Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It Would Be Dumb To Have A Bad Attitude, Part 1: The Facts

*I'm not a scientist, I'm just married to one.  Actually, a lot of this post was cut out because we had many conversations like this:  Me: Honey, would it be accurate, albeit very simplified to say X,Y, Z?  Him:  Well, I guess, but when you simplify it like that then it's only sort of accurate because Q, R, S and T, U, V and we just don't know X the way you're stating it.  Me:  But I just mean for regular people, would it be close enough?  Him:  I guess, but really blah blah blah.  And such and such just isn't reproducible at this time and... Me (talking over him now):  This is why people hate you sciencey people and hippies think you're liars.  Him: ...

As people hear about my diagnosis and I encounter them for the first time face to face, they often say: "You have such a great attitude!".   It is, of course, a compliment and an encouragement but it flummoxes me.  I mean, we're just out in public somewhere.  I'm not going to moan and weep and gnash my teeth from now until I'm cancer free.  Second, being positive has very little to do with any virtue on my part and more to do with how I was raised, the reality that I have a beautiful life, and the reality of what cancer actually is.  Do I tear up, do I have dark moments?  Oh yeah.  But honestly, living with cancer and not knowing it was much more difficult.  Now I know I don't suck at life. 

First and foremost though, seriously--what is the alternative?  Moping?  Complaining?  Wondering why me?  Waste.  Waste.  Waste.  Moping is useless and unfair to the people around me.  Complaining makes you more likely to mope.  And frankly, asking why me is the most destructive of all.  Why NOT me?  I've heard people say that before in response to their own challenges and it is the only proper response to this situation.  I am no more or less deserving of a pass from cancer than anyone else.  Really, deserving has nothing to do with anything.  

We like to find the "reasons" someone is sick.  We want to know what someone did, what they chose, what they eat, what they've been exposed to: so that we can convince ourselves that it won't happen to us.  It's a natural human impulse, but it is an impulse that shields us from the truth.  There are better and worse choices to make for your health, but in the end, anyone can develop cancer at any time.  No matter what anyone tells you.  The idea that you can follow a simple checklist and avoid it is inaccurate and I think, at least, emotionally dangerous.   

In The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of CancerSiddhartha Mukherjee writes: "Cancer genes came from within the human genome...Cancer was intrinsically “loaded” in our genome, awaiting activation. We were destined to carry this fatal burden in our genes...”.  Well then, what a waste to say why me when the answer is simply because I'm a human being.  Why should I be exempt from the realities of my own biology?  It is easy to forget that we are all programmed with the potential for cancer.  There is so much focus on what is and is not a carcinogen and on whether or not we carry specific genes for specific cancers, that we often forget that we all carry the code for cancer in our bodies all the time.  Many people don't even realize this very important and inescapable fact.  Carcinogens play a role, sure, but it is nowhere near as linear and causal a relationship as most believe.  

I will never know why I have cancer at age 33 in a way that would be specific enough to be comforting to most people.  But really, I know all I need to know.  I have cancer because it is part of the human reality.  It's almost like a built in self destruct feature, mine just activated before it should.  Oh come on Nella, that's not even really true.  Biology is biology and just because things happen at a less than ideal time doesn't mean they shouldn't.  I just don't have to like it.  Evolution took a look around myself and decided, we don't need anymore of your kind around here.  Nothing personal.  Thankfully modern medicine has managed for a way that I can tell evolution to take a hike.  At least for now.  I got an easy cancer and my chances of survival are about 80%, so I can't help but think evolution isn't totally sure it wants to get rid of me anyway.  Hehe, stuff it evolution!

Anyhoo, what a waste to get mad that I am subject to the same biological realities as every other human.  Having a positive attitude can only help me be one of the 80% who survive.


  1. This is really insightful and well written. I wish there was a "like" button on here!

  2. I was thinking the same thing. I enjoyed reading it and the reality that came with it!


I love your comments...please say hello and share your thoughts. "Meeting" my readers is such a treat!