A diagnosis should not come with a side of shame.
Arguably the most shameful of cancers on the list of organs and appendages is lung cancer.
“Was he/she a smoker?” they ask upon hearing the desperate news. The answer dependant on whether it was just pure bad luck or just desserts.
A reader recently told me of her husband who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the lung having never had a cigarette in his life. Another girlfriend who is a GP, had to break the news to a friend who came into her practice with a cough from what she thought was a cold she couldn’t shake; a mother of young children, a non smoker, just bloody unlucky.
I was horrified. “That’s so unfair. I don’t understand how that happens? It’s just so unfair”.
When my father-in-law was diagnosed it somehow made more sense, while he hadn’t had a cigarette in 15 years, I knew he was once a regular smoker. The cigarettes the culprit, a ‘reason’. That’s the thing with cancer, people want a reason. They need it to make sense.
Breast cancer of course is a far more optimistic and blameless cancer. In a sea of pink ribbons we are surrounded by words of support. With my own diagnosis, I was handed a booklet, immediately signed up to a network and sent information on how to connect with others. I have joined a club. Everyone it seems now knows someone who has had breast cancer. The champions and ambassadors are celebrities we can identify with. Mothers, sisters, daughters. There are great tragedies, heroic survivorship.
When I was told of my diagnosis my first question to the surgeon was based around sugar. I’d watched and read the latest spate of evil sugar movies. I’d purchased Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar”. My children and I watched “That Sugar Film” together.
“Should I stop eating or drinking anything with sugar? I’ve read that cancer feeds off sugar? Do you think sugar is a cause?”
“No-one knows what causes cancer that’s why we still get it,” said my surgeon who has been working with breast cancer patients for 30 years.
Unsatisfied with the answer, I asked the nurse.
“In 30 years as a cancer nurse I’ve never seen anyone cure themselves with juice and green smoothies, and I’ve seen everything. Trust me.”
“But you must see a theme?” I was sure there must be a type.
“Well, we know alcohol plays a part. If you’re a heavy drinker it doesn’t help. But Kirsty, I’ve seen so many people come through this door who are vegetarians, people who are fit, people who have never drank. It’s a bad luck lottery, and you just won it.”
I’ve been fascinated lately by those who feel they have the control. Those who truly believe they can heal and cure. Those who confidently tell a cancer patient what they “need” to do. People whose sole qualification is a Facebook page and a head full of opinion. Where does that sort of audacity come from?
Fear? Control? Ego?
A girlfriend sent me a note after seeing a particular piece of advice I’d received online. I’ve paraphrased, but I think it’s brilliant:
“Some people need beliefs to get them through, strict adherence to a particular way of eating. Control, coupled with inflated ego, leads a person to believe they have THE answers. In a way it is like superstition/religion. Many of us may harbour little rituals, but what works for one body does not necessarily work for another and it is the ‘belief’ part (scientifically proven, which is why placebos can work) rather than the actual way of eating they believe in that does the trick for them. It makes them feel like they are winning some sort of battle.”
I’m not an extremist, apathy has always been my friend, tomorrow my favourite day. As my friend Carol once said, “Kirsty if you were any more laid back you’d be horizontal”.
I’ll never know the exact definite time nor reason cancer inhabited my body. It doesn’t come with an explanation, it shouldn’t come with blame.
No-one deserves cancer, nor should they be made to feel like they do. It is what it is. Let’s just leave it at that.
Do you take comfort in being ‘in control’ of your illness?
This post first appeared on Kirsty’s blog and has been republished here with full permission. Read the original here.