When I was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, the first thing I did was turn to my friend, and fellow sufferer, Caroline for advice.

Two years after her diagnosis she was out the other side, healed, positive and thriving. I wanted whatever she had.

As well as being brutally honest about the toll that the treatment would have on my body, she told me I would be moved to tears by the kindness and generosity of some of my friends. She was right.

She also said that I would be shocked and upset by the ones who disappeared into a black hole. She was bang on the money with that too. One friend I’d only recently supported through an employment tribunal wrote me a lengthy email, complete with bullet points, detailing all the reasons she was going to have to ‘step back from our friendship’.

There were a small group of women who formed cliques, turning their illness into a competition and making you feel judged for the choices you make through treatment, writes the anonymous contributor

There were a small group of women who formed cliques, turning their illness into a competition and making you feel judged for the choices you make through treatment, writes the anonymous contributor

There were a small group of women who formed cliques, turning their illness into a competition and making you feel judged for the choices you make through treatment, writes the anonymous contributor

The only thing Caroline said that I was sceptical about was when she warned me to ‘watch out for the competitive cancer lot’. According to her there were a small group of women who formed cliques, turning their illness into a competition and making you feel judged for the choices you make through treatment.

It sounded so unlikely to me; surely we’d be a band of sisters united in our support for one another as we battled this awful disease? But it turns out she was right about that one too.

My cancer was a type called ‘triple negative’. A less common and particularly aggressive strain, triple negative means that, unlike the majority of breast cancers, it doesn’t have receptors for oestrogen, progesterone or the HER2 protein, making it particularly challenging to treat.

Little did I know my nasty cancer would earn me extra cool points among some of the competitive cancer cliques.

Soon after my diagnosis I joined a local breast cancer support group near my home in west London, meeting some amazingly inspirational women, with three in particular becoming absolute godsends in my darkest moments. I’m still good friends with two of them. One, sadly, is no longer with us.

Among my cancer club friends was Adele. Her cancer was not aggressive, had not spread to her lymph nodes and her oncologist was confident they could treat it with a minor lumpectomy and no chemotherapy.

When Adele stopped attending our weekly meet ups I called to see if she was OK. She said she had decided to drop out as a handful of the other women had made her feel unwelcome. It transpired that instead of being delighted that her cancer wasn’t as serious as some of ours, they’d been resentful and suggested she shouldn’t be in the group.

When I raised this at our next meeting, one of Adele’s detractors doubled down, saying: ‘It’s like attending a brain tumour support group with a headache.’

I have to stress that the overwhelming majority of the women I met were fantastic. But a small, hard core of cancer ‘mean girls’ often upset the equilibrium.

Most of us were being treated at the same west London hospital, which also had a private wing attached. Talk of which oncologist we were under was a big topic. A particularly handsome consultant we’d nicknamed Dr Adonis was the oncologist everyone wanted — and not just because he was easy on the eye.

He was helpful, supportive and would answered emails and take phone calls outside appointment times. Being treated on the NHS, I was lucky enough to be one of his patients – much to the fury of a group member who had been unable to secure his services privately.

‘How did you get him for free?’ she demanded.

When she later discovered that I work in TV production, she insisted I must have promised him television work.

Having one of the more deadly types of cancer meant that, in their eyes, I’d earned my place at the meetings, but it didn’t stop them making digs about other things.

I’m divorced with no children, and was told by two different women that cancer was much ‘easier’ for me because I didn’t have to break my bad news to children or try and keep a home running throughout my treatment.

No; it just meant I had to work while feeling like the living dead, because I had nobody else to support me. It meant I often suffered alone because I felt too much of a nuisance to ask friends to help me with everyday things like shopping, cleaning or gardening.

After attending a few group get-togethers, it became clear that we split into two very different groups. There were the purists — the ones who saw their cancer as a wake-up call to overhaul their lives. They ate organically, were obsessed with juicing, eschewed all chemicals in their beauty products and did yoga and meditation.

Then there was the rest of us. Hardly hellraisers to start with, we considered it just rotten luck that we’d got cancer — and we were damned if we were going to make ourselves even more miserable by giving up wine and pizza.

Things came to a head during a group meal. Us drinkers could feel the purists’ eyes boring into us every time we ordered another bottle of plonk. Finally, one of them spoke up, saying she thought we were being ‘disrespectful’ to our doctors by drinking alcohol when it was a known contributing factor to breast cancer. Had we been drinking like teenagers at Freshers’ Week she might have had a point, but we’re talking about a few glasses of chilled prosecco.

It wasn’t just the local group where I encountered judgment either.

My doctors decided they wanted to shrink my tumour with chemotherapy before surgery and, hoping to hang on to my hair as long as possible, I opted to wear a cold cap to prevent loss.

At my second chemo session I found myself sitting next to a patient who was bald. We exchanged some polite chit chat before she asked me why I was wearing the cap. I told her my hair was my best feature and I’d like to try and preserve it.

‘Wow, that never even occurred to me, I just want to live,’ she replied.

I wasn’t being oversensitive; she clearly thought I was being vain for caring about my appearance while being ravaged by a killer disease.

I told her that I wanted to live too (I wouldn’t be sitting in the bloody chair with chemo running through my veins if I didn’t!) but if I could survive with a full head of hair that would be a bonus. Then I put my ear buds in and ignored her.

Over the course of my treatment I noticed that some women wore their cancer side effects with pride, almost like a badge of honour. No wigs, no microbladed brows. Absolutely their choice, of course. Yet a handful seemed to look down on those of us who didn’t act in the same way, the ones who raided Selfridges’ wig department and paid fortunes to have our brows tattooed.

Tests revealed I didn’t carry the Breast Cancer 1 or 2 genes, meaning I didn’t need to have a preventative double mastectomy. In fact, Dr Adonis was so happy with the way the nuclear chemo had shrunk the tumour, he said I didn’t have to go ahead with the originally proposed unilateral mastectomy, unless I wanted to.

Instead, he could save my cancer-stricken breast by removing my shrunken tumour and padding out the space left with fat from my abdomen.

Four years on, I am cancer free, happy and healthy, and my fury at the competitive cancer lot has faded to a source of amusement, the survivor writes (file photo)

Four years on, I am cancer free, happy and healthy, and my fury at the competitive cancer lot has faded to a source of amusement, the survivor writes (file photo)

Four years on, I am cancer free, happy and healthy, and my fury at the competitive cancer lot has faded to a source of amusement, the survivor writes (file photo)

Keeping my boob and losing some tummy fat? Brilliant! Or so I thought.

‘Why are you doing that?’ asked one horrified chemo patient who had the same type of cancer as me.

‘You know our cancer is the one that comes back, don’t you? Get them both off, then you’ll never have to worry.’

Explaining that I didn’t want to surgically remove healthy body parts seemed like a no-brainer to me. But again, another woman judged me for making a decision she wouldn’t have.

I came across a similar attitude with two of the ‘purists’. They’d had mastectomies and spurned reconstruction, looking stony-faced when others joked they were going to ask their surgeon to give them Dolly Parton-like proportions.

Four years on, I am cancer free, happy and healthy, and my fury at the competitive cancer lot has faded to a source of amusement.

I’ve encountered competitive and cliquey women at school, at university, at work and even at the gym… but I never imagined I’d run into them in a cancer support group!

Names have been changed

Source: Mail Online

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