An Awful Anecdote

I like to think of myself as a skeptic about damn near everything in life, but I just experienced a bit of synchronicity. No, the Cancer Curmudgeon is not going all woo woo, but this is an interesting little story. Take it how you will.

There has been quite the ripple in CancerLand about the win/lose language, and how it seems to blame those who die of breast cancer. I have a couple of views on the subject that could be considered offensive, and I’m considering a side topic of how the dominant culture controls language and attitudes, so maybe I’ll weigh in about all that later. At any rate, these two blog posts (Nancy’s Point and Regrounding—I hope these writers do not mind my putting links to their blog in my cranky blog) and article from JAMA are providing some interesting food for thought, for me anyway.

So about how cancer patients seem to be blamed for 1) getting cancer (oooo, sore subject for me) and for 2) dying from it. I have indeed seen phrases like “battled heart disease” or “battled Alzheimer’s” but not nearly to the degree I see “battled cancer”. For the most part, phrasing, especially by the media, carefully avoids saying a person lost their battle with, oh, say, a car, for instance.

I live and work at the beach, in Mid-Atlantic states where hurricanes and Nor’easters are more frequent than snow. The alarming increase of snow storms and the massive amounts of snow that has landed here last winter and now this one are just not normal. And I hate it (as I’ve whined on Facebook). This area does not have the money, equipment, and human power to deal with snow. And the snow is always preceded by ice. People love to retire to this area and make fun of us locals, pointing out how a couple of inches cripple the area. It makes me crazy (a rant for another day, not here on a cancer blog—for now, I recommend reading Celia Rivenbark’s “The Southerner Versus Snow”). That’s right, we shut down because we simply are not used to driving in this mess. I see the evidence on the side of the roads whenever I venture out.

I was reading the local news this morning to ascertain the danger of the roads, to strategize how to deal with the day. I came across a news blurb about a fatal car accident. Using the clipped, informative language of news blurbs, the piece explained how a man’s car slid off the road into a slushy area, and spun out of control, ran into an oncoming truck used for snow removal. The man died, the occupants of the snow removal truck were slightly injured. The last sentence got me: the police noted that it was likely that the “excessive” speed of the car was a factor in causing the accident. The journalist writing the article oh so carefully did not imply the accident was the fault of the dead man. He may have been speeding, may have been unsafe in dangerous driving conditions. He may have engaged in behaviors that caused his accident. Therefore he may have caused the accident which led to his own death. But he will not be blamed for it.

I’m not saying this man’s death is not sad and tragic—it is. I’m not saying that accidents don’t happen—especially car accidents—they do. Do we all do dumb things that are unsafe? Yes, and sometimes everything is ok, others, well, we call those occurrences accidents. Because even if we are doing unsafe things, we are not trying cause our own death. So my question is: if I drive recklessly, I can cause my death and it would be an accident, yet, I can do or not do any number of things that might have caused my cancer, it is no accident, and folks can pat themselves on the back and think they are safe from getting cancer, because, you know, they’re so healthy?

I dislike engaging in that “no one says xyz about this disease or thing” argument (for example, “no one sexualizes whatever cancer”, I do not like that line of thinking—a rant for another day). But I cannot help but wonder here if anyone other than the police will ask about this man “was he speeding?”, in those hushed, slightly accusatory tones I heard when folks would quiz me about what I did or didn’t do that may or may not have caused my cancer. Will anyone read the article and think, “hmm he brought it on himself, I’m better than that, that won’t happen to me”?

The issue of blame in cancer is one I’ve ranted about, re-posted, too often (and here it is again: Did You?). I’ll tackle it again. Maybe I wouldn’t have had these thoughts about this man and this accident had the blame issue not reared its ugly head again this week. I don’t know. It just seemed so unfair to read that careful language in a news article today, and know that the next celebrity who dies from cancer will be labeled as losing their battle.

File this under things that make you go hmmmm.

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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.

13 thoughts on “An Awful Anecdote”

  1. dear CC,

    there’s just too damned much DRAMA – it’s everywhere! the reporter added drama second-hand from the police adding drama with the words “likely” and “excessive” which would never appear in a POST accident police report involving a death. but everyone is in such a hurry to “report” and it’s gotta sell! it’s entirely possible that the poor man’s vehicle was launched into a higher than safe speed once he began skidding out of control. implied blame is mean and shamefull.

    and you are so right – the next celeb to die of cancer with undoubtedly be touted as having lost their battle (after a valiant fight). GRRRRR. to. drama.

    much love,
    Karen ooxoo

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  2. I’ve been through two cancer experiences—my son had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia from age 8 to 11, 2001–04, and I’ve had triple negative breast cancer since Dec 2013. No one really asked me what I fed him, or me, or if he played too many video games, or if I breastfed my kids. What they did ask, for both of our cancers, was how did I know I had it? What were the signs? How long did the doctors take to diagnose it? What kinds of tests? So I haven’t experienced the blame game. But everybody LOVES that battle lingo!

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    1. The what were the signs question seems fair–coming from a place of fear, no doubt. You’re lucky to have never gotten those did you questions.
      I think there is certainly enough folks expressing distaste for the battle lingo, and indeed, those who embrace it are pushing back a bit. Ugh, hope it does not become one of those dividing lines in cancer, like the pink ribbon has become.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The blame game increases in intensity when you have a recurrence or 2 or 3. I see it happening too when the stage 1 woman with the excellent prognosis suddenly becomes stage 4? Did you have a double mastectomy? No? Didn’t you change your diet? Didn’t you switch to an alkaline diet? Give up sugar and dairy? These questions come from both the non-cancer people and from those with early stage breast cancer who still believe early detection, double mastectomys, and 5 year survival rates mean you are safe and cured. 30% of us will ultimately become stage 4 (plus the other10% who are diagnosed stage 4 in the first instance). I actually find the comments from others in Cancerland more offensive than those outside of it. It is all fear based – looking desperately to distinguish you from me – and swallowing too much of the pink koolaide. It was a relief to finally learn I was BRCA1 positive as that tends to shut most people up other than those who believe in Melissa Etheridge’s theory of turning our genes off and on like a light switch. Great couple of posts!

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    1. Ugh, I was just now listening to the video in the LA Times/Laura Beckland essay and she mentions a study or report saying something like 50% of people believe patients responsible for their own metastasis?! Chilling.
      Thanks, I’ve just become so weary lately with the ongoing battle language, and realize I’ve been writing about it for 2 years now (just re-post The D Word on Facebook–because if people insist on calling me a warrior, I insist on better weapons). Grrr.
      Thanks!

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  4. Reflecting on 2015 early in the year, the world and I need peace.

    Here’s what I resolve:
    I am not going to battle or wage a courageous fight against breast cancer. I decline to be a soldier in the war on my disease. Nor will I win or lose or survive any struggles as a crusader on a cancer campaign.

    The metaphors in my community of choice involve collaboration and caring, not fear and fighting. The many who saved my life are part of my team, not my army. Confrontation doesn’t describe my cancer experience and combat doesn’t improve my mindset.

    Words are insights into worldviews. Thanks for your wise words.

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  5. People are scared and don’t want to be in the same shoes as a diagnosed breast cancer patient so they lean on denial to comfort themselves that they won’t end up like you. “She didn’t exercise enough..” or ate too many sweets, drank too much, ate red meat… blah, blah, blah… In my cancer neighborhood , many have been told their cancer was caused by the environment. And even then, people are in disbelief because of their fears, environment is out of their realm of control.

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    1. Exactly! A power plant in the area in which I work has long been accused of cancer causing issues. But as there is just too much power keeping the plant from shutting down–people tend to just let go of the idea it may have caused any harm. All because we cannot control it. Grrr…..

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