Not Again

Insomnia is a bitch. And a cause of cancer, and I ranted about that ages ago.

So a result of falling asleep too early in front of the tube and being wide awake at midnight is stumbling on an article about a new report pointing out that some large amount of cancers are preventable if everyone would just behave. By behave, I mean: eat right, don’t have fun (er, I mean, smoke or drink), exercise.

YES I GET IT! So do lots of people, even many cancer patients. And I realize many more do NOT get it. A friend reminds me when I rant about this in person, that she watches some folks wonder why they can’t lose weight as they chow down on junk food. So, yes, I concede that while many seem to get the message about the benefits of healthy living, most people (Americans) don’t seem to get it. I do not understand how this ignorance continues, but that is my own failing, my own impatience and intolerance.

Anyway, this piece I had the misfortune of finding wonders why the benefits of healthy lifestyle are used in campaigns about heart disease, and other illnesses, but not cancer. I guess that is just another one of the funny things (not ha ha funny) about living in Cancerland. I am hyper-aware of every magazine cover touting how exercise and certain foods (flavor of the week foods, ha ha) help prevent cancer. So I am just flabbergasted when anyone, especially medical reports, claim that there is this big hole in the conversation around healthy choices and cancer.

I cannot even go into the whole problem I have with this constant focus on one half of the environmental factors in the discussion of causes of cancer. The phrase “environmental factors” refers to everything—diet, exercise, as well as pollution, crap in products and so on, or so I read once, somewhere. As usual, the onus is put on individual choices. I wish Chapter 13 of “Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History” by Florence Williams could be required reading, for like, everyone, ever.

Look, for the millionth time, I’m not knocking healthy choices. Since completing treatment, I have certainly made lifestyle changes for the better, although I indulge in the occasional glass of wine or sweet treat, because I wish to enjoy my life. I just get so sick of how reductive the conversation has become about those environmental factors. And I am tired of the subtle blame the focus on individual behavior invites.

I keep thinking I have this issue out of my system, but no. I wrote this just a few months ago, but, well, here I go repeating myself. I pondered why I and others get a bit sensitive about this issue, about why we perceive this topic as a bit of an attack or blame.

Did You?

Posted on February 15, 2014 by Cancer Curmudgeon

Did you smoke, and for how long?

Did you drink, how much, how often?

Did you have kids?

Did you use a tanning bed?

Did you even try to lose weight?

Did you take hormones or the Pill?

Did you eat enough blueberries?

Did you eat tomatoes?

Did you eat meat?

Did you buy organic?

Did you eat a lot of sugar?

Because if you have cancer, you did it to yourself.

Several days ago, Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society wrote on some news site that most cancers are preventable and made bullet points of the usual laundry list of prevention measures. He did not say that everyone, or me personally, Curmudgeon Q. Cancer Patient, had brought cancer upon themselves/myself. But I still feel a zing when I read or hear this sort of thing. I am still trying to figure out why I get that zing.

Now, I know should avoid comments sections on mainstream news media sites. They cause me much stress—another cause of cancer, naturally. So why read them? Well, it does give a glimpse into how and what people think. Of course one person whose husband died from cancer protested the idea her husband brought it on himself, and another responded along the lines of: all these damn cancer patients are too sensitive, this article isn’t blaming them.

Ah there is the rub. Why are we sensitive? Well, because we get asked those questions I just listed at the start of this post, and more. A lot. Or at least I did. And yes, I brought some of the paranoia on myself, every time I looked at a magazine cover while waiting in line at the grocery store, each one touting some food I hate (fruits, including those cursed tomatoes) as a sure fire way to prevent cancer—and it usually says “prevent”, not “lower your risk”, at least on the cover, the story changes a bit on the pages inside.

Yes, I know, breast cancer patients are not blamed for their situation as much as lung cancer patients or people with heart disease. I just read another article about the latest mammography mess in which the journalist pondered how women think of heart disease as a result of bad behavior, while breast cancer is considered something bad that happens to women. I really have a hard time with this particular misperception that I see in articles more frequently than I’d like. Because from where I’m standing, when I got asked those questions, there was a flicker of a suggestion that this cancer did not just “happen”, but rather, I’d engaged in actions or non-actions that resulted in my getting cancer. I think that could be called blame.

I constantly see pieces linking smoking, and especially alcohol, to breast cancer. Yes I see it more than average folks because, you know, I had breast cancer, so I hone in on these items. But I am sure a few others are seeing it, and it is getting lodged at least in the subconscious. Well, OK, maybe not, given that most local breast cancer fundraisers in my small town are sponsored by bars and other businesses selling alcohol, and yes, alcohol is generally served, never mind all the chatter about alcohol causing breast cancer. Ugh, that is a post for another day.

It’s just that, for anyone to think most people, even on subconscious, unspoken levels, are not blaming the cancer patients, any cancer patients, for getting themselves into their fixes, it’s just…naïve. We must be blamed, we must endure those insulting “did you do this, did you not do that” questions. Some folks MUST blame us, because it is the only way they can assure themselves they’ll be safe from cancer. Anything they do that is different—eating, drinking, having kids—well, that is the get out of cancer free card, isn’t it? If only that were true.

What will it take to end the blame the patient game? Maybe cancer patients are too sensitive, but there is a reason. Too bad sensitivity isn’t transferable to others in need of it.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

9 thoughts on “Not Again”

  1. I feel the zing too. It could be we didn’t have a positive enough attitude or did not believe in God or at least someone’s particular version of God Wait, it must be because of that root canal we had. Oh, you didn’t have one, but you must have. Placing blame will never end until people accept that we really have very little control over what happens to us. Sh** happens. It just does.

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    1. Exactly–well said! I think in one of my older posts I posited the theory that cancer had a motto: shit happens. Certainly seemed to be the motto of my own cancer experience, anyway.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  2. dear CC,

    you said it ALL exactly right here’s what really gets to me, and boy does it leave a bad taste in my mouth. every single time I have been in a doctor’s office waiting area (except my fabulous, sensitive, and intelligent oncologists (yeah, 2 of them, dammit), those disgusting publications are front and center – in multiples copies, encouraging poor souls to “go ahead, take one home and Read it so you will KNOW why you got your own damned cancer. you could have PREVENTED IT, and you need to get the word out about these true and valuable medical FACTS so that the other Stupid people in your life can be INFORMED.” if there are cameras monitoring those waiting area, you just might see a mug shot of me as I gather them all up under the guise of “straightening them” then dropping them off in the ladies’ room wastebasket. wonder what they would call that offense? I call it self preservation as I have experienced other patients getting friendly, then chatting ME up and asking ME questions right from those fucking publications! wouldn’t it be awesome to publish a magazine called “SHIT HAPPENS”???!!! maybe I could ponder that idea if I ever end up in the pokey…

    much love,

    Karen xoxo

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    1. OMG I am rolling with laughter at the mental vision of your “illegal” activities. Is it vandalism or larceny or both?! Either way, I LOVE IT. Maybe you can paint shit happens on these brochures, like a Cancer Banksy!
      So good to hear from you, much love, CC xoxox

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  3. I did so many “right” things, but still got cancer. I hated the clod-like comments from others: If you eat this, forgive that, apply baking soda, lots of Vitamin C!, meditate, eat beets, blah blah blah until all I wanted was to isolate myself. I try to eat in a healthy way, just in case, but in truth, I think so much is not to be understood and so much out of our control. And I’m finally okay with that. But you hit it on the head that the reason people have to find something we did wrong is to assure their own selves that they won’t get cancer because they’re not like us.

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    1. Control–yep, that is the key. Everyone thinks they have it, and I still struggle with it, despite my experience with cancer. Sometimes when I get the “did you” questions, I do want to get to the heart of it, and inform the person that they too, have no control, and they too, can get cancer in spite of best efforts. I guess that would be considered cruel by some, but I wish I’d been so enlightened before I got cancer. Would’ve cut out lots of angst and I could’ve avoided the self blame phase I went through. Sigh.
      Anyway glad to hear from you, thanks as always for commenting, reading! – CC

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  4. Selling something based on false promises has a name, it’s called fraud. Trouble is, stories based in scientific facts are too difficult to translate into the everyday language of our ridiculously dumbed down media. Oncogenes, signalling pathways, enzymes and DNA methylation just don’t appeal to the masses! More importantly, they take away the ability to sell coffee enemas and vitamin C injections under the guise of offering ‘a cure’. I thought we’d done away with snake oil and quackery decades ago – obviously not. Cancer is far more complex than anyone ever imagined so if prevention/cure was simply a case of healthy living, no smoking, no alcohol, diet and exercise, it wouldn’t affect our children. It does. So whilst healthy living might help it in no way offers complete protection and it definitely doesn’t represent a cure.

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    1. Absolutely. Cancer is just too complex for people, and then there is the idea that people like to believe they are in complete control. Most days I can live with it, but every now and then I get overly tired of it all. Medical reports come out and talk about healthy choices lowering risk–I know they are true, but they just seem to give folks who are ignorant of the complexities permission to get all self righteous, and I just can’t bear it!

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