Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person
by Nancy Stordahl
Review by Alene Nitzky, Ph.D. RN, OCN, Founder of Sunspirit Wellness Services, LLC and Cancer Harbors™
Raw feelings and honesty are buried in the world of pinkwashing, and Nancy Stordahl exposes them. A breast cancer survivor and patient advocate, she reveals what went through her head during diagnosis and treatment, and what she continues to feel and think about the ongoing experience called “cancer survivorship”, an imperfect name and weak disguise for the inadequacy of treatment for the living and comfort for the dying.
Despite breast cancer’s prevalence and visibility, many are still tone deaf to the suffering it causes, even some health care professionals who encounter it every day. The mass media paint a picture that impairs the ability of the public to empathize with those experiencing the “scourge”, as Stordahl calls it, by ignoring the human cost in ordinary, everyday living.
Stordahl describes encounters with health care providers: doctors, nurses, and technicians; the good, caring, empathetic ones, and the ones who do their jobs robotically, without empathy or any understanding of the emotional impact of the news they deliver. The need for validation of her angst is met by her sister’s simple words, “Of course you do”, otherwise, affirmations are few and far between.
Despite the support of a loving husband and family, she writes about her feelings and experiences through the rigorous and draining process of cancer discovery, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond, and the constant reminder of the unknown.
She recounts her mother’s metastatic breast cancer, the discovery of the BRCA2 mutation in her mother and herself, her own cancer diagnosis, and how it affected her family. A firsthand witness to human suffering from the disease, its treatment, and the aftereffects on her entire being, she shows us her best and worst, her weakest and strongest moments. She faces the unknown not to prove her valor, but because she has no other choice.
Stordahl shows us how honesty is a healthy approach, by not faking her feelings for anyone’s benefit. It is what it is, there is no need to put on a positive face if you don’t feel positive, and certainly not for your health care providers. They need to know what their patients are experiencing, even if it makes them uncomfortable. “You’ll be fine” and “You’re not alone” are platitudes too often uttered in haste by doctors who are unaware of the emotional damage and anger their words can spark.
Stordahl’s book should be required reading for health care providers, the ones who maintain a privileged distance from their patients’ lives that are impacted by this disease, those without firsthand experience, who are really only a stroke of fate away from being sucked into the cancer vortex themselves.
In addition to those working in direct patient care, people in the healthcare business of pink clichés, the executives, administrators, and managers working where money rules decisions, all need to understand and remember the true human cost of this disease, in all its forms and stages. The fake smiles and pinkwashing belie the long way there is to go before awareness is raised for the needs of those with metastatic disease.
Nancy Stordahl is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers, as an author and blogger, in the way she presents the plain reality of her experiences. Acknowledging that everyone has their own story to tell, she tells hers, yet she doesn’t try to sweeten it. Her message is a truly positive one, in reminding us that we are all human, all of our experiences are valid and deserve to be heard, and that we still have a long way to go to improve on the way cancer is treated and “survived”, from life through death.