Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Could There Be Such A Thing?

What kind of response are you having right now, after just seeing those three words, “the ‘good’ cancer?” For context, the picture underneath the words, is a slide showing what “Hodgkin’s Lymphoma” looks like under a microscope. While a lot of my readers are fellow Hodgkin’s survivors, many are not. In fact, it is likely that many have not had anyone more than a relative having to deal with cancer. Perhaps, some may have been lucky enough not to have been exposed to the world of cancer at all.

I think it is a safe bet, that I know no one who would ever call cancer “good.” Wait, let me re-phrase that, I know very few who are doctors that would ever call cancer “good.” Now you are probably wondering, “why would a doctor call cancer ‘good?’ If anyone should know cancer is bad, it should be doctors!”

Yet, as a Hodgkin’s survivor myself, I actually heard this sentence myself from my oncologist back in 1988, “if you were going to get a cancer, this is a good cancer to get.” Put yourself in my position, sitting on the exam table, and I am being told, at the age of 22, that I have cancer. Back in 1988, all I knew of cancer, was that people died from from it. I was in shock, unable to speak, yet I wanted to scream back at him, “good cancer? Are you fucking kidding me? How about no cancer? That would be great to hear. Not that I have a ‘good’ cancer!”

In fairness to doctors, especially oncologists, most have to deal with death, a lot. In some instances, they can become numb to having to deliver bad news, because if they emotionally attach themselves, they likely would not have long careers. Some doctors, like mine, had the personality and delivery of a metal bed pan. Again, you can only relate to the shock if you have ever had to use one. It was shocking enough to be told I had cancer. But sugar coating it for me, made my blood boil.

I know that I am not the only one who fought Hodgkin’s to be told this, most of my fellow survivors that I communicate with have been told the same thing in one form or another.

Once emotions settle down, one can understand why they call Hodgkin’s a “good cancer.” It has one of the higher remission rates in the low to mid 90’s (percent). And there are other cancers that get referred to as “good cancers” as well. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) has what is considered a low death rate, with treatment often delayed under a “watch and wait” situation resulting in the “good cancer” label. Thyroid cancer is also considered highly treatable, hence a “good cancer.” I cannot speak for survivors of CLL or thyroid cancer, in regard if they had been ever told they had a “good cancer.” It is likely there are other cancers considered “good” for various reasons.

But should a cancer patient be told that they have a “good cancer?” Does it matter whether it has a high remission rate or low death rate? While I have survived Hodgkin’s 32 years now, the treatments used to give me that remission, have left me feeling as if I were treated like a lab rat, having left me with over a dozen issues that medicine was unaware of that could develop decades ago, and in some cases, not correctable or the risk too great to attempt. And not every survivor develops the same issues. Some relapse, even multiple times or develop a second, third, or fourth cancer. Some, pass away before completing treatment or soon after, such as “Michael”:


No, if you have ever been diagnosed with cancer, regardless which type, there is no “good cancer” that has zero side effects from treatments and 100% remission. And there is no way to know if you will be the lucky one that faces either situation. “Good cancer” means nothing to us other than making us feel like we should minimize our situation if not as dire as facing a terminal diagnosis. Nothing will make a cancer patient feel worse, than our emotional fears not being taken seriously because our feelings have been invalidated by the words “good cancer.”

If I could offer this to current and up and coming medical professionals, do not use the words “good cancer.” Instead, offer the encouragement of the statistics that show the remission potential. Let us, the patient, determine that the information is good for us. Instead, learn the resources for support, medical and emotional, that are available today that were not available decades ago and share them with us. This would be a huge help, a good help for cancer patients. Lastly, tell us that you will do everything you can to get us through our diagnosis, with the best knowledge, the best efforts, and the best support. We know not everyone will survive. We can determine from the statistics that numbers may be on our side, but it is the doctors and nurses that take care of us, that we need to be good, not the cancer.

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2 thoughts on “Could There Be Such A Thing?

  1. Wendy Elmore on said:

    Paul, I have been hit with “good cancer” over the years in conversation and agree with your take on that phrase! Also, I was conclusively diagnosed with HL IN 1987 after suffering for a year with what my Dr called “ Cat Scratch Fever.” I’m currently writing a book about the misdiagnosis and how it affected my life.

    • I was diagnosed a year after you, with just a “common cold.” I understand the rareness of Hodgkin’s makes it hard to diagnose, but ironically more successful to treat, but as you agree, none of us want to hear it is a “good cancer.”
      Wow, “cat scratch fever…” that is the first time I heard that misdiagnosis.
      Good luck on your book.

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