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 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.