Cancer Awareness is not EnoughSeptember, Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, has come and gone. Several times during that month I started to blog about awareness and how important it is and blah blah blah. But a few sentences in it would start to sound blah blah blah to me. If I'm not convinced, there is no way you are going to buy it. And I DO absolutely believe that awareness is important. I think I've reiterated its importance in just about every post. Which is why I felt like I needed to say more than what I've already been saying and possibly more than what I myself know.
If you don't have cancer, you probably know someone who does or you wouldn't be reading this blog. Unless you are a hypochondriac or stumbled upon this while looking for horoscopes. So chances are you are aware of cancer.
If you have cancer, you are obviously aware of it. But you want more. You want action. Because just knowing about it isn't going to save you. In fact, you were a perfectly healthy, relatively normal person BEFORE knowing about your cancer, and knowing about it has screwed everything up.
Terrible confession of the day: I used to joke about cancer. I still joke about MY cancer a bit, with complaints about radiation (no spidey-senses yet) and what-not, but not in the same way. It is a little too close to home now. Before I had cancer, I used to tell my friends that of course I was expecting to get cancer, everybody got cancer, so why not have another Twinkie? When I was very young, cancer was a kind of status trading-card of sorts, i.e. how many grandparents have you got? 3, 1 died of breast cancer OR my dad works in pharmaceuticals and my uncle Herbert has skin cancer. Not really all that different from the other family facts and sometimes considered more interesting.
But I doubt you are shaking your head and clicking your tongue at me right now. Because chances are you have joked about it too.
We Take Cancer for GrantedDon't quote me on this, but I think I am the only person who really takes my cancer seriously. With the possible exceptions of my parents. (And since reading this blog, my dad has strongly objected and fairly pointed out the many ways he has supported me through this ordeal. He will even wear a bracelet. So I am making him an honorary member of my caring club.) I felt a bit discouraged during awareness month when I discovered that my friends and family did not want to wear THYCA wristbands or display THYCA car stickers, even if I bought them for them. I will give a shout out to my friends Christina and Donna, who helped me distribute Neck Check cards. It's not that my family and friends don't care about me. It's just that my cancer is not that big of a deal to them. Thyroid cancer is supposed to be the "good" cancer (HUGE misconception). I didn't lose my hair. I'm doing lots of stuff, possibly more than before. I am officially in remission. So when I do something as radical as change my diet to get healthy, they think I'm crazy. Some of them even seem to take it a bit personally. My own husband thinks it is completely unnecessary and selfish.
And it isn't JUST thyroid cancer. It is ALL cancers. I was not the only little kid who just ACCEPTED that people, especially old people, get cancer and die from it. I was not the only teenager who laughed because I just ACCEPTED that I would one day get cancer myself. And I am certainly not the only adult who has had a rude awakening when I in fact found out that it DID happen to ME.
We joke it away, because it is a bad thing and what else can we do? And at the same time we secretly believe it won't happen to us.
So here is my 1-2 punch to cancer:
1. BELIEVE THAT IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU.If it doesn't, great. But you should care like it's your cancer. And keep this in mind: 1 in 2 men will get cancer; 1 in 3 women will get cancer; and 1 in 4 people will die from cancer.
2. BUT DON'T ACCEPT IT. RESIST.As much in your heart and head as anywhere else. Resistance has to start somewhere, and all the money in the world won't fix things if we don't believe it can and should be fixed.
Can You Resist Cancer?Okay, awareness is an important first step. Keep sending out the fliers and telling people you know and signing up for those walk-a-thons. But whatever you do, don't accept cancer as the inevitable. As a norm or a natural force like the wind. Fight the wind! Buy a windshield or a windbreaker or a window! Okay, the metaphor has been stretched too far.
Basically, the power of cancer lies in our thinking that it cannot be stopped. It is like He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. In spite of all these fundraisers and t-shirts and ribbon stickers and sponsorships, we still just nod our heads to cancer, only outraged if it takes our closest loved ones from us, and only then if they are under fifty.
I think I've mentioned before that I read comedian Albert Brooks' novel 2030, which suggests that cancer is a natural way of keeping the population in check and ensuring that people don't live too long. But it does not feel natural to me. It feels like the product of the chemicals and toxins that have also become normative in our society.
What happened to the Erin Brokovichs? Are we only outraged by cancer when it happens because of the pollutants soaking dumped by major chemical corporations? When it happens to a large number of people in a small area? When it happens to children?
With the anniversary of Steve Jobs death 3 days ago, there has been a bit more talk about cancer. To me, it is sad that it takes a celebrity death for some outrage to be expressed. But at least it is there.
Author and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote an article titled "I'm Sorry, Steve Jobs: We Could Have Saved You," in which she argues that the deficit in cancer research funding is preventing us from finding treatments and cures. This article includes an impressive chart showing that the U.S. spent twice as much money on the Middle East conflict EVERY MONTH ($12 Billion) in 2008 as the leading cancer institute got that same YEAR ($5 Billion). She also mentions a rather impressive-sounding breakthrough in cancer research and the possibility that it will not be fully explored.
You might say that the NFL sponsorships and ribbon-stamped milk cartons are strong indicators that our society does not accept cancer. I am not so sure. In fact, I believe it is now a kind of badge to wear. A do-gooder stamp that says "I am a nice caring person" or "I am a member of a sorority" or even "I am manly enough to get away with wearing pink."
Thanks to these breast cancer campaigns, cancer has a cool factor. It has catch phrases. TV time. Sex appeal.
It seems to me that with all the noise we are making, our hearts just aren't in it.
When you donate money or buy the specially-labeled yogurt cup, do you actually expect results? Do you think that you will see a news bulletin in the near or far future announcing that a cure has been found? Or do you secretly think that cancer is just one of those things that has always been around and will always be around.
Have we given up the fight before it even begins?
WHEN IS CANCER OKAY?The answer should be: NEVER.
Death is inevitable. But painful deaths from invading tumors are not. And if you don't find old people all that sympathetic (shame on you), think about the fact that it isn't just grandparents anymore. More than 10,000 U.S. children are diagnosed with cancer annually. Childhood cancers are on the rise. Thyroid cancer, which largely affects young adults, is the fastest increasing cancer. It is now common for people in their 20s and 30s to be diagnosed with cancer.
But should this become normative? NO.
Obviously, I do not have all the answers. At the end of the day, I have to climb down from my high horse and admit that I have not solved any world problems. Perhaps the best I can say is that I am aware of them.
But in my heart, a resistance has started. Will you join me?