“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” How cancer can change you

by George Root

how can cancer change your life: painting of hand shadow holding a man against a wall

People fear cancer because of the unknown.


©psychoshadow / Adobe Stock

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How can cancer change your life? Along with the stress and anxiety that come with having a potentially terminal disease, people you have known for years suddenly see you differently. A cancer diagnosis literally changes your life overnight.

Among the sea of people who will suddenly vanish from your side will be the people who mean well, but just don’t have a clue on how to talk with someone who has cancer. Let me tell you how it feels to have the same exact conversations with 100 people who mean better but are just clueless about what to say.

How can cancer change your life?

The first few hours after your diagnosis are filled with tears, anger, fear and more anger. Why me? In my case, I was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer on December 27, 2015. Why me? I didn’t smoke, drink or do illegal drugs. No one knew. You have cancer, you have only a 10-percent chance of living, and we have no idea why.

The hardest part of talking about cancer is that first week or two where you cannot even say the word yourself. I called my sister-in-law within a few hours of my appointment to tell her and the word “cancer” came out like an unintelligible mess. It took me almost two weeks to be able to say the word without crying. But once you reach that point, everything changes.

“ It is not life as we know or understand it. Yet it is obviously alive, it exists.”


You look great

If I had a dime for every time someone told me I looked great after they knew I had cancer, I would be able to drink myself into a stupor. When people think of cancer, they think of bald, frail people attached to IV bottles. The reality is that most cancer patients do not look like they have cancer.

I try to avoid making people feel uncomfortable, but I could not resist when a friend of mine told me I looked great. I said, “For years you never commented on how I looked. Now I look great. Cancer is a beautifier!”

He got the joke, but he also got the message.

Please talk to me

The first thing I noticed when I got home from my surgery is that no one wanted to talk to me because they did not know what to say. That is perfectly normal, but I wanted to put a stop to it.

I’m a fairly well-known writer in my area, and I immediately wrote a piece announcing my diagnosis. I also had the advantage of being on a local Internet radio talk show at www.NiagarasWatercooler.com. On my first radio show back after surgery, I insisted that the rest of the cast join me in making fun of cancer. We personified cancer and then proceeded to explain what we would do to it. While some of it got a little too close to the FCC for my tastes, I loved it.

Read more: Laying bare the emotions of talking about cancer

I am one of those people who wants to talk about cancer because I know how it scares people. I can see by the looks in people’s eyes that they are scared for me, but I make them laugh and tell them not to be afraid. Some don’t listen. Some still want to hold me like a little baby and stroke my skin until they feel better. But it doesn’t work that way. Just talk to me about cancer, and I will talk back. It is the best way for both of us to get through it.

People fear cancer because of the unknown. That is why I talk openly about my experience. If I can help just one person take on their cancer fight with an air of defiance instead of fear because I told them what to expect, then all of that talk was worth it.

Read more: What to say to a coworker who has cancer?

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Portrait photo of George Root. George is looking intently at the camera, resting his chin on his right hand.
Article by George Root

George Root III was an accomplished author, including The Caleb Devin Chronicles. He called the wilds of Western New York home, where actually enjoyed Western New York winters. He dabbled in non-fiction, but his passion was science fantasy, science fiction, and Godzilla. George died on March 7th, 2019.



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