Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why Cancer Makes Me Angry

Inasmuch as I have recently lost two friends to cancer, I thought I'd share some sentiments on the disease and why it makes me so angry.
The following is adapted from something that I wrote for the Philadelphia Daily News some time ago.
I was angry then. And I remain angry now:

Cancer makes me angry. Very angry.

It made me angry nearly 50 years ago when my godfather was diagnosed with lung cancer and died. They told me then that I wouldn’t have to worry about cancer when I grew up. “It’s okay,” they said. “It will be cured by then.” They lied.
They always say they are close to a cure for cancer. But everyday we hear of more people being diagnosed with cancer. And everyday we seem to hear about more types of cancer then we ever heard of before.
Recently my 28-year-old daughter called me to tell me about a contemporary of hers who has been diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Now they’re looking for bone marrow donors.
Cancer makes me angry.
It made me angry when my father was diagnosed with cancer; and later, my mother as well.
My father looked me in the eye and told me he would beat it in the end. And he did. Luckily, he didn’t die of cancer. But the removal of most of one lung seemed to leave his breathing capacity so diminished that I’m sure the cancer chopped extra years off his life.
My mother was not so lucky. The cancer had already metastasized by the time they discovered it. The doctor gave us the bad news as we stood in a hospital hallway. “It has already spread,” he said. He talked about my mother as if she wasn’t even there. He mentioned the word “palliative.” Then, he was on his way. But my mother was there and she heard what she said. She simply chose not to dwell on it and lived her remaining time best as she could.
Cancer makes me angry. Maybe it’s a guy thing. But the injustice of cancer makes me want to beat the guts out of somebody.
I was angry when I heard that Elizabeth Edwards’ cancer returned and then she later died of the disease.. Hadn’t she suffered enough? 
And I was just as angry when the same thing happened to former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. What did either one of them do to deserve such a fate?

I hate it when people say of someone: “He lost his battle with cancer.” None of us gets out of here alive. So, no one loses a battle with cancer. No one. Instead, the rest of us lose. We lose that person’s special talent; their unique contribution; their smile, their friendship, their love. And with each recurrence, with each new bad news bulletin, with each additional death we lose hope as well.
We don’t want to admit it. We fight bravely on. But fear stalks us and hope continues to die.
If you Google the word “cancer” you will come up with more than a quarter of a billion hits. There are so many cancer theories, cancer funds, cancer marches, cancer hospitals, cancer centers and cancer studies that the enormity of the army amassed to fight cancer gives one pause. Still, there is no cancer cure.
Cancer makes me angry. And I have no intention of letting go of my anger. Because cancer is too persistent, too insidious, too pervasive. Which makes me suspicious as well. Sometimes I even allow myself to believe that there is some sort of vested interest in not curing cancer if only because cancer treatment has become a lucrative, worldwide industry.
So count me as one of the angry ones – and throw in a dose of hard-learned skepticism as well.

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