Coping With A Breast Cancer Diagnosis

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Raise your hands, now. How many of you, at one point or another in your cancer experience, have thought, “What did I do to deserve this?” Or more simply, “Why me?”

    I see a lot of hands up out there. Sad but true, most of us, at one point or another, spend time pondering what we might have done to “bring on” our breast cancer.

    I know what you’re thinking. Was it the cigarettes I smoked in high school? My decision to postpone having children till after I’d established my career? Maybe it was ingesting all that saturated fat while I tried the Atkins diet. Or the stress of my divorce. Breast cancer doesn’t just spring out of nowhere; there HAS to be a reason. What is it?

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    Hey, is this a woman thing, or what? Why do we harbor such guilt? In fact, breast cancer CAN “spring out of nowhere.” Seventy percent of us who get breast cancer have absolutely no risk factors at all, other than being female. The other 30% might exhibit one or more risk factors, but so do millions of other women who DON’T get breast cancer. Otherwise, how do you explain two co-workers, same age, one of whom smokes, drinks heavily, is overweight, and takes hormone replacement therapy; and the other who exercises regularly, has only an occasional drink, eats healthy… and gets breast cancer?

    Repeat after me: breast cancer is random. Sure, you can live a careful lifestyle designed to make yourself less susceptible, but can you do anything to guarantee you won’t get breast cancer? Other than a double mastectomy (and even that isn’t 100% foolproof), the answer is no.

    That doesn’t mean you give up trying; reducing those risk factors can’t hurt. Exercising, eating well, and taking care of yourself makes you feel good, so why not? Life is a journey; make the most of it.

    And what about those of you who think you did something to “deserve” breast cancer? Maybe your religion preaches “an eye for an eye,” and you feel breast cancer is your punishment for some past transgression. Or maybe it’s not religion, but some vague feeling of “karma,” some misplaced childhood guilt, that makes you think your breast cancer is deserved; that you “had it coming.”

    We’re all entitled to an opinion, and here’s mine: baloney. I believe that bad things happen to good people; you didn’t “earn” your cancer. It descended on you like a lightning strike; you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Why me? Bottom line: why not? Statistically speaking, 1 in 8 of us will get breast cancer before we die. Why you? Why the million-dollar lottery winner? Why the winning kid in the fishing derby? The earth turns, and we go along for the ride. Stuff happens. We may think we’re in control of our lives; cancer proves otherwise. And it’s a valuable lesson to learn.

Published On: September 18, 2008