A cancer survivor explains why each person experiences cancer differently – from side effects to treatments and more.

I was talking recently to a college student who will soon graduate and embark on the path to her future. She was telling me that she was overwhelmed by the decisions she had to make while several of her friends already know. I softly told her, “We all have our journey. Yours will be different from theirs. Please don’t compare yourself because it is your journey not theirs.”

Later I realized like most people, I am better at giving advice than receiving it. Occasionally I will hear from other cancer survivors from all over the world. They have the same rare cancer I do, which is myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). This is so rare that only 10,000 cases are diagnosed each year and my specific type is 10% of that. These people are hungry to talk to at least one other person with the same diagnosis.

Sometimes they ask me what they should do, where they should go for treatment or which protocols to seek. I refer them to national organizations like Aplastic Anemia and MDS International (AAMDS) and the MDS Foundation to receive information on treatment centers for this type of cancer and specialists to assist them.

I remind them that I can never advise treatment or tell them to do what I did. Every one of us is different. We each have different bodies, we vary in ages, and we may have other illnesses and diverse health problems. We have oncologists who treat each of us differently, and our access to treatment centers depends on where we live. No two of us react to treatments exactly alike, while we suffer a variety of side effects.

What makes us special and unique makes it hard to set up a protocol of treatment. This is exactly why being an oncologist has to be one of the most challenging professions in the world. They cannot treat any two people exactly alike. We each have a different journey.

We have family, friends and medical personnel to support us, but ultimately we experience our cancer alone. This makes it hard, but it also should make us feel special. There is no one else in the world like us and there will never be again. Wow – we are indeed extraordinary!

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