What It's Really Like To Receive a Cancer Diagnosis
Unless you've been through a cancer diagnosis, it's hard to imagine what a loved one is going through, but we've found this fantastic analogy which really helps to paint a picture of what it's like to receive a cancer diagnosis. With thanks to Caitlin Feeley who originally wrote this much shared analogy.
What’s it like to go through cancer treatment?
It’s something like this: one day, you’re minding your own business, you open the fridge to get some breakfast, and OH MY GOD THERE’S A MOUNTAIN LION IN YOUR FRIDGE.
Wait, what? How? Why is there a mountain lion in your fridge? NO TIME TO EXPLAIN. RUN! THE MOUNTAIN LION WILL KILL YOU! UNLESS YOU FIND SOMETHING EVEN MORE FEROCIOUS TO KILL IT FIRST!
So you take off running, and the mountain lion is right behind you. You know the only thing that can kill a mountain lion is a bear, and the only bear is on top of the mountain, so you better find that bear. You start running up the mountain in hopes of finding the bear. Your friends desperately want to help, but they are powerless against mountain lions, as mountain lions are godless killing machines. But they really want to help, so they’re cheering you on and bringing you paper cups of water and orange slices as you run up the mountain and yelling at the mountain lion - “GET LOST, MOUNTAIN LION, NO ONE LIKES YOU” - and you really appreciate the support, but the mountain lion is still coming.
Also, for some reason, there’s someone in the crowd who’s yelling “that’s not really a mountain lion, it’s a puma” and another person yelling “I read that mountain lions are allergic to kale, have you tried rubbing kale on it?”
As you’re running up the mountain, you see other people fleeing their own mountain lions. Some of the mountain lions seem comparatively wimpy - they’re half grown and only have three legs or whatever, and you think to yourself - why couldn’t I have gotten one of those mountain lions? But then you look over at the people who are fleeing mountain lions the size of a monster truck with huge prehistoric sabre fangs, and you feel like an asshole for even thinking that - and besides, who in their right mind would want to fight a mountain lion, even a three-legged one?
Finally, the person closest to you, whose job it is to take care of you - maybe a parent or sibling or best friend or, in my case, my husband - comes barging out of the woods and jumps on the mountain lion, whaling on it and screaming “GODDAMMIT MOUNTAIN LION, STOP TRYING TO EAT MY WIFE” and the mountain lion punches your husband right in the face. Now your husband (or whomever) is rolling around on the ground clutching their nose, and they've bought you some time, but you still need to get to the top of the mountain.
Eventually you reach the top, finally, and the bear is there. Waiting. For both of you. You rush right up to the bear, and the bear rushes the mountain lion, but the bear has to go through you to get to the mountain lion, and in doing so, the bear TOTALLY KICKS YOUR ASS, but not before it also punches your husband in the face. And your husband is now staggering around with a black eye and bloody nose, and saying “can I get some help, I’ve been punched in the face by two apex predators and I think my nose is broken,” and all you can say is “I’M KIND OF BUSY IN CASE YOU HADN’T NOTICED I’M FIGHTING A MOUNTAIN LION.”
Then, IF YOU ARE LUCKY, the bear leaps on the mountain lion and they are locked in epic battle until finally the two of them roll off a cliff edge together, and the mountain lion is dead.
Maybe. You’re not sure - it fell off the cliff, but mountain lions are crafty. It could come back at any moment.
And all your friends come running up to you and say “that was amazing! You’re so brave, we’re so proud of you! You didn’t die! That must be a huge relief!”
Meanwhile, you blew out both your knees, you’re having an asthma attack, you twisted your ankle, and also you have been mauled by a bear. And everyone says “boy, you must be excited to walk down the mountain!” And all you can think as you stagger to your feet is “f**k this mountain, I never wanted to climb it in the first place.”
And then as family & friends we assume the run-in with the mountain lion is over and we expect our loved ones to get back to their old selves... But we've also found this analogy sequel which helps explain life after cancer... Thanks to Julia Tugwell for sharing.
So you’ve beaten the lion. But everyday you have to open the fridge. For a while you expect the lion to be there everyday. But it’s not. Eventually you can open the fridge with no fear. Some mornings you even forget about there was ever a lion in there. Some days you even forget about what the bear did to you.
Ten months after my lion I opened the fridge and found a mountain lion cub. No one was sure if this cub would turn into a mountain lion or not. It may just run away and grow up somewhere else, or if I kept it it may turn into the most ferocious mountain lion ever seen and kill me. But when you’ve had a run in with a lion you try your best to avoid another.
The guys who know best about lions say they can take the kitten away, just to be safe. As it’s not a full grown mountain lion they don’t need a full grown bear to kick it’s ass. A bear cub will do. Even bear cubs scratch.
Three more times I’ve opened that fridge and found a mountain lion cub.
Once I did just ‘watch and wait’ to see if it was going to leave or get bigger. It did get bigger and that meant a bigger bear cub was needed to sort it out before it became an adult. That one tore a chunk off me.
But everyday you’ve got to open the fridge. Imagine that? How mentally exhausting to live in a state of perpetual uncertainty and fear. Because it’s such a horrible way to live most people who have had a brush with a mountain lion find that they do their very best to make the best of every day. That adds to the pressure. Many survivors find it a great help to lend a hand to others still running up the mountain.
This year I found another cub. Just sitting there one day. These cubs clearly love me. Another bear, not adult, but adolescent was found to dispatch this cub. The mountains the cubs live on aren’t as tall. But by the time you’ve spent 3 years running up mountains you are totally knackered.
Being a lion fighting, bear cub finding, mountain climbing person can be pretty dull for those around you. They’ve never found a lion in their fridge. The first time they are curious, they are pushing you along. By the 3rd or 4th time it’s only those who are absolutely closest to you that even turn up to watch let alone lend a hand.
Most recently I opened the fridge and whilst there was no lion, nor cub, there were a few footprints in the butter. Lion experts looked and couldn’t be sure if there was a lion around without the help of yet another bear. Yet another climb up the mountain. It wasn’t a lion. It was something the last bear had left behind. Even the bears, the savage lion killers can cause problems you know.
I never wanted to climb the mountain. Not once. Not twice. Not thrice. Not forth. Not fifth.
Those who have never found a lion in their fridge won’t get that.
But those who have will.
If you want to find out more about how you can support a loved one with cancer, sign up to receive our Cancer Support Toolkit.