The Letters Of Cancer

Well, we’ve passed the introductions, and now you know me and I know all of you. So, can I borrow some money? Ha ha, I’m kidding. (I’m not kidding). So, cancer, it’s a word that is so much larger than the letters that make it up, it is the very definition of overwhelming. It’s life changing, it can be a known quantity yet still remain unknown, and it takes mental fortitude on a level that few people have ever experienced.

When you first hear that word “cancer,” a machinery starts to roll, and a bunch of things happen in quick succession. First, you immediately wonder what you’re going to do if you die. Then, you think about how horrible chemo is going to be because up until then, you’ve only heard stories. Finally, you settle in to a nice bouillabaisse of anxiety, indignant resistance, and wild fits of imagination. It can send you into a spiral, and it doesn’t help that everyone you meet from diagnosis to cure will want to share their homespun, hoedown, peter-pan advice with you. Sure, it’s all well-intentioned, but you’ll reach a point where you just want to scream and tell whoever’s talking where they can stick their great-aunt Bedelia, who cured herself by eating kiwi skins and horse nipples. Most of us do the polite thing and nod and smile, but really, if you want to scream then go ahead. If anyone says anything just use the greatest excuse ever – cancer. I have cancer. Sorry, cancer. Cancer here, thanks, yes, please leave. Oh, the looks on their faces….

All joking aside, though, there are times where you will falter. You will crawl into your own head and things will start to spiral and, before you know it, the worst case scenario has played out twenty times, with director’s cut, DVD commentary, and subtitle language set to PANIC. It was while I was experiencing this myself that I came up with a little game to help get myself out the fear feedback loop. I called it the letters of cancer.

A simple game to stop the spiral

The game is pretty simple – you take the word “cancer,” and for each letter, you come up with another word that describes something you associate with your impending or freshly-tendered diagnosis. Yeah, letters of cancer, I know, not the most imaginative title ever. Whatever, too bad, I have cancer. (See how well it works?) Oh, there’s one more caveat, you have to at least try to make it positive. After all, we are trying to make ourselves feel better, not start to cry. Let’s run through an example.


Coward. Am I a coward for being afraid of this disease? I should be tough, I need to be tough, be a rock for my family and friends or else they are going to worry. I can’t show any fear, even though I am terrified. I don’t want to give the disease or anyone around me even one inch to think this won’t turn out well. Even if I don’t show it, though, it’s probably alright to be afraid of this. I mean, it doesn’t get more life and death than cancer. No matter what the diagnosis ends up being, I’m not a coward for being afraid, I’m normal. As long as I don’t let it own me.


Always. Am I always going to have cancer? Does lymphoma even have a cure? Maybe it just goes into remission like my R.A. Even if it does, though, people are always going to look at me and remember I have cancer. I’d become a cancer survivor. It’s fine, it won’t define me just like my R.A. doesn’t.


Not now. Ugh, why is this happening now? There are so many things I need to do, so many important things that will be ignored. Who is going to take care of the pets? Who is going to pay my Netflix bill? Who is going to update my Facebook page? Well, important-ish. Whatever, if I can’t it won’t be the end of the world. I’m not gonna end up homeless and I can always get things back on track once I’m ready. It’ll be fine, other people have done it and so can I.


Can’t. Oh man, I already can’t do so many things, what is the cancer going to add to that already long list? I mean, I was never going to skydive while on fire, or wrestle alligators while climbing Mt. Everest, but I’d still like to take a bike ride or two. Am I still going to be able to do those things? Well, It’s disappointing, but I suppose it won’t be the end of the world. There are people out there much worse off than me who still manage to live amazing lives. I’ll just have to dig deeper.


Expensive. Jesus, the medical bills for this ordeal are going to be astronomical. Even with insurance paying most of it, I’m still going to be responsible for thousands. That’s gonna be a ton of stress I don’t need. I guess I’ll just have to tell them I’m disabled and make arrangements for payment. It’s not like they are going to just leave me for dead if I can’t pay. I mean, this is America after all.


Really? Really? I mean, I got cancer? Like the guy (or girl #girlpower) who is in charge of handing out diseases picked me? Like they saw the list of the 6 billion healthy people who don’t have any diseases, and then decided nah, I don’t think I’m gonna draft a rookie for this one. Perfect. Thanks that person. Well whatever, at this point it’s not like I don’t know how to deal with being ill, I guess they already knew I could handle it.

And that’s the game! Don’t worry if you didn’t win this time, we still have some fabulous (not fabulous) consolation prizes. Seriously, though, any time I began to spiral or panic, I played this stupid game and it would force me to think about something else. Half the time I didn’t even get past the first four letters before I felt better. It’s an old trick with a new method, but it still works wonders. It is especially good for tuning out that person who keeps telling you to eat more radishes (what?). I hope it helps you as much as it helps me. See you soon.

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