Random Acts of Cancer


My very dear friend AnneMarie has a spot-on post today about how important words are. It all started with some cancer-related tweets that were, at best, misleading. One suggested that screening is prevention (Really? Not a tool to FIND cancer, but one to PREVENT it? Come on…we can all figure out that mammograms don’t PREVENT cancer, right?), or that we can eat ourselves free of cancer. She didn’t mention the tweets telling us to “cop a feel.”

AnneMarie is dead-on. Words like these are misleading. At best. We do need to chose our words very carefully.

For me, however, it goes even further than that. Words such as these are blaming. I can’t fathom someone who has had cancer telling others to eat differently, or exercise more, or do anything else to prevent cancer. We know it doesn’t work that way…

I am not shirking any responsibility here, and I’m not letting myself or anyone else off the hook. I know that our choices make a difference, and I can’t imagine any of us with cancer hasn’t wondered what we might have done differently. Being overweight, smoking, excessive drinking, sun exposure…they are all risk factors. They can CONTRIBUTE to the very complicated and lengthy chain of events that leads to cancer. It is never just ONE thing. And we must EACH accept responsibility for our choices.

But let’s be honest…

On some level the problem is blame, but it stems from something even deeper. If those who have not even been diagnosed with cancer can find a way to separate themselves from those of us who have, they can live with the illusion of control, and deny the randomness of this disease.

Of course that’s appealing. It’s easy to say “if she had exercised more” or “if he had eaten better” or “if they had just quit smoking…” It’s appealing mostly because we can tell ourselves that if we do all these things “better” than our friend with cancer, we can spare ourselves. (Ironically, most still don’t eat well, exercise enough, or change their bad habits, but that’s another matter.)

What then, shall we do with the emerging data that suggests virus and infection play a crucial role in cancer? And how we deal with those who take excellent care of themselves? And what do we tell the “strong” people who are dying? When the number one risk factor in breast cancer is being a woman, can we blame the woman living with cancer for that too?

We don’t give ourselves cancer. It is what our bodies create in the midst of an ever-increasing world of environmental and internal factors that have gone awry, not the least of which is an ever-extending life expectancy. Cancer is and always will be a disease of aging.

If you are lucky, if you are not living with a diagnosis, then YES, do what you can to protect yourself. Diet, exercise, mind-set all make a difference. They will make you healthier, and more importantly they contribute to a wonderful life in so many ways.

But you may want to stop searching for subconscious, insidious ways to blame us for our cancer. You’re fooling yourselves, not us.


28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. chemobrainfog
    May 22, 2012 @ 12:15:01

    I’m supposed to be the #FearlessFriend and you jumped right in. Thank you thank you thank you for elaborating on all of the points that truly require scrutiny. The Blame Game is over. I LOVE you…..



  2. Laura Temkin
    May 22, 2012 @ 12:40:19

    Love this. Exactly right.


    • Lori
      May 22, 2012 @ 12:46:06

      Thank you, Laura. As a social work student we talked a great deal about “blaming the victim.” While I categorically dismiss the word “victim” in this context, I do think it’s time we call it what it is. Cancer is RANDOM!


  3. Nancy's Point (@NancysPoint)
    May 22, 2012 @ 18:05:27

    Lori, I think you got it exactly right here. People like to “blame” something and in that way separate themselves from cancer. It is an illusion of control. In reality the blame game helps no one. Great post and so was Ann Marie’s. And I agree, you two are pretty good bookends!


    • Lori
      May 22, 2012 @ 23:13:16

      I think it’s a natural instinct…a normal reaction to fear. But I truly wish people would THINK first. Then again, the world would be a better place if that were universally true.

      You and I have talked about the “gift” issue before…personally, walking through my greatest fear and coming out the other side has been one part of the cancer experience for which I am grateful. Those who haven’t walked in our shoes have to live with that fear…

      Always grateful for your comments, Nancy!


  4. Ann Truscott
    May 22, 2012 @ 18:31:16

    There must be something in the air, I’ve just had the same argument …. happy its not just me….


    • Lori
      May 22, 2012 @ 23:17:40

      There is lots of talk about this of late. I think we are all getting tired of allowing others to frame our experience. We are taking back the reins, defining our own terms and managing our own cancer experience. Doctors, the media, the “experts,” and the market place are going to have to take a back seat now!

      Thanks for sharing your link!


  5. Hazelbeth
    May 22, 2012 @ 18:40:40

    I just have one exception to your comment. Cancer is not always a disease of aging. Children are born with it. Babies and toddlers get it. School age children and teens too. I have seen them all. But your post is spot on. I know when I was dx’d I had the same reactions from friends and even family. Somehow they wanted to assure themselves that because they never did a, b, c they would be protected. It’s a fantasy. I’ve known the healthiest and the not so healthy to get cancer. And the early detection is prevention is one of the main beefs I have always had with Komen.


    • Lori
      May 22, 2012 @ 22:42:28

      I agree cancer is not always a disease of the aged, but growing older is a risk factor nonetheless.

      As for Komen, don’t get me started!

      Thanks for your comment!


  6. Koryn
    May 22, 2012 @ 18:54:00

    I think you are spot on with the “combination of factors” theory. Just today at my breast doctor visit,my surgeon agreed that a combination of unknown genetic origin (4 family members with breast cancer, though I myself am brca 1 & 2 negative) combined with more than 16 years on birth control pills well into my 40’s probably raised my risk to a 1 in 2 chance. His words. He is equally frustrated by the media’s lack of responsibility in warning young women about this “environmental” contribution of excess estrogen sitting in millions of women’s medicine cabinets and being consumed on a daily basis.


    • Lori
      May 22, 2012 @ 22:50:59

      You are so right! First about how little we have uncovered on the genetics front…outside of BRCA family clusters remain a mystery. Estrogen exposure…yes, we talk about HRT but not birth control. If we are going to eradicate breast cancer perhaps we should focus our energy on finding answers rather than blame. Thanks for joining the conversation!


  7. 3laine 3liane
    May 23, 2012 @ 10:21:42

    I love your statement in the last reply – we should focus our energy on finding answers rather than blame. When we can’t do anything for someone affected by a misfortune, we blame the person affected. Blame the victim (though I’d rather not be framed as a victim). And there is a never ending need to make sense of the world. The world doesn’t make sense all the time though. Random crap is everywhere. How cool would it be to take all that blaming energy and turn it into problem solving energy. Well… I can wish.


    • Lori
      May 23, 2012 @ 21:25:51

      We can do more than wish…we can create change! We can continue pointing out the absurd (blame, pink ribbons), while supporting evidence-based science and organizations that are heading in the right direction. As Margaret Mead so perfectly said:

      Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.


  8. Val Katz
    May 23, 2012 @ 11:37:39

    Hi Lori,
    Thank you for your informative blogs…I really look forward to reading them and agree that there has to be a better way to educate people about cancer. As a three time survivor of breast cancer, I feel that positive attitude and being as informed as possible is the key to eradicating this disease. Thank YOU for all that you do to promote this course of action!


  9. Dawn Stratton, LCPC
    May 23, 2012 @ 17:48:38

    Wow…I totally agree with your statement: “If those who have not even been diagnosed with cancer can find a way to separate themselves from those of us who have, they can live with the illusion of control, and deny the randomness of this disease.” Well said. When I had cancer, I had people actually ask me why I thought I got it. I was 31 years old, ate healthily, exercised, went to therapy, and tried to be well on a number of levels. But they wanted to find a reason why they wouldn’t get it because they were so scared. They knew, deep down, that if I could get it, they could too…and that scares the crap out of people. Now I am a counselor for people affected by cancer, and so many of the people I’ve worked with struggle with blaming themselves. Thank you for such a great post. I’ll be following you!


  10. Susan
    May 24, 2012 @ 15:57:44

    So true. I hate when people get judgmental. When I was on adriamyacin for chemo I was so nauseous, and another person going thru chemo saw me sipping it. I hate diet coke-by the way-but my mom said it helped with nausea. She started screaming at me for drinking it because it was going to kill me. She was lucky I didn’t barf on her bald head under her wig which was as bald as my head under mine.


    • Lori
      May 24, 2012 @ 16:08:50

      I can SO relate! Reminds me of the day I was at Starbucks with a friend discussing my switch from Kosher chicken to organic chicken. The man at the next table admonished me with, “Did God tell you to eat organic???” He didn’t even back down when I told him my oncologist was my God!


  11. Trackback: Weekly Round-Up « Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer
  12. Marilyn
    May 26, 2012 @ 18:23:06

    I can’t thank you enough for this blog. Just read this to my husband. Told him it is exactly how I feel. Then I sobbed. I feel validated.


    • Lori
      May 26, 2012 @ 19:14:39

      I am so very glad that you found meaning in this, Marilyn. While I will never dismiss the insensitivity of some, I do know that there is a special bond among those of us who walk this path. Thanks for finding my blog.


  13. pinkunderbelly
    May 28, 2012 @ 05:50:55

    Well said! I’m amazed by the claims floating around on how to avoid this wretched disease. It’s shameful, really, and makes me wonder who actually believes these claims. Thanks to you for exposing them to the harsh reality of truth that cancer is random and those stricken by it are blameless.


  14. Trackback: Why Words Matter « Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer
  15. Trackback: Coping With Cancer » Blog Archive » Guilt Be Gone

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