Balanced Living with Cancer

One young family’s quest to find balance while living with cancer

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Why Ask What

November 18, 2012 | 8 Comments

The clapping echoed through the long cavernous hallway.  No shouting, no hollering, just thunderous clapping.  Another wave.  Trying to find room 111b in the Philadelphia Convention Center I was reminded of Nicolas Cage in the movie National Treasure searching for the next clue.  There it was again.  Then the pink shirts, pink scarves, and caps.  The line was long, the excitement contagious.  Hundreds of women dressed in pink, walking, cheering.  Oh, yes – it was the first day of the Susan G. Komen 3-day Walk for the Cure.  Nationwide hundreds of thousands of women walking in support of someone they knew who had breast cancer.  Raising money for the cause.  Doing their part to help, or honor, a loved with a horrible disease.

I wondered how many of these walkers had ever stopped to ask the question, “What caused her breast cancer?” It is a natural question to ask.  What caused my Mom and sister’s breast cancer? What caused the breast cancer in five of my girlfriends and two of their mothers?

I once asked my husband’s physician what caused his lymphoma. Even though I knew it was not a question that could be answered about him specifically, I asked anyway.  Maybe it’s the epidemiologist in me, but I truly wanted to hear her thoughts.  Engage in a conversation.  After all, my husband was young, 39 years old when diagnosed with what used to be considered “an old man’s cancer.”  What I did not expect was her response, “We’ll never know and it doesn’t really matter. We need to focus on treatment to get him better.”   It became evident rather quickly it was not her job to ponder the possibilities of what caused his cancer; it was her job to make sure he received the best care possible and to watch over his safety through the treatments.   For that I was grateful.

As I approached the lady’s in pink, the words “it doesn’t really matter” from the physician a decade ago were as loud to me now as the walker’s thunderous clapping.  It dawned on me that with cancer we have stopped asking why and what.  We have settled in a very dangerous space – the acceptance of the disease as part of our lives. The common belief now is that cancer is conquerable, even curable.  The rock star cancer patient we see on billboards and in magazines denies or at least downplays the suffering that comes with the disease and in doing so makes it easier to avoid thinking too intensely about the causes.

But what if we never asked why a plane crashed or why clusters of people were getting food poisoning?  What if we just focused on treating those who survived the crash or the contaminated food without looking for and addressing the causes? Planes would keep crashing for the same reason and people would continue to get sick from eating the contaminated food.  So why do we seemingly, so readily, not insist on answers to the tough question, “what caused her cancer?”

What if each one of these persons walking for the cure insisted on finding out the answer to what caused their loved one’s breast cancer?  What if collectively we were not willing to accept “we’ll never know so it doesn’t matter” for an answer? I know what would happen.  We would force the medical community, scientists, government, politicians, non-profit organizations, industry, and the media to more openly and honestly engage in a dialog about the causes of cancer and, in turn, we would be in a stronger position to find the real treasure – prevention.

Copyright © 2012 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.