Saturday, January 2, 2010

Strike "optimist" from my bio, for now

Should I scream, throw something, or burst into tears? Or some combination of the three? It would be nice to be my 3-year-old, who can have a tantrum within the realm of “normal” behavior. For an adult, tantrums are unacceptable. As my kids would say, “Unfair!”

I just heard some shockingly bad news from a close friend. It was quite unexpected. And, it adds to the devastating theme that has been running through my circle of loved ones for several unrelenting years now. All I can say is, “I EFFING HATE CANCER!” (And all of the effing side effects of it and its treatments.)

I don’t want to hear about maintaining a positive attitude. Or how optimism improves health. Getting cancer and fighting cancer have nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not you are sufficiently upbeat. Maybe optimism helps someone mentally face all the hell of the battle, but that’s it. Saying optimism is the key to better health is blaming the victim. “If he were just a more positive person, those rogue cells would have disappeared!” It’s magical thinking and it’s rubbish. Happy people die of cancer every day. And sad ones live. And vice versa.

It also can have nothing to do with life choices. We all grew up learning how a healthy lifestyle reduces the risks of some types of cancers. Certainly, no one can argue the benefits of healthy choices. But assuming that a cancer patient should eat more sprouts, lose weight (overweight patients tolerate certain treatments better!), take supplements (some may interfere with treatments!), exercise more, or even stop smoking—or suggesting that if they had done these things before getting cancer they’d still be healthy—is also blaming the victim. Failing to eat 3 daily helpings of leafy greens won’t stop the chemo from working, nor will eating them help the chemo to work better in any significant way. When a body is being blasted with chemicals or radiation, taking a multivitamin is just not a key event on the critical path to renewed health (nor is it an adequate substitute for proper medical treatment). And as for choices made before cancer—many types of cancer have no known cause. For many types of the worst types, there is no link to environment, diet, habits, weight, overall fitness, lifestyle, or even genetics. It just freakin’ happens. Ask an oncologist.

And then there’s all the collateral damage. Career. Economic security. Family life. Social life. Life itself. The cancer patient suffers. The family suffers. The friends suffer. Everyone tries to put on brave faces as their insides and their worlds shatter. They try to make it right by talking about the life lessons this challenge has taught them, how they are better and wiser people. But, in reality, we’d all much rather be oblivious, hedonistic idiots who have not been anywhere near cancer than wise and virtuous heroes battling through it.

Sure, people are just trying to help as they offer advice or speculate on courses of action. Or they’re trying to make sense of the insanity. Or they’re just bumblers with good intentions. I’ve bumbled myself, even after what I’ve learned over the past few years. But I just don’t want to deal with that stuff right now. I don’t want to continue to be an adult and face more bad news with poise and courage.

Instead, I just want to flippin’ scream. And throw something. And cry. And hope that I’ll never have cause to feel this way again.