Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fight cancer?

As the news spread last week about Ted Kennedy's malignant brain tumor, there was a very strange (I thought) reaction to the news. Quote upon quote was printed from different colleagues in the Senate, colleagues in Massachusetts, friends, etc., and everyone was talking about how great a "fighter" Kennedy is, and how he'll "beat this thing." All I could think was: who's kidding whom? Fight a brain tumor? How do you do that, exactly?

Thank goodness I'm not the only one who feels this way. I was vindicated yesterday by Judy Foreman's intelligent article in the Health section of the Globe, 'Fighting' isn't how you deal with cancer.

Foreman says:

The fighting metaphor is insidious because it subtly and not so subtly implies that if you fight, you can "win." And if you don't fight hard enough, you "lose" and are therefore a "loser." In truth, cancer doesn't care whether you fight or not, whether you win or not. It's simply there, just like all the other horrible, debilitating, scary, painful, life-wrecking chronic diseases that millions of Americans deal with every day.

This fighting thing is so American, isn't it? We think of the world as populated by good guys and bad guys. We believe so naively in our power to triumph over adversity, not just as a moral value but as a life-saver. We think a "good attitude" improves survival, while pessimism begets failure and death. But studies show that, while optimism may feel better than pessimism, it rarely, if ever, affects outcome.

And that's a good thing, not a bad one, because it takes away the guilt of feeling so responsible for everything -- the mistaken belief that we have more control over our fate than we actually do.

I'm sick of all the stories in the media about people who get cancer, or some other terrible illness, and then they suddenly become relaxed, happy, fulfilled people because they "see the light" or "find G-d" or suddenly are able to appreciate each day more. The truth is, getting cancer sucks. It just sucks. And whether you feel acceptance or anger, all you can do is hope that the treatment will work (and that you will make it through the treatment and all that it entails) and that you will ultimately survive and be able to continue to live your life.

I hope that Kennedy does well with his treatment, and that he lives on. But he doesn't have to fight unless that's what he really wants to do.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Ditto. This an on-going discussion in the cancer world and Kennedy's tumor riled up the discussion even more. The NY Times had a similar article. I regularly read Leroy Seivers blog on NPR--it has helped me with understanding and support along the way.