Got cancer? In the movies, you have six months left to live.

Countless movies feature cancer as a key plot element. Heroes or villains are extra heroic or villainous because they secretly know they only have six months to live. They have nothing to lose, and they’d just as soon go out in a blaze of glory. Or, to cover the cost of all the huge medical bills over his remaining six months, our protagonist begins cooking meth. Or, in a cancer love story, a couple falls deeply in love. Unfortunately, one or both of them have only six months left to live.

Sometimes it’s three, nine, or twelve months. But it’s almost always six. And in the movies, oncologists giving their new patients an initial diagnosis invariably include this information. Immediately.

None of mine ever did. They never said anything at all about how long I had left. Once I asked my radiation oncologist about this. “Was it,” I asked, “because you didn’t want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and have me just give up and expect to die after six months?”

“No,” he told me. “Nothing like that. And yeah, oncologists always say that in the movies. But the truth is, we just don’t know how long a patient will survive. We almost never know.”

I’m not a doctor. Not even in the movies. But here’s my inexpert advice. Decide to stick around a while longer. Because we almost never know.

Author: alcambronne

Retired photographer, author, and cancer survivor living in northwest Wisconsin.