Messing with the wrong person?

I read the heart breaking news of Julia Louis-Dreyfus being diagnosed with Breast Cancer yesterday. She has a special place in my heart as “Elaine” of Seinfeld. I loved her character and her candid ways. I was upset to read her announcement about being diagnosed and really hope that she goes into remission soon.

She said on twitter ”

One in eight women get breast cancer, today I am the one”

So happy to see the outpouring of support for her. However what is even more upsetting is the pressure that is starting to mount on her.  Apparently “cancer doesn’t know who its messing with!”
Well here is the reality, just as breast cancer happens to people without a clear reason, through no fault of theirs, it doesn’t go away because it suddenly realized that it was “messing with the wrong person!”
Yes cancer, please look for really weak, emotionally dead and frail people to attack because you need to pick the right people. Do you realize how dumb this sounds?
The truth is that cancer does not discriminate. It happens to all ages, all genders and to rich and famous and regular people alike. I love the anthems of inspiration and the encouragement to fight but I don’t know if folks ever consider the pressure these expectations put on the person diagnosed?
John McCain who is a hero in every sense of the word, is being cheered on to beat Glioblastoma of the brain , one of the most aggressive and mean cancers out there. Look, people don’t have the power to beat cancer. All they can do is maintain peace with the diagnosis, go through treatments, cope with the horrendous side effects and hope for the best. The internally resilient cope better with the let downs that come with cancer but it does not mean that they are exceptionally qualified to “beat” cancer.
We as a society need to realize the limitations that exist in cancer treatment. There are cancers that cannot be cured. Oncologists some times are just life extenders. Modern medicine has no cure for stage four breast cancers. It is ironic that Stage 0-3 of breast cancer are in the category of warriors who will beat cancer and the Stage 4 metastatic group who is likely to succumb to the disease is considered not worthy of being the cancer poster child even though it is the group that will suffer most at the hands of cancer. And don’t I know the suffering I have endured in the last four years!  I am a physician and a psychiatrist, if there were secrets to beating cancer, believe me I would know. But there aren’t. We know of risk factors and mitigating factors but no recipe for complete success.
As a society we have gotten very confused about how to support cancer patients. We make cancer about the person who is suffering from this disease. That somehow this person has some magical personality characteristics which allows them to be that one person who defies numbers and statistics and medical data. Yes there are exceptions and super survivors who live beyond the averages. Studies are being done to find how.

I truly do understand we are people not numbers but let’s not put the burden of an outcome on the patient. When was the last time we as society forced a diabetic to beat their disease and become a non diabetic warrior? We channel our fears of cancer killing our loved ones into transforming them as magical heroes beyond ourselves so the fear of losing them abates a bit. We all know heroes win, so it necessary emotionally to make them different and superhuman.
I often am told myself, “If anyone can, you can (beat cancer)”, I feel flattered by the conviction of my friends and followers but tell you a secret, I have nothing extra to put myself into remission than another breast cancer patient. I don’t think that the 113 women, who die of metastatic cancer every day, were less of “fighters” than I.

Cancer is a vicious disease and one can stand tall in the face of it with conviction and resilience but the outcome is the draw of luck and to a certain extent, good and timely treatment.
We still don’t know for sure, why cancer recurs after many years of dormancy. There are theories and studies but none point out that it was because it was messing with the “wrong” person.
We all conclude based on our faith and personality, why we were spared by cancer or not but let’s move away from putting the pressure on the survivor to somehow change the course of a disease that they have no control over. Someday, we will know more.

Let’s support those diagnosed with cancer with love and listening. Let’s cheer them through their treatments and keep their hopes alive with encouragement but let’s not set them up to be responsible for what is so beyond their control. Cancer is an unfair fight to begin with. Let’s not out more pressure on an already burdened souls. Some succumb to cancer and some don’t. That is life, raw and honest.

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6 thoughts on “Messing with the wrong person?

  1. Thank you for writing this! I’ve always felt it’s not fair that anyone with cancer is told they must “fight” this disease…as if it’s somehow our fault if we don’t get better.

  2. My mom just passed from pancreatic cancer. She chose quality over quantity of life. No treatment, though I’m not sure the oncologists would have recommended it anyways based on the circumstances. She fought hard to continue on and do what she loved while she could, enjoying every day. I feel like some people don’t recognize her fight because of her approach, but I know she faced it all with as much courage and positivity as humanly possible. She is my hero. Thank you for this article.

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