Cancer doles out challenges for all

Damocles’ syndrome refers to the fear of a second cancer–fancifully likened to the Greek legend of Damocles’ sword, which could fall at some time in the future.
Damocles’ syndrome refers to the fear of a second cancer–fancifully likened to the Greek legend of Damocles’ sword, which could fall at some time in the future.
Ackland Art Museum

Survivorship in young women

There are nearly 12 million cancer survivors in the United States and we all have challenges in common.

On Sunday, I was having coffee with a friend who is being treated for cancer, and heard a voice behind me.

“I’m a five-year breast cancer survivor,” the stranger said. That is long enough to be considered cured or in remission. “I was listening to your conversation and at first I wondered if you were talking about your parents. You both look so young.”

We introduced ourselves: My friend is a man in his 20s who anticipates completing treatment in September, and I am a woman in her 30s who is adjusting to life after breast cancer treatment and an upcoming surgery to prevent ovarian cancer. The stranger was a Brazilian entrepreneur in her 40s.

Cancer affects us all differently. It exacerbates body issues, mental health and addictions.

The newcomer was a tough, self-made millionaire before she was diagnosed. And it was clear that the experience, although difficult, didn’t knock her down. She told us her rib was fractured because of radiation and her skin became so severely damaged that she was unable to have reconstruction of her right breast.

“I go topless when I go on the boat. I don’t care,” she said, while revealing a scar where once there had been a small breast. “I want to take it off,” she said about her left breast.

“It would look even and I would be OK with it, but my husband doesn’t want me to.”

For some of us, it’s difficult to plan for the future. The challenge is known among psychologists as the “Damocles syndrome,” named after the Greek Damocles, who realized that it was difficult to live with a sword dangling over him, in the same way that survivors have to face the possibility of a cancer recurrence.

To some survivors, cancer is an inconvenience that can be handled with calmness. To me, cancer is fear. Fear of seeing my mom in pain, of not being able to have children and of being deformed. It is the terror of becoming like one of the brain cancer patients I saw at the treatment center — unable to walk or take care of themselves.

Cancer survivorship comes at a psychological and emotional price. The woman, who was no longer a stranger, said she could tell that I needed to wake up.

“You are not the cancer,” she said. “The cancer just happened to you. It is not who you are.” As she hugged me goodbye, my eyes teared up and she repeated “Wake up!”

Read more We're turning Pink! stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category