Why Was I Diagnosed with Breast Cancer?

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • Jane Brody raises an interesting point in her health column: that when you take good care of yourself, as she does, exercising and eating right, other people are bewildered when you are diagnosed, as she was, with breast cancer and then arthritic knees that had to be replaced. If you do everything right, you are supposed to be protected from the bad things that happen to other people.

    But with cancer, at least , usually it doesn’t work that way. It can happen to anyone, the person who runs ten miles a day, or the couch potato.

    It is a phenomenon I have noticed, too. Some people seem to want to blame you for your bad choices when you afflicted with a random illness. It seems to give other people, the unafflicted, the illusion that they have some control over fate. If someone has lung cancer, the first question is always: Did he or she smoke? If someone has breast cancer: Is that person overweight, or is there a family history of the disease? (Read more about risk factors for breast cancer.) Yet countless studies have shown that in most cases, these factors may be entirely besides the point.
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    Several years ago I remember talking to a recently diagnosed friend of a friend. I was supposed to be helping her with her medical choices, but she kept bringing up the why. She clearly had given a lot more thought to why she had gotten cancer, which seems unknowable, than to what she should do about treatment. Maybe I’m over-practical by nature, but it struck me at the time, and still does, that the why doesn’t really matter – unless you are one of the women who has the breast cancer gene, and thus the why will affect your medical choices and your prognosis.

    For the rest of us, the why is random bad luck. Why waste precious energy on self-recrimination--if only I went to the gym more, or never ate bacon, I wouldn’t have gotten cancer? We’ll never know. And isn’t it bad form to blame the person with the disease? Cancer isn’t anyone’s fault.
Published On: April 06, 2006