Did You?

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.

Part 2—In Which I Do Not Cool Down Later

I suppose normal people get mad about something, and then cool down about an issue as more time passes. Not so for the curmudgeon. I wrote the previous post in a fit of white hot anger. I went off. I blew a gasket. And a million other clichés anyone can think of. One would think that after 12 hours have passed, my hot head would’ve cooled down. Nope. If anything, my head is hotter.

I wrote from my narrow minded own point of view. That “Time” post contained some—for lack of a better word, triggers—for me. I get so tired every Mother’s Day, the women who’ve chosen to not have children write blog posts or news articles defending their decision. Well, I like reading these pieces, it makes me feel like less of a freak for my own stance. I just hate the way these things pop up every May in an almost defensive “I chose not to have children and that’s ok, I’m not just some sad, unfulfilled woman crying this whole day” way that irks me. I used to think not having kids was a normal, logical choice for myself. With each passing year, I feel more and more as if I’m viewed as some kind of radical, sticking my middle finger up at society by not procreating. Well, yeah, I often am sticking up my middle finger, but in lots of ways for lots of reasons, not child related!

The other trigger is the focus on estrogen positive cancers, ignoring HER2 positives. I actually understand that a bit; only 20% are HER2 positive, so naturally most conversations or information about breast cancer will be about the majority, as maybe it should be. Come to think of it, I marvel at the invention of Herceptin. I cannot believe Big Pharma went out to make a drug for such a small part of a lucrative market (gonna have to read up on the history of that drug). But hey, that drug is the third top seller of all cancer drugs (see here), so I guess I shouldn’t feel bad for the poor ol’ drug companies (YES, being VERY sarcastic). I imagine the sophisticated marketing plan discussion for the drug boiled down to “hey we are only going to be able to get a portion of these desperate women (read breast cancer patients), I know, let’s charge the shit out the women who want this drug!”

But this morning I put myself in the shoes of women who had kids and got hit by cancer…especially estrogen positive cancer. Or wanted kids, and have been denied the chance to have them because of cancer. Or are indeed estrogen positive and chose not to have kids. How do these women feel? If any of these women interpreted the “Time” post the way I did, (that having a baby and breastfeeding it for a year is a way to prevent breast cancer, and if you got breast cancer because you didn’t do this you deserve it, and you’ve put a burden on public health), what must these women feel? If you are such a woman, reading this, I welcome comments (to me, to others, have a conversation here if you want, let loose, I LOVE that). I hesitate to speak for any such woman. I’ve done so before (here), in putting myself in the shoes of those who get so-called unnecessary mastectomies, because I can understand it, although I got the “approved” lumpectomy instead. (Still cannot believe I did that, I fall into so many small percentages regarding cancer, I don’t think the “low probability of breast cancer returning in same or other breast” as doctors like to yammer on about can actually apply to me. I had less than half a percent of a chance of getting cancer before 40 and I did, so you over there with your low stats bullshit, bite me.)

So thoughts on this topic—let ‘em rip, because I want to know. And thanks Cancer In My Thirties, for making me view it another way!

In the meantime, my challenge to the two doctors (Dr. Kathleen Marinelli, MD and Dr. Melissa C. Bartick, MD) quoted in the “Time” post regarding how breast cancer can be prevented by breast feeding: Good job on finding a prevention that many of us are so desperate for. Now, figure out a way to take that knowledge and turn it into another preventative method. Not every woman is cut out to be a mother, and they should not feel like not fulfilling their biological imperative will kill them.

Can I Do Anything?

Great, I have insomnia tonight so I see a post about why sleep deprivation is bad for you. A few clicks into the slideshow and there it is….lack of sleep causes cancer.

Well of course it does. Because there is not a scientist or medical researcher alive that cannot somehow link anything a person does to cancer. And yes, it has to be something the person with cancer did, because we all know those of us with cancer brought it on ourselves. I know I keep harping on the blame the victim issue. I’ll stop when “they” (researchers, scientists, doctors, journalists) stop blaming the patients.

Best part was the note in the blurb saying lack of sleep is linked to recurrence of breast cancer. So I am up at nights sometimes worrying about cancer coming back…and that causes cancer to come back. Or the other half of the time, I’m out like a light, because I still get very tired, very suddenly thanks to all that treatment.

Anyway.

I have to go back to breathing now. Whoops, better not do that, it causes cancer.

Dear Medical Researchers, Philanthropists, and All Media

What has set me off this fine Monday morning? I had the local news on for the morning infusions of doom and gloom and fluffy stories. One of the health headlines: a new study linking alcohol to cancer deaths. According to the segment, this study was done by the American Journal of Public Health, and it is the “first comprehensive study of alcohol connected cancer deaths in 30 years.” Note it says “connected” not caused. The report fails to explain how alcohol consumption makes cells turn into cancer. In fact it only says that number crunchers analyzed how many people died of cancer who also drank alcohol. That is all. According to the study, alcohol accounts for 3.5% of cancer deaths, with 45 to 60% being people who had more than 3 drinks per day, and 30% being those who had about 1.5 drinks per day.

I went to the American Journal of Public Health website and did not see this report in any of the headlines, it may have been in one of the monthly journals but my lame computer skills seem to prevent me from being able to read them. It is possible this news is a few months old and my rural local news station is just now “getting around to it”. At any rate, as I am unable to read the report, I only have the local news video as my source of info. One issue that I’d like to know more about is how the conclusions were reached. The news video indicated that number crunchers simply took info about every person who died of cancer in 2009, and decided if they drank alcohol each day, then that is why they had cancer and died. There was no indication that other factors were considered, such as if the person lived near a factory that puts carcinogens in the environment.  I really hope they did consider other factors, because my understanding from the segment I saw makes me think that these analysts simply looked at alcohol intake and said “oh, that’s it right there, the reason why they got cancer and died”, and just flushed all other potential causes down some mental toilet.

Two other tidbits that irk me beyond reason:

First comprehensive study in 30 years? Really? Then why is it every damn time I absorb information from TV, internet, or print media, I see some item linking alcohol to cancer. I swear the information is now burned into my brain.  And until I read the report or hear more information filtered by someone who can effectively translate science jargon into understandable English, I have my doubts about this comprehensiveness.

And the stats—please–3.5% in my cancer experience is a really small number. Everything for a breast cancer patient is geared to the majority, such as using mammography as the standard for finding cancer, when 20% get false negatives. In spite of my false negative history, my doctor still is anxious to take my away from having annual MRIs which I trust a bit more than mammograms, so I guess we in that 20% don’t matter. Or how about the fact that most breast cancer patients are post-menopausal and even though there are standards in place requiring doctors to talk about fertility with younger patients, it rarely happens (I cannot remember actual stats on this, not being the maternal kind, and I’m too angry to be patient enough to find the percent, I only know it was rare). In cancer, majority rules, so why are panties in a twist about 3.5%?!!

My message is REAL simple today:

Medical Scientists:

Stop studying alcohol and cancer. The links have been established, and since I see “limit alcohol intake” every time I read about how to lower risk of breast cancer, I think this issue is drained. All those doing research, please talk to each other, acknowledge this fact collectively and find another potential cancer cause to study preferably one that cannot be turned around to be the fault of the cancer patient.

People Giving Money to Fund Studies Linking Alcohol to Cancer:

I don’t know if y’all just a bunch of teetotalers or what, but this issue is done and proven, it does NOT need further study and proof. If you don’t like alcohol that is too bad, stop punishing those of us who do.

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To Both Of The Above: Your fixation with this issue is preventing real investigation on other causes. We need to move forward. A percent like 3.5% means that if all the alcohol in the world disappeared overnight, cancer would still happen. In fact, maybe I wish all alcohol would just disappear, it would force you to study something else.

All Members of the Media (and Advertisers):

Stop reporting this. If I had a dollar for every time I heard it I could pay my cancer-related medical bills. So that means I no longer listen (except today, because I went off), indeed I change the channel/navigate away from the page/throw away the newspaper every time I see this kind of information, meaning I am not seeing advertisements placed by your major funding sources, and am not visiting or using these businesses. I’m trying to hit you in your wallet; maybe that will make you pay attention.

Do I really think my little rant will make a difference? No, not if I am the only one who feels this way. I hope others can see my point of view too.

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