In 2014, Chris and I walked 84 miles along Hadrian’s Wall on the English/Scottish border. It was a fantastic experience and we met some really interesting people on our 6 day journey. On the 4th night, I encountered a lady who was pretty rude. I wanted to say something but I was with Chris and other people were also present, so I kept quiet. I later discovered this lady was autistic and I was therefore relieved I hadn’t responded to her initial rudeness. However, It got me thinking about the number of times I had perhaps been too hasty to judge people in the past without thinking about what’s going on inside their heads and bodies.
Visible Illness can have awareness benefits
Conversely in 2018, I was absolutely humbled when I met a Parkinson’s disease patient. I had ‘noticed’ Matt prior to meeting him, mainly because he had difficulty walking. When he was talking to me I had to really concentrate because his head, arms and legs were constantly going into spasm. His speech was also affected. Despite his very clear VISIBLE illness, I can say he is a fantastic advocate for Parkinson’s. He told us that he has no issues with people staring or looking at him as he makes his way around and that is his key marketing point – himself. He uses the fact that people notice/look/stare as opportunities to get talking to them and he is a living breathing advert for Parkinson’s. I had no idea Parkinson’s had these effects, I thought it was just the shaking hand thing that you often see on TV programmes.
So things are sometimes not what they seem with VISIBLE illnesses just as they are with INVISIBLE.
NETs can be invisible before and after diagnosis
I know from reading and participating in Neuroendocrine Cancer (NET Cancer) forums that many patients with my own condition frequently encounter people who clearly do not understand much about the effects of NET Cancer on someone’s body (and mind) and day-to-day living which for many can be described as a struggle. I read one story about a lady who was accused by a co-worker of faking her cancer because she looked so well! How many of my NET Cancer patient readers have been told they look really well? This is something frequently said to me and I now respond with the customary “Yes, but you should see my insides“.
Not many NET Cancer patients are subjected to the rigours of chemotherapy and I for one am thankful for that. However, many NET cancer patients have had some ‘bad ass’ surgeries and will be treated for the remainder of their life with (at least) large anti tumour and hormone inhibiting injections and perhaps other side effect inducing drugs. There is no 5 year or indeed any remission for many NET Cancer patients. What is incurable has to be endured! Moreover, they will be tested at regular intervals to ensure remnant tumours are ‘at bay’ and that no new ones have appeared. So the potential for a new or re-diagnosis is there at every single meeting with their specialist. All of that comes with a price in terms of quality of life.
I’m not trying to compete with other cancers or chronic illnesses, I’m just saying that a NET Cancer patient who looks well, may not be well inside – body and mind! Nor am I asking for pity – I am, however, asking for understanding.
When I read about some of the issues others deal with, I suspect I’m one of the luckier patients. I’m in reasonable condition and put up with a number of minor irritants which I suspect are due to the consequences of my cancer treatment rather than from Carcinoid Syndrome. However, one thing that does scare me from time to time is stomach cramps. Hopefully I’m not tempting fate as they seem to be reduced this year. However, when I suffer these, it does worry me, not just because they can sometimes be very painful and debilitating, but I know that I must go to the toilet ASAP. Handy if I’m in the house, not so handy if I’m on a plane, down town or anywhere where toilets are not in abundance.
I try not to let this problem stop me leading as normal a lifestyle as possible and as I said previously, it doesn’t really happen that frequently. Long flights are one of the few times I take Loperamide (Imodium) and for long drives and trips down town, I’m simply reliant on toilet availability. Sometimes I find only the disabled toilet is available and when it’s urgent I have no qualms about using it. Some of them are locked and you have to go get a key and again I have no qualms about asking for access despite my outwardly healthy look – nobody has argued yet. If necessary (sufficiently urgent), I’ll even ask to use the staff toilets in shops etc. I do have a card in my wallet which I obtained from my friends in the NET Patient Foundation but I’ve not yet had to use it ‘in anger’.
Are you nodding your head at these issues? I also suspect quite a few of you will therefore enjoy reading an article which has given me the inspiration and motivation to update this blog post. It’s about a lady who has major abdominal issues through surgery and illness (inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)) and to me this sounds like a worse condition than many NET Cancer patients endure. She too looks outwardly healthy but this illness is clearly a major disability. I’d like to think this type of incident is not that common but her response to it was magnificent, well written and apparently it went viral. What great publicity that must have been for IBD.
Read the post here, it’s brilliant: CLICK HERE TO READ
(p.s. ‘Loo’ is British slang for toilet)
Thanks for reading
You may also enjoy these similarly related articles:
Shame on you! – click here
I look well but you should see my insides – click here
Not every illness is visible – click here
You must be doing OK, you’ve not had Chemotherapy – click here
Not the stereotypical picture of sick – click here
An Ode to Invisible Illness – click here
Poker Face or Cancer Card – click here
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