Monday, February 17, 2014

I Don't Hate Cancer.

StampingCancerOut Etsy Store | F*ck Cancer Guitar Pick
I don't hate cancer. 

Yes, cancer was the effect that ripped my mum away from me forever in 2012 and I hate that fact, but I still don't hate cancer. No. I hate what caused the cancer. 

I'm not a medical professional, but from what I understand, we all carry cancer cells in our bodies. However, the strength (or weakness) of our individual immune systems determine whether or not those cells thrive, survive, and multiply. 

"Isn't cancer inherited?" you might ask. I certainly did. According to The American Cancer Society, "Only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are inherited - resulting directly from gene defects (called mutations) inherited from a parent." So, in my mind, it is fair to say most cancers have known causes. Now, I have a few friends and family members who have been diagnosed with cancer and survived, and one who died of cancer complications, who seemingly did everything right. In this piece, my focus is on cancers with known causes and risk factors . Why do we hate it so?

I hear it said all the time, see it posted on social media sites, see it printed on T-shirts and bumperstickers - "F*%@ Cancer!", as if cancer is always an invincible beast that mercilessly strikes random people for dead. Cancerzilla. Is that what we believe about 5% to 10% of cancers? Or do we simply prefer to believe that about all cancers?  

What about the signs posted all around us, on cigarette boxes, on buildings, in medical journals, on food and beverage containers, in the news? What about all the warnings, encouraging us to limit our time in the sun, to limit our sugar intake (cancer thrives on sugar, you know), to eat properly, to avoid alcohol? It's not often I hear hateful speech and "F" words being directed toward these cancer causing agents. Well, perhaps cigarette smoke - but usually it's not the cancer causing factor people complain about, it's the inconvenience to their senses. 

So, I'm puzzled. We openly hate the effect of cancer but not the causes. 

But . . . isn't the cause the one thing we can do something about?

If you've read my blog or excerpts from my book, Everything's Hunky Dory: A Memoir, you'll know my mum, Donn Shy, was diagnosed with cancer and died not three months later (for more on this, read my previous blog entry titled "What Causes This Type of Cancer?". The day she went in for surgery, her surgeon, after operating on Mum for a short while, informed my grandfather, Mum's husband, and I, that her cancer was not ovarian cancer as they'd first suspected, but a horrid form of stomach cancer. It had spread and the prognosis did not look good. She also told us the particular type of stomach cancer Mum had was caused by alcohol and tobacco use. 
She drank beer daily and smoked every day since she was in her teens. I later found out from the oncologist, Mum's diet (consisting of mostly highly processed foods) also contributed. Corn chips, fast-food, ramen - you name it. 

She ignored all the signs. 

I feel I should mention, a sore spot for me is when I see people "toast" my mum on Facebook, saying things like, "I'm having this cold one for you Donn! Hope you're partying it up in Heaven!" when that very alcohol was her poison. If mum died of ricin intake, would people post online "I'm having this bit of ricin on a cracker for you Donn! Rest in peace!"? I surely hope not.

It's easier for us to "hate" the thing we have no power over (late stage cancer) as opposed to change the things we can. We want to drink. We want to smoke. We want to eat groceries from the middle aisles of the market and then raise our fists against cancer when it hits, as if it came out of nowhere, as it it weren't an invited guest. Like a drunk that gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, then dies in an accident. We could say "I hate death!" but death is inevitable. We could say "I hate car accidents!" but what will that do? Knowing the cause, though, could help us to make better decisions in the future. 

"Hate". It's so final. So devoid of love, of connection. So full of inaction. If I've ever felt so strongly about someone that the word hate has crossed my mind as a seemingly viable option, I've always been able to make a better choice - as in either fix the problem by resolving it, or if the person was detrimental to my well being, I'd simply say goodbye. So, after attempting to save my mum's life by researching a no-cancer diet and lifestyle, rather than raising my fist in the air with a hate for cancer, I made some big changes in my own life. I said goodbye to most processed foods (oh did I love my sugar cereals!!!), hello to local veggies, hello to growing my own food, hello to regular check-ups. I give myself extra time at the airport in order to opt out of walking through the radiation emitting machine. Many of my life choices the past few years began with the knowledge of the causes of cancer. 

I don't drink alcohol, I've never smoked, I stopped eating meat in 2007. Might I still get cancer? Yes. But I know I've made a grand effort at taking responsibility for my own health and worked toward a strong immune system. And if I receive a cancer diagnosis, I will not hate the cancer, but instead, see the cause (whether it was of my own doing or not) and understand it, and do my best to heal myself, if it's not too late. I'm sure I'll cry, and wish for better outcomes, and perhaps wish it weren't happening to me, but hate? There's no time for hate. 

I am in no way attempting to simplify that which is cancer. As I said before, I am certainly no medical professional. I'm just curious as to why no one ever discusses hating the causes but only the effect. Now to really confuse things, not everyone gets cancer by eating processed foods or smoking or drinking or even sun bathing. Perhaps this is the reason no one wants to blame these causes - because it's not black and white. But why not take these factors into consideration? If you hate cancer so much, are you taking precautions? It's like entering into a close relationship with someone you know to be a liar. You can *hope* he/she won't lie to you, and he/she might not. But if they do, hating them, even though you knew their character from the get-go, seems kind of silly, no?

Hating cancer cannot cure cancer. Talking of hating cancer does nothing. Having awareness of the causes and making changes can, possibly. This is where we can take back our power and put it to good use. 

When in history has hate ever generated progress?