Cancer is Hard When You’re Alone

I sure do love historical analysis–as you have no doubt observed if you’ve read The Sarcastic Boob with any regularity.  Breast cancer is a fascinating subject and fits right into my love of knowledgeable discourse.  The implications of gender and patriarchy!  The socioeconomic and racial disparities!  The political difference with regard to healthcare!  The swelling in my left armpit!

Wait.  What?  What’s this left armpit crap?  It’s the right boob, remember?

I honestly get so lost in the subject itself that sometimes I forget why I find the topic of interest in the first place.   Oh, yeah, I have breast cancer with metastasis.  Stage IV.  Remember?

Yes, I do remember, but it’s still kind of abstract in a very weird kind of way.  The lesions have resolved, roused the spondylosis.  It was asymptomatic for many years apparently, until the tumor flare kicked it off.  The third nerve block to manage the pain was three weeks ago.  I fully expected to reenter my life with vigor as I had only four months before.

But it didn’t work this time.


But I continued on with my analysis.  Peggy Orenstein wrote a game-changing article that came just as I was beginning to read a great book about the history of the war on breast cancer.  Ah, critical thinking.  My happy place.  I need a happy place since back pain has left me unable to work or do much of anything else.  Did I mention my laundry pile is three weeks high?

It’s rough when you’re sick and you’re alone.


Some months after I started chemotherapy–Tamoxifen–I got good news: the lesions had all resolved.  The lymph nodes in my chest and under my right arm, tiny lesions in the lungs all gone.  Even the lytic lesions in the bone had much less uptake than the scan three months previous.  The back pain resolved with the help of pain management.  Ah, it felt good to be normal again.

Then it happened.  I was typing away on my laptop and it felt like my sleeve was bunched up under my left arm.  I adjusted it and typed away.  Adjusted again.  Worked and then another adjustment.  It’s nothing.

During the #bcsm chat on Monday evening a comment was made of itching in the breast post mastectomy.  Everyone seemed to be itching after that comment.  Even me.  And as I reached under my left arm to scratch I felt the swelling.  Right in the belly of the armpit where the sentinal node lies.  Puffy.  Tender.


That’s when it hit me.  Jarred from the real joy of historical analysis to the crummy reality of living with breast cancer.  I have it in my head that I’ll live and work for another decade; sometimes I even say twenty years.  In my heart of hearts I can tell you that I’m not so sure.  I’m not allowed to be a “survivor.”  Newsflash: after you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer you don’t survive anything.  You’re in remission.  That pink ribbon celebration can’t hide the real truth.

I connected with my oncologist and my pain specialist today.  I was urged to go to the emergency room to be evaluated for a cord compression because of some general weirdness/lightness I feel in my left leg and some other problems I won’t detail.  But, me being me, I said, “No.”  Much to the chagrin of my physician.  Look, I might be in pain, but I’m not crazy enough to subject myself to the crawl of an metropolitan ER unless I’ve been cut out of a wrecked car.   So it’s an MRI tomorrow and a visit with the oncologist on Thursday.  In the meantime I listen to my superiors fawn over time sheets and doctor’s notes.  Someone’s always looking for a reason to clean up the dust and move on to a clean slate.  Stop blaming me for being sick, for crissakes.

Depression sets in and I wonder if I have what it takes.  I feel less than.  Incompetent.  A drag.  I try to go with the flow, but the flow isn’t there.  I feel like I’m at a stand still.

I do love to examine breast cancer in its historical context.  To see those tensions in society ebb and flow in response to or in spite of forces that are much much larger than one individual with one disease could ever be.  It is fascinating.  But then I realize that I am but one person who wonders if I will be able to keep my job, be productive in society, or live–and live well–for another decade within that ebb and flow.   And do my laundry.

Goddammit.  Cancer is hard when you’re alone.

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93 Responses to Cancer is Hard When You’re Alone

  1. Join us on Facebook at Solo Survivors for connection with other singles dealing with cancer.

  2. keithw says:

    If good thoughts count, you aren’t alone.

  3. Dearest Scorchy,
    Wishing I could come over, do your laundry, cook for you and hug you. This excellent post arises one of the most significant difficulties in facing cancer, or life in general… I am a single mom, and I remember the times when my floor was so sticky, it was quacking whenever I tried walking from one room to another, and all I wished is for someone to notice it and just clean it…
    Facing cancer sucks, and facing it alone sometimes feels unbearable. I want to write that we are all here for you yada yada, but know, unless your laundry is clean and in it’s place, no words can make it easier.
    Promise that when I get around, you can leave 3 weeks laundry and floor for me. Promise!

    • Scorchy says:

      Efrat, you are so kind. But, yes, it is hard when you’re alone. I contracted the help of a housekeeper back in December and it was the very best decision I ever made. It means that the budget is tighter–but the peace of mind it buys is beyond priceless.

      Two lovely friends and colleagues helped by doing my laundry–and bringing goodies. they are the best buds ever.

  4. Sending you hugs Scorchy ~ you know you’re always in my thoughts and prayers. xo Holding out my hand ~ I won’t let you be alone.

  5. It does suck…cancer sucks…wishing I could do your laundry and am glad to the comments…that a good friend did them for you! Hurray for love!

  6. Roz warren says:

    There are a lot of reasons why I read this blog, but mostly I just love the way you write. That line about the ER crawl is a classic. Reading it made me happy, weirdly, because it’s certainly not expressing a happy thought. But it’s SUCH GOOD WRITING…

  7. eak13 says:

    It really does suck when we are alone. I wish I could come do your laundry, I have a pile adding up too.. Somehow Lucy the cat won’t even attempt she rather sleep in it.. You are in my thoughts… Love Alli xx

    ( former blog Life in Transition)

  8. eak13 says:

    It really does suck doing all this alone. I was told a couple of times in the past couple of weeks How much I inspired someone battling cancer I just didn’t want to hear it asked if I’d inspire her as much if I had stinking cold? I;d offer to do your laundry but that would mean I had to do mine too lol Love Alli….

    • Scorchy says:

      Laundry–it just has to be done!! I reached out to a good friend and she came by and did two loads of laundry for me. I am grateful for my good buds. I hope I can be as helpful to them when they need it. Thanks so much for reading The Boob, Alli, and for taking the time to comment. We’ve got one another’s backs, kid! 🙂

  9. Audrey says:

    So sorry to hear what you are dealing with. I don’t know if i can find words at all that help you. But I don’t want you to know my thoughts are with you and like the others I so wish it was different for you. Sending you love from Scotland

    • Scorchy says:

      Thank you, Audrey. Thank you so much. Some of the most luscious wool I’ve used as a knitter has come from Scotland. I sure want to visit in the coming years.
      Love headed your way from The Big Apple, USA!

  10. Elizabeth Conroy says:

    Love laundry!Sort of an OCD thing.Clothes are clean then I am absolved from all transgressions.Catholic upbringing.Live in the Middle East.I have a Hotel in Amman so if you can travel come.You should not be so alone
    Petra you would love and those Bedoiuns are fascinating.Great rhytmic dancing and singing.Arabic is a beautiful language and the poetry wonderful
    Came here about 35 years ago from London.Can cook like a Native just don,t look like one!
    You are a fiesty old Bird so hang on girl

  11. “Shit” is right. Ugh, I’m so sorry you are dealing with this… You are the perfect example of how the universe f’s things up.
    I know there’s not much I can say, but just know that you are not alone. We all care about you! (I know that doesn’t help with the laundry, though!!!)

  12. Sigh. Big sigh. Where’s the “Make It So” button Homer Simpson mentioned, in his infinite wisdom? I’m wishing I had that button; I’d push it for ya.

  13. You are amazing and strong. I’m sending lots of love and wish it were more.

  14. Tracy says:

    Damn it, so you already tried teaching the cats to do laundry and they’re no good at it? I was hoping mine could lend a hand now and then 😦 I wish thoughts could make you better Scorchy, if they could you’d be bouncing around like Tigger because you’re in my thoughts and those of so many others. Sending you love from the UK xoxox

    • Scorchy says:

      Thanks, sweetie. I know this, too, shall pass–just wish it would pass faster. The cats have refused to do laundry as well as clean the cat box, dust, make dinner, or close the windows when it rains. Instead they work on perfecting their art: sleep. xoxo

  15. gregsmithmd says:

    Love from South Carolina to a good woman. Live your life each day, the best way you can, as hard as you can, as fully as you can. Somehow, I don’t think I needed to tell you that, but there you go.

  16. Shit. That’s all there is to say. That and, I hate this disease so much, it’s overwhelming. Sending you love, Scorchy, virtually of course from California, for whatever it’s worth.

    • Scorchy says:

      Shit. Balls. Or, as my great aunt says, sevenabitch!! Hm, I think I feel better now. Thanks for those good vibes–I’m feeling the love. 🙂

  17. knit1pug2 says:


    It is incredibly difficult to navigate this hell alone and I cannot even imagine having to do it at Stage IV. Yet you are able to be a voice for other with your writing through it all. I am always amazed by you.

    I’ll have much more time after school is out for summer and would love to get together more.

    Much love.

  18. oh, shit, scorchy – this is so totally fucked up. the back pain, the armpit swelling -et fucking al.
    i’m just so glad you are going to have the MRI tomorrow, and that you did NOT go to the er. and your confidence in your awesome docs is huge – that one thing helped hugh and me over a lot of crisis times. being alone…facing cancer alone…wondering what will happen when SOMETHING happens – i so get that now. but, like you, i hang onto numbers and LOVE hearing the good ones – like my friend, mary, who is a ST IV with no recurrence for 22 years. thank god suanne did not believe you…hang onto that woman, she’s a real prize. love you, xxxxxxxooooooo, karen, TC

    • Scorchy says:

      I think of you all the time, Karen TC. The MRI came back fine (which I suspected it would). We each deal with our own kinds of pain right now and, when all is said and done, your pain is so much harder to bear. This will pass, but it sure feels good to have you by my side–even if it is virtually. xoxoxoxo

      • i am so happy the MRI came back fine! pain is pain, and when we love each other,, there’s no contest, it all hurts and is all acutely complicated. it feels good to have you by my side, too. and virtually is REAL – we feel each other’s bad stuff and we feel so damned good when we can share it with empathy, compassion and love. and each little triumph we celebrate with each other is real, too. then we get to do a happy dance – and even if it’s only in my head because i am too damned tired to hold myself upright, it’s as happy as happy can be. love you, scorchy, xoxoxoxo

  19. Susan says:

    Feeling alone sucks…yet I know you know how much we love and adore you Scorchy . I wish I lived near you because I swear I would do your laundry. Wish I could teach the cats to do some of this stuff. I think a big reason you are feeling down is the pain, which just plain sucks. On top of that the tamoxifen and all the anti-estrogen adds to the depression. You are so smart to skip the ER. I really think some days just suck especially when you have so much going on in your mind because of the not knowing when it comes to stage iv breast cancer. I am not going to pretend to have any answers Scorchy but I was encouraged by Carolines numbers. I hope the pain gets managed as I am sure that will help…because when your in pain it’s almost impossible to feel any flow. I still send you virtual hugs and look forward to a better day. Hugs and xoxoxo – Susan

  20. Hard. So hard. I hear you, I echo you. Good luck with work and superiors and all. You are lucky to have a profession you want to fight to stay in as long as you can through this cancer shit.

    And ERs? I agree with you and what Caroline said – cut out of a wreck or dripping in my own blood…and pain levels above 8!! The things I put myself through – but I always weight those things against what will happen once I am in the hands of a hospital. That usually keeps me suffering at home, thank you very much.

    • Scorchy says:

      Yeah, the ER thing didn’t sit right with me. I actually don’t think there is any cord compression. For one, I’m not crapping or wetting my pants. I had a chat with my favorite pain doc and he didn’t think so either–but he an MRI would be valuable just in case lesions were growing. I will probably have a nerve ablation. (And that’s not something I ever thought I’d say.)

  21. Chris Geraci says:

    We feel your pain, literally!

  22. juneaubugg (aka Jennifer) says:

    HUGS & ❤

  23. Jennie says:

    I know how lonely this journey can be, but you are not alone in the love, light and goodness that we are all sending your way, xoxo

  24. I know it may feel like it, but you are not alone in the love, light and goodness that we are all sending your way, xoxoxo

  25. Acacia says:

    Scorchy darling, I freaking hate how hard this shit is on all of us!I found a monthly cleaning person on craigslist (no laundry), so, its something.

    • Scorchy says:

      To show you how stupid I am. My housekeeper, Sueann, offered to do my laundry yesterday. I said, “Oh no! I’ll do it later this week.” To her credit she did not believe me.

  26. Oh how I wish I had a weapon to offer you, one that would be the thermonuke that would knock that sh*t right OUT. But I don’t. All I have is deep respect, much love and hope, and a power-bomb of healing karma pointed in your direction from my antenna array.

  27. Ah, crap, Scorchy! I am so sorry your feeling alone. The pain plays terrible tricks on us. Two bad days and the foundation of our hope starts to dissolve. It feels like its all down hill. But it’s generally not. We are in for a lot of ups and downs. Laundry is definitely a downer. And so hard to do with a bad back. Wish I were there to help.

    • Scorchy says:

      Thanks, Kate. I do know, despite this road block, that things generally do get better. I need to be in for the long haul. Fucking cancer won’t have me.

  28. AnneMarie says:

    I **can ** help with the laundry. I think it’s time to step from behind the screen and into 3D…..

    The rest of it? I wish I had a magic wand…. Let me just say that we are going to have a BLAST with AM’s pink boas. We spoke yesterday and when you are confident laughing too hard won’t be painful as all hell, that girl’s got STORIES. To hell with Alicia being on fire…. AM is doing spontaneous combustion type things….

    Love you, Scorch…


  29. Cancer is so damn awful. I’m sorry about this recent development. Beyond shitty. Know this, you are one competent woman and you most certainly are not a drag. Wish I could swing by and throw in a couple loads of laundry for you. Sending more TLC your way. xoxo

  30. Scorch,
    What an incredible post and if I can say anything it is that you, my friend, have EVERYTHING it takes. The physical realities of cancer, and their implications, take your mind down corridors no one wants to enter. It is a kind of no wo-man’s land. I hate that for you, for all of us. Before having this myself I would have worried about you not going to the ER. Now? Not at all. You know what’s best for you. You need an ER visit like we all need another hole in our collective heads.
    Thinking of you and sending TLC,

  31. I live alone in a studio apartment with a dear childhood friend across the hall and best college girlfriend below me. My two kids both live in town. I get concerned phone calls but spent the weekend sick a lot from third chemo treatment. I know they can’t take away the metal taste in my mouth, the nausea, fatigue, muscle and bone pains. But why didn’t they find time to distract me with a visit to the bookstore, share grocery shopping, go to a play or something? I notice that over time loved ones are comforted by my strength in the face of adversity, relieved by my stalwart attitude, and honestly, by not wanting to burden others I have trained them to accept my words: oh I’m ok. People need to learn not to believe us, go beyond the courageous face we put on cancer and simply invite us to do something-or invite themselves to do something for us-like laundry!

    • Betty, you’ve hit the nail on the head. We’ve trained them to believe our facade of OKness. It’s a more comfortable way to live, until we can’t pretend anymore. I wrote about that this week.

    • Scorchy says:

      They will only learn if we tell them. Not only that, when we are strong and resilient we let them off the hook. Sit your friends and your kids down and tell them you need them and how they can help you. DO IT NOW!

  32. planetann says:

    I am alone with you.

  33. Hey Scorchy, like AnneMarie said – you aren’t alone. If you happen to live anywhere in Ottawa I’d be glad to come over and do your laundry. But if that’s not possible, then just know we are here to hear you, and here to give heart-warming comments of support. I’m so sorry you’ve been pulled out of your happy place of analytical thinking.

  34. tyrannyofpink says:

    I have stage 4 breast cancer and I’m single. I get all the existential crap that we’re all alone or we have friends online but what will happen as I get sicker and I cannot do everything. Previously, during mastectomy and liver re-section etc., friends would rally as it was time limited. I had surgery, everyone pitched in and I got better. So what happens when the downhill begins and goes on…Scares the shit out of me.

    And not to be a bitch, but I hate when people tell you they know someone that lived 20 years with stage 4 blahblahblah. I think it discounts my fear and the toll of living with uncertainty.

    • This is the part so many people don’t understand. Support means more than driving someone to an appointment. It’s about being there during thick and thin….and that is NOT being a bitch. Not at all. Ask a crowd how they’d like the uncertainty of an unpredictable disease. They might not find it all so easy.

    • Scorchy says:

      Well, I always look at the offer of people who have lived “X” years as an offer of hope in the spirit of friendship and true concern. It’s when it’s said with a sigh or a roll of the eyes that will send me off the deep end.

      It’s hard to face this shit alone. xoxo

    • Stage IV and single here too. Scares the shit out of me too. People say “oh, you’re not alone, look how many people are thinking about you…” I say, look at how few actually come into my house and spend time with me. I say, who will take care of me when things go downhill and I can’t even get out of bed? And I say, who will be there at the end to hold my hand as I die?

      You’re so right; people seem to be able to rally for the moment, so long as the moment doesn’t last too long. And I agree completely with your last point about discounting our fears and the toll of living with this. -shelli

      • Scorchy says:

        These are things I think about too. They are also the things that don’t look good wrapped in a pink ribbon. The movement loves their martyrs. Just not *while* their actually martyring. xoxoxo

    • Jo Ann F. says:

      I know what you mean. The thought of not if but when I cannot do for myself is as scary as the cancer for me. I’ ve been able to deal with the day-to-day for over two years. Took a long vacation, planning the next one. Last month I went to the bookstore, none in the little town where I live. As I was heading to my car I realised that my energy was running out. Headed to a motel. Three days later I had the energy to drive the 90 miles home. Life on the prairie in the middle of nowhere. It really pisses me off when my energy banks hit zero. I keep thinking of that wonderful line from “Dolores Claiborne”. “Sometimes all a woman has to hold on to is being a bitch”. Now I am going to bite the bullet & call a friend to do the driving to get groceries.

      • Scorchy says:

        Shit, Jo Ann! What a terrifying experience! You just never know when or why something is going to go south. I am glad you were safe, but your experience
        dramatically illustrates the challenges of single folk. And it sucks,

      • Jo Ann F. says:

        Scorchy Dahling! Today I have the energy to make my own coffee, smile at the clean laundry waiting to be put away, (& it will wait. I am the human, I have the control!) I will scorn, scoff, belittle, & blatently ignore the dirty laundry clamoring for my attention.(I have clean underwear!) My pain level is low today, so I can go out & hopefully raise some rabble. If I could feel the ground under my feet I would dance naked (in spirit)! YOU deserve at least partial credit for my good day. YOU are the one that understands when I am having a day & scream “FUCK CANCER”. So I am sending you a hug and good wishes. Thank You for being.

      • Scorchy says:

        Oh honey! I’m feeling the love–I’m so glad I can make a positive difference in your life. Keep on keeping on! Love you! xoxo

  35. hermyleen says:

    Scorchy you’re not alone in the blogosphere! I know that doesn’t help with your laundry, just check in to Denialtown with me?

  36. The Accidental Amazon says:

    Good call on avoiding the ER. Yes, it does suck to be alone with cancer. And swelling armpits suck. And so does spinal stenosis & cord compression. And bosses who forget that employees are humans. You damn well better get some good news about something this week! xxoo, Kathi

    • Scorchy says:

      I’ll tell you, the good news is the found in the awesome docs that I have. And in the awesome friends that I have. Thanks, Kathi. xoxoxoxo

  37. Ya know the worst comment? “You got this”. Yeah no shit I got breast cancer! Sending you big pink ((hugs)) to show you that you’re not alone!

  38. Bean says:

    i really dislike superiors… although i got a chinese food fortune one day that said “do your best to not argue with or disrespect your elders and superiors” i hung it up at my desk at work so i have something to laugh about. good luck today, keep us posted.

  39. Knot Telling says:

    It sucks. I won’t even try the “you’re not alone when we’re all here” bit because you’re right. Virtual hugs are lovely, but they don’t do your laundry. I have also watched helplessly as my work life is slowly but surely taken away from me–yet more of me that has succumbed to cancer.

    So I really don’t have anything to say, except that I hear you, loud and clear.

  40. dglassme says:

    Scorchy I’m sorry you can’t do your laundry. I’m pissed because I can’t mow my grass. I’m not alone because no one lives with me, I’m alone because cancer tends to bring on empty space, a sort of no man’s land. Whereby we’re forced to analyze a whole new world to the Nth degree in short order. It’s a creepy ugly place to be by yourself, no teddy bears in BC hell.

  41. Caroline says:

    The cancer roller coaster sucks. I only go to ERs if I am dripping blood personally or taken by ambulance. I will say I have a friend 17 years with stage IV BC…. Another friend over 30 years stage IV ovarian…

    • Scorchy says:

      I like to see those numbers, Caroline! I like them very, very much!! I am certainly going to work my hardest to get there. Thanks for taking the comment. xoxo

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