My very dear friend AnneMarie has a spot-on post today about how important words are. It all started with some cancer-related tweets that were, at best, misleading. One suggested that screening is prevention (Really? Not a tool to FIND cancer, but one to PREVENT it? Come on…we can all figure out that mammograms don’t PREVENT cancer, right?), or that we can eat ourselves free of cancer. She didn’t mention the tweets telling us to “cop a feel.”
AnneMarie is dead-on. Words like these are misleading. At best. We do need to chose our words very carefully.
For me, however, it goes even further than that. Words such as these are blaming. I can’t fathom someone who has had cancer telling others to eat differently, or exercise more, or do anything else to prevent cancer. We know it doesn’t work that way…
I am not shirking any responsibility here, and I’m not letting myself or anyone else off the hook. I know that our choices make a difference, and I can’t imagine any of us with cancer hasn’t wondered what we might have done differently. Being overweight, smoking, excessive drinking, sun exposure…they are all risk factors. They can CONTRIBUTE to the very complicated and lengthy chain of events that leads to cancer. It is never just ONE thing. And we must EACH accept responsibility for our choices.
But let’s be honest…
On some level the problem is blame, but it stems from something even deeper. If those who have not even been diagnosed with cancer can find a way to separate themselves from those of us who have, they can live with the illusion of control, and deny the randomness of this disease.
Of course that’s appealing. It’s easy to say “if she had exercised more” or “if he had eaten better” or “if they had just quit smoking…” It’s appealing mostly because we can tell ourselves that if we do all these things “better” than our friend with cancer, we can spare ourselves. (Ironically, most still don’t eat well, exercise enough, or change their bad habits, but that’s another matter.)
What then, shall we do with the emerging data that suggests virus and infection play a crucial role in cancer? And how we deal with those who take excellent care of themselves? And what do we tell the “strong” people who are dying? When the number one risk factor in breast cancer is being a woman, can we blame the woman living with cancer for that too?
We don’t give ourselves cancer. It is what our bodies create in the midst of an ever-increasing world of environmental and internal factors that have gone awry, not the least of which is an ever-extending life expectancy. Cancer is and always will be a disease of aging.
If you are lucky, if you are not living with a diagnosis, then YES, do what you can to protect yourself. Diet, exercise, mind-set all make a difference. They will make you healthier, and more importantly they contribute to a wonderful life in so many ways.
But you may want to stop searching for subconscious, insidious ways to blame us for our cancer. You’re fooling yourselves, not us.