!!! The level of ignorance here is just inexcusable.
29. I wish you’d understand that under all of the things I’ve talked about today, I’m still the same person! I’m still here. Treat me that way. I still have hopes, dreams, I still like the same jokes, I still have the same interests. I am not my cancer. I don’t want you to only treat me like I’m “normal” when I look “normal”. I want to be treated normal even when I’m at my sickest, especially when I’m at my sickest!
30. I wish you wouldn’t ask “how are you?” But “is there anything I can do for you?
31. I wish you knew that even after taking 20 different medications, I don’t feel better. They allow me to get up and semi function, but they’re not a cure.
32. I wish you understood there isn’t a cure.
33. I wish you understood that I can’t control my anger or emotions. It’s not me, it’s literally my tumors deciding what mood I’ll be in at that particular moment.
34. I wish I didn’t have to talk about any of this.
35. I wish I never heard the word pheochromocytoma.
I hope this helped get a glimpse into our world, and I hope you can use this as a resource with your friends and family when you want them to understand more.
If there’s anything I missed, or anything YOU want to ask, please leave a comment down below and I’ll do my best. Don’t forget to share
Pheo VS Fabulous 🦄🤍