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My Blood Hates Me.

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What's Up Your Butt? Kiss My Bald Head. I'm Not an Asshole. Surgically Speaking. Virtually all of them are written by cancer patients younger than The blogs are just one way younger patients are addressing the absurdity of life with cancer with humor, rather than pink-ribboned, glassy-eyed earnestness. About 70, people between the ages of 18 and 40 are diagnosed with cancer every year, representing about 6 percent of all new cancer cases. About 10, young adults die from cancer annually, more than from any other disease.

This is not the best statistic to stumble on when you are looking online for hope, as I did in September after my doctor told me he found a growth in my colon. There I was—nonsmoker, athlete, young—diagnosed with colon cancer, the disease that more commonly afflicts overweight, elderly men.

And all I could think was: how inconvenient. I was a travel writer and had just scheduled trips to Rome and Cologne for the following week. I would have to reschedule those flights. Then I did what anyone of my generation would do: I Googled "colon cancer. I swore I would never use the Internet to research colon cancer again.

That promise lasted all of five days.

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At the same time, I started receiving books, stacks of self-help volumes from well-meaning people. Books claiming that cancer was hate materialized in the body of people who don't love enough. Books promising you can cure cancer by drinking wheat-grass juice. It made me want to throw up, even before my chemotherapy regimen started and I became a vomiting expert. I didn't need more things to make me feel guilty and excluded.

I already felt like an outsider. I was by far the youngest patient in the oncology ward. I was too cynical to believe herbal remedies were going to cure me but unwilling to venture onto medical Web sites, where the depressing prognosis stats were lurking, ready to scare the hell out of me. That's when I found Planet Cancer, the most popular cancer humor Web site.

They coined the term "cancertainment" to describe the growing subculture of young cancer patients seeking both more information and a space to indulge in inside jokes like "What's one of the top reasons to date a cancer chick?


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Recreational drugs are paid for by insurance. According to Kairol Rosenthal, author of Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer In Your 20's and 30's , the traditional cancer support system is set up to deal with older patients. Young people want to talk about different issues that the typical cancer patient might consider taboo: How do I have sex with a colostomy bag?

How do I masturbate in a hospital? Will I have to choose between chemo and grad school?

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Rosenthal, a slim brunette with a posture of a dancer, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer nine years ago, when she was a modern dance choreographer. Unable to take radiation treatment, she currently has two tumors resting on her jugular vein, although they haven't been growing.

Now 36 years old, the Chicago resident doesn't believe in the benefits of thinking positive. This is a sharp departure from the cancer survivorship rhetoric of the last 20 years. For members of an earlier generation, curing oneself of cancer was often associated with turning inward to positive thinking and spirituality and away from anything resembling cynicism and irony. Experts nowadays say that the power of positive thinking might be overrated thankfully.

Jimmie Holland, a psychiatrist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the author of The Human Side of Cancer, confirms that patients often feel that being sad, scared, upset or angry is unacceptable and that emotions can somehow make their tumors grow.

I do not believe for an instant that people whose cancer progresses have a weaker spirit or character than anyone else. Despite their cynicism, young cancer patients are some of the most vocal cancer activists out there, precisely because they don't feel like they need to whisper after they lose a breast, a testicle, or sex drive. They start foundations, write books and blogs, launch clubs, and use technology to spread the news.

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Garland Harwood, a year-old public-relations manager, combined both advocacy and humor when he planned a fundraising event on behalf of the American Cancer Society of Brooklyn, N. Ross, 27, first got the idea to create a stand-up show about cancer last year, when a man sitting on next to him on the bus asked: "Did you shave your head because you're losing your hair?

I am on chemotherapy. Only one person in the audience, a cancer patient, said later it was "just too much.

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The reality of cancer among young patients obviously isn't funny at all. As a group, we often fall into a no-man's land between pediatric oncology and adult oncology, with few traditional outlets able to cater to our needs. Young adults are the largest underinsured group. Please note that TheJournal. For more information on cookies please refer to our cookies policy.

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Short URL. About the author:. About the author. Emer McLysaght. See more articles by Emer McLysaght.