The Good Cancer

Ever hear you had the good cancer?

I’m certain you’ll agree that while breast cancer is many things, “good” isn’t one of them. What’s good is the diagnostic equipment that makes it easier to detect malignancies earlier than most other cancers. That, however, is a reflection on the tools, not the cancer, and some of us aren’t lucky regardless. If there were a good cancer, it would look very different from anything I’ve seen…

Pink Dress Silhouette Clip Art

For one thing, Good Cancer has a varied wardrobe that does not feature shades of bubble gum. It smells clean, gives amazing foot rubs and has a voice like Adele. Because of this latter fact, Good Cancer gets frequent invites to perform at White House functions, after which Michelle Obama takes it for a tour of her garden where the two of them sample freshly picked, organic green beans while they discuss strategies for empowering the homeless.

When Coffee & BiscottiGood Cancer visits my home, it greets me with a hug and a box of biscotti, chocolate-dipped, which we gently dunk in Italian Roast coffee that’s freshly ground and French-pressed.

“I’ll get the dishes,” says Good Cancer. “Why don’t you stroll the garden? The scent of roses and gardenias will do you good.” Good Cancer speaks with a British accent even lovelier than that of the woman who inhabits my GPS.

Before I retreat to the garden, I tussle Good Cancer’s hair and say, “You’re my dream cancer, the one I’ve waited for.” And, yes, if my cancer is elevated to the status of Good, it better be male because anything that grabs hold of my breasts and burrows in better look and act like Ryan Gosling. Or be cute and witty like Paul Rudd as opposed to, let’s say, Jennifer Aniston. I like Jen a lot, really I do, but not when it comes to this kind of intimacy and I suspect she shares my feelings. But that’s just me. Due to Good Cancer’s easygoing nature, it happily accommodates everyone’s preference.

But alas, I didn’t have Good Cancer. No, my cancer dressed like hell and had nose hairs sprouting from its nostrils. It scratched itself in dark, moist places, then slyly shook my hand, snickering that what I didn’t know had a decent chance of killing me.

Breast cancer bears a strong resemblance to Ted Bundy. It violates women’s bodies without their consent, leaving them maimed, traumatized and occasionally dead. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is a cookie-toting Girl Scout by comparison because cancer doesn’t stop at Christmas. It ruins 365 days out of an entire year, and maybe the next one too, sometimes for the rest of what would have been a life. It even slaps around vulnerable children who haven’t had a chance to experience life and hate it yet. Or love it. We’ll never know. And that’s about as low as one gets.

If any cancer were good, you’d want to rub elbows with it, hang out, call it your friend. I’ve never met any cancer like that. The cancer I know is two-faced and sneaky. It creeps into your life, grabs you in a headlock and stabs you in the back. No, “good cancer” is an oxymoron. Those two words are diametrically opposed and should never be paired. A definition of “good” as it relates to cancer is when you’re lucky enough to catch the little bastard with its pants down. That’s when you take steady aim and shoot. If you hit the bull’s eye, don’t stop and take pity. Feel no remorse for it would not feel remorse for you. Just wipe your hands clean, smile like a ruthless murderer and show yourself out.


  1. Marla Lukofsky says

    Indeed I heard that phrase more than I cared to. One thing I know for sure, I never met a cancer I liked.

  2. I love your writings…. Enjoying every one, even though I’m a very new follower. Keep them coming, they really make me smile, laugh and think.

  3. Thanks, Pam. I’m new here, too! Just started the blog in December. I consider it an honor to make you smile.

  4. Indeed, I too have heard this phrase from my medical oncologist, and like Marla it is not something I care to hear. I’m a great shot so if I ever get even a glimpse at the little bastard with his pants down I’ll blow him away hands down without giving it a thought. No garden and coffee for me. Dd

  5. You’re such a cutie pie!!!!!

  6. My sister is a 28 year survivor. A few days after her mastectomy her surgeon came into her room grinning. “Joan you are a lucky woman – your nodes were negative” Joan replied “if I were a lucky woman I would not have gotten cancer”.

    Thank goodness she is here and well 28 years later but people do say the strangest things.

    Thanks again Eileen.

  7. Ellen, yes, lucky is a relative term and I’m sure Joan’s surgeon has seen what could’ve been. Still, cancer in any form is never lucky or good.

  8. Eileen so enjoy your posts – pleasure to read on a Sunday morning in Ireland

  9. Eileen, wonderful post about the “good cancer.” Yes, I’ve heard that comment before and it irritates me to no end. Thank you for addressing such an important topic. There’s no such thing as a “good cancer,” yet breast cancer is so prettied up in our culture, it does seem like a freakin’ party to have this disease.

  10. Thanks for commenting, Beth. I do think the pink culture does us a disservice by presenting too happy of a face. Do other cancers have the equivalent thing going on? I don’t think so, or at least I hope not.

  11. Eileen, You have a wonderful sense of humor yet ability to be serious and straight on tough subjects at the same time. You are right, cancer STINKS! But if you catch it early, if it gets snuffed for good ,compared to the kind that doesn’t, well you realize once you know you will PROBABLY (and I do say PROBABLY) survive it, that it could have been worse. It’s a rude awakening. You are typically never the same again, even if your body heals. Then there are the less fortunate who are robbed of their life too soon. So while how horrible the cancer is is relative, I am with ya .. there is NO good cancer. Happy New Year!

  12. Enjoyed reading this post.

    I’ve been told I got “the good cancer.” In fact, right while I was waiting to be seen by my surgeon, before I even had my surgery or started any treatments, someone said to me, “hey at least you’re not dying. They have a plan for you.”

    You are right, bc does have better screening options. We can also examine ourselves at home, which is how I caught it. That’s the only difference. But all cancers are awful.

    • c., I also caught mine from a self-exam. When I finished cancer treatment, I mentioned to a friend that I was glad my life was spared. He said, “Oh, Eileen, no one dies from breast cancer anymore.” If only it were so.

  13. I have never posted before. Where to begin, guess where all of you have by receiving the diagnosis. It started Nov.13, with my GP setting up the dreaded mammogram. I was called and told I needed more testing, a sonogram then needle biopsy. The Dr. at imaging called to give me the news and seemed surprised I was shocked and asked if they needed to call someone. I stammered my husband would be home soon. I was sent for breast MRI. I was then contacted by a breast health navigator and she told me it was invasive ductal carcinoma. She then scheduled me to see the surgeon and then the plastic surgeon. The surgeon said she thought the lymph nodes we clear but she would check. All this in 2 weeks.

    My paternal grandmother had a mastectomy and chemo in the 80’s, she survived. My sister went through the whole mastectomy, chemo, radiation, tamoxifen regime but lost her life to total spread of cancer before she was 50. She suffered so much. My father died of pancreatic cancer. So my options were to have a second lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy with no radiation. With my sister going through all she did I opted for double mastectomy without reconstruction. The surgeon told me when I asked about the oncologist that surgery was first and I probably wouldn’t see an oncologist. I was told if I had to have cancer it was the “good” kind to have.

    I am scheduled for surgery this coming Thursday. My mind is in a whirl. Is this standard procedure? Am I doing the best thing?

    One person that heard asked “So you are electing to have the right breast removed?” I said either that or worry every year at mammogram time. She made me feel dismissed or surprised I would willingly do this.

    I shouldn’t complain because it could be worse, but I am scared. Hoping all will be ok.

  14. Debby, I don’t know that there is a standard procedure since each person has her own variables, but as you know, unfortunately from your family history, having a mastectomy is fairly standard. Many like yourself choose to have both breasts removed, especially with a family history or known genetic component.

    People love to say many things to cancer patients, much of which is inappropriate. Until they’re in your shoes, there’s no way they could understand or even know what they’d do in the same situation.

    My mantra during treatment was always: One day at a time. For now, just get through the surgery and recovery, one day at a time. You will get through it. There are a lot of people in the online cancer community who are a tremendous support. We’re here for you. Feel free to reach out. xo

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