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Last week I posed the question- which would you rather have, progressive disability or sudden disability? That post spurred a lot of interest, so here is round two.
First, some introductions:
Progressive disability is what I have. My particular version is called Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS). I was diagnosed 8 years ago with the slightest limp. Now I spend all day in a wheelchair. I know some advanced MS patients who long for the days when they could sit in a wheelchair for hours on end.
Cancer is an even more nebulous affliction than last week’s sudden disability was. The term “cancer” covers the spectrum from types that rarely kill, such as skin cancer, to types that often kill, such as lung cancer.
What are some of the similarities?
- With both progressive disability and cancer there is a DAY, a singular moment in time, that is your day of diagnosis. For some patients, with either PPMS or cancer, there are hints or suspicions before diagnosis day. For other patients, it comes as a complete surprise (I was in the former group). Diagnosis renders your life a dichotomy- there is the life you lived before your diagnosis and the life you live after. It’s as if two different beings occupy your body, one at a time, handing off the baton on diagnosis day like track athletes in a relay race.
- In each case, progressive disability and cancer, soon after diagnosis you are faced with treatment choices, none of which are very appealing or guarantee a positive outcome. In the case of PPMS the choices are either to treat the symptoms only, to try some unproven treatment to slow down the progression, or to do nothing. In the case of cancer the options are usually surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a combination of all three, or nothing at all.
- With both progressive disability and cancer you disclose your new reality to family, friends, and often coworkers. Disclosure to those you hold most dear is a gut wrenching experience, where you do your best to put a positive spin on the situation to minimize the drama. They usually see right through you though.
- PPMS rarely kills- directly and suddenly anyway. In most cases it has the effect of shortening your lifespan by a number of years, but, with some exceptions, it is not in the strictest sense a killing disease. Cancer, on the other hand, always carries with it the cloud of potential death. Depending on the type of cancer, the prognosis ranges anywhere from “most people have a complete recovery from this” to “you need to get your affairs in order.” In summary, with progressive disability death is rarely part of the initial discussion. With cancer, death is usually part of the initial discussion.
- Cancer is often cured. Cancer can be transient- visiting upon you for some part of your life, and if you survive, leaving you at some later point. People sometimes speak of their cancer in the past tense. PPMS is never cured. Once PPMS visits you, it doesn’t leave. People with PPMS are unable to refer to it in the past tense.
- Similarly, people with PPMS don’t have the emotional highs and lows associated with cancer. We know we have it. Acceptance comes early. We never deal with the disappointment of hoping that just maybe we beat it, only to learn months or years later that in fact we didn’t. Cancer patients ride more of an emotional roller coaster than progressive disability patients do, at least in this regard.
- Cancer is common. Everyone knows someone who has had cancer. Most of us have lost loved ones to cancer. Many among us harbor a palpable fear of developing cancer. On the other hand, many people don’t personally know anyone with a progressive disability like PPMS. I didn’t. It’s one of those conditions that few people waste any time dreading.
So, which would you rather have- progressive disability or cancer? My response is a bit of a copout. I would answer the question with another question. What kind of cancer are we talking about?
I would choose cancer over PPMS if it was a type that has, oh, a 60% chance or better of survival. I would, however, choose PPMS over cancers with a 40% or higher mortality rate. But that’s just me. And, frankly, that’s just me today. Ask me tomorrow or next year, and I’m likely to give you a different number.
So, which would you rather have- progressive disability or cancer?
Disclaimer: Of course there is no competition here, and certainly no right answer. I’m writing these types of posts to raise awareness of the issues people like me face, based on my personal experiences, and the issues people with other conditions face, based on my limited understanding of their situations. Comments are encouraged. Disappointment, outrage and disgust are discouraged, but understandable.