"But You Don't Look Sick"
Last updated: January 2023
If you have ever heard the statement, "but you don't look sick," it can be very frustrating for those with advanced breast cancer. Although metastatic (advanced) breast cancer is considered terminal and incurable, many people can live long lives with breast cancer: 5, 10, 20, and even 30 years. Many people think that you may be cured or in remission, which is not valid.
You are considered metastatic if cancer has left the breast tumor and spread beyond the lymph nodes. It's still considered metastatic breast cancer even if it has just spread to a tiny spot beyond the lymph nodes. That means it can spread to any bones in your body, some major organs, and even your brain or the lining of the brain, plus more.
Cancer is unpredictable
Cancer is unpredictable, which means the way it makes you feel is also unpredictable. One day you may be able to run errands, run the house, or even run a marathon. The next day you may not be able to even get out of bed or off the couch. That is cancer; it is different from day to day, even minute to minute.
We will push through family gatherings, weddings, birthday parties, and coffee dates because we don't want to disappoint our friends and family. Sometimes we do it to seem strong.
Like we have it all together because we don't want our loved ones to worry about us. Then we will come home and crash and burn, and we may even cry because the pain is so bad.
Medication side effects
It is not just the physical activities that hurt us either. The medication we take controls our bodies and minds. The side effects can make it hard to function, but we will still try to push through. So when someone says, "but you don't look sick," or even statements like, "you're so strong," "how do you do it?"
We do not have a choice, and we have to keep going for our families. Our kids still need us to be parents and take care of them. Our bills still need to be paid. Groceries need to be bought. Even if it is hard to get out of bed most days, life needs to go on.
It may seem like an innocent statement, "but you don't look sick." Well, I feel sick! I am screaming on the inside, and my body is falling apart, secretly on the outside. I have heard people saying we are lying and don't have stage 4 cancer because we don't look sick.
Words have power and we are vulnerable
The point of this article is to let people know that we are sick even though we may not always look it. We have to put on our fake masks and power through.
We try to act strong and resilient and play the part of ordinary healthy people, and we do it for our family, friends, coworkers, and kids. To doubt us and say we don't look sick discredits us and our feelings.
Words sometimes can hurt, especially for someone with cancer. We are already vulnerable, self-conscious, and even jealous of those without cancer.
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.