Ass U Me

The universe tried to remind me of something last week: people like to comment on a situation, with an air of expertise, and they know NOTHING about that which they speak. Dear Universe, please, a less drastic reminder.

I was in a severe auto accident a week ago. I follow a local newspaper on Facebook because it helpfully posts accidents that clog up traffic–so I can use alternate routes if possible. This time I was part of the clog–tho I was NOT the cause (more in a minute). I noticed 18 (!) comments on the post, and wondered what on earth people could have to say about the situation. Ha! Things like, “that intersection is awful”, general derision about the state’s inability to reduce the accidents, and my favorite: “stop tailgating”.

All the comments are true; the intersection known as 5 Points (because it is a 5 way intersection, not a normal 4 way intersection) is a mess and the site of numerous accidents, and not just in tourist season. And cars do tailgate and get stuck in the middle and cause gridlock. But none of these things applied in this particular accident on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s what REALLY happened:

I was heading south on Rt 1 around 12:50 PM to pick someone up from an appointment, and was not using my own car for once. Traffic light was green and there were no other cars along side of me–highly unusual in that dreaded intersection. As I rolled along I noticed a car coming at my left. It seemed to be speeding up, NOT slowing, as it should’ve been. I started to brake, looking to see if I could swerve to get away. I was angry and scared, what the hell was this car doing, coming at me like that?! Next thing I knew I was spinning, I was being shaken, loud crunch, loud pop of the airbag as it whooped me upside the head.

The 2 kind men who pulled me out of the car filled me in on what happened, on what I could not see. The driver of the other car was sitting in the middle of northbound traffic, impaired/asleep/something and people had been honking horns at him. He came to, and just slammed on his accelerator, right into me, and then into another car heading east, as he had been heading west.

I don’t know why he was unconscious in the middle of traffic, and it doesn’t matter, ultimately. Point is, it was the main contributing factor in the accident, and it could happen at any intersection. Just like other locals, I moan about 5 Points and the poor driving decisions made there by frustrated tourists wanting to rush their vacation, or other laborers like myself, just trying to not be late for work or appointments. Numerous accidents there compile a bundle of stats citizens use in their attempts to get the State Highway Administration to take some action. I joined that stat pile I guess, except the idiocy of the intersection’s design really, really, made no difference this time.

Yeah, that tire can’t be put back on–the rod is broken, the brake line, all of it, just, severed.

I wanted so bad to jump into the comment thread and ask these people why they assumed various factors (and what happens when we assume–hint, look at post title). The newspaper’s post was short on details–it merely stated it was a 3 car accident, traffic clogged–maybe use a different route if possible. It did mention that one person was taken away via ambulance, it did not specify which person. I could tell them it was the driver who caused the accident. I had no detectable injuries. I still do not know what is going on with him. The car I was driving is damaged beyond repair. The pics of the damage are scary enough to make me realize if impact had occurred a millisecond different, things might have been disastrous for me indeed.

I sit here a week later, reviewing, finally emerging from a state of shock or stun, wrapping my head around it. Yes, I did attempt to go to urgent care later that day, but I had no visible problems and the facility I went to would NOT treat any head injury (mainly my ear hurt from the air bag). Hell yeah I was super sore the next day, but that cleared up within days. I’m still shaken, but I cannot afford to be jittery about it. I avoided the intersection for a couple of days, but my job requires travel through that area multiple times a day, so I had to get over myself. I’m not saying I didn’t curl up in a ball of fear for a day–that did happen–but it’s fine now. But I couldn’t help thinking about this, ummmm, shall we call it Instant Expert Syndrome?

Haven’t we all been through this as cancer patients? Especially with all the awareness now–this awareness that doesn’t lead to education and understanding? Lung cancer patient? Yep, people ASSume a smoker, because they’ve been told for years about links between smoking and cancer. So they cannot imagine other scenarios, that non-smokers can get lung cancer too, for instance. Any gyno-type cancer? Yep, the ASSumption she didn’t get pap smears, never mind that particular screening method is NOT for ALL the cancers. And the biggest ASSumption, that is my personal bug-a-boo, the conflation of screening=prevention. That somehow, it is a patient’s fault they got cancer if they did not do regular screenings. Or didn’t get a genetic testing (see all the judgement flung at Jolie a few years ago–ugh, I cannot revisit it, too awful). A few facts have stuck in people’s heads and they are unable to imagine OTHER factors, that they often do NOT know the whole story. And slogans like “screening saves lives” confuse people to the point they think “screening prevents cancer”, and we know that is so not true.

Now, here’s the part when a reader would say–who cares what other people think? True, I kind of don’t care what others think–about the car accident. I know it wasn’t my fault, and telling people crazy accidents happen at ANY intersection, even the most well designed, won’t make any difference. Not my job to warn people about it–that is what driver’s ed is for.

But I am re-committed (again) to trying  to educate/advocate/make-people-understand various facts about cancer. I’m tired of dumb stigmas. I’m tired of awareness without understanding. Again, er, still. So, still, I will continue to make others understand the reality of cancer, not the slogan version, to which they bring those incorrect assumptions to fill in the blanks of stuff they don’t know. Because, clearly, that is what humans do: create a story based on a few details–and are so, so wrong.

Epilogue:

Other fall out from this damn accident is me having to grapple with something I have submerged all these years away from DX–this need for safety, security, routine, predictable days. I’ve never been particularly  adventurous or a risk-taker. But after treatment, I just wanted nothing big to happen to me ever again–even something good if there could be a “trade-off” of no bad big things happening to me (I know that isn’t how it works, I’ve written posts about that). I just wish…the Universe hadn’t clobbered me again last week.

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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.