Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cancer Myths - and Grief and Anger

I remember studying about the stages of grief when I was in college over two decades ago – and I remember reading almost incessantly about grief just after my dad died three years ago.  There is so much that I didn’t know about grief or grieving before I was thrust into it myself; even while I was reading the words written by the “experts” and professionals in the field, I realized that what had been put down on those pages was just the tip of the iceberg, understated and addressed only in general terms.

Some people think the information that’s out there about the five stages of grief is baseless.  Others seem to think that the stages exist but that the grief process isn’t nearly as clear-cut or as linear as they suggest.  I remember the grief counselor that led the grief support group I attended showing a picture of a graphic representation of the grief process: in that rendition, it looked more like a tornado, spiraling and circling back and forth, which seemed much more accurate to me. 

For me, anger and sadness are two of the emotions associated with grief that keep resurfacing the most often. Sadness, mainly because I miss my dad so much that my heart hurts, and anger, for that same reason and so many other reasons too.  

I’ve written many times about my feelings of anger associated with my dad’s cancer diagnosis and death.  I’ve always thought that I had a long fuse – slow to anger, fairly quick to try to put out the fire whenever possible.  But in the me that I am now, I’m not sure that’s the case – or if it ever will be again.  There are certain things now that launch me into white-hot fury in the blink of an eye, sometimes for reasons that I can’t identify, explain, or understand.  Seeing information like this is one of those things:

I’ve seen this and similar bullshit information posted on Facebook and other sites on the Internet at an increasing rate lately.  It isn’t those who re-post or share the info who make me so angry; it’s the idiots people who write the articles, posing as authorities on a subject about which they obviously enjoy spewing shit like the septic tank hose coming out of an RV of frat boys after a weekend at a music festival fabricating and embellishing for reasons that are lost on me. 

I'm pretty sure he said this in about 400 B.C. and that he didn't mean it literally, because he also said this:

For the record, Johns Hopkins did not publish or endorse the article in the link above, and neither did any other medical institution or research body.  The assholes authors have apparently hooked many readers by weaving some true information in with the idiotic crap exaggerations and falsehoods – and it doesn’t hurt their efforts that the bottom line is that we as a society want to believe that we have control over something as horrible as cancer and death.  As is stated on the Johns Hopkins website, “the gist of this [unscientifically based article full of misinformation]… is that cancer therapies of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy do not work against the disease and people should instead choose a variety of dietary strategies.

OBVIOUSLY it’s probably a better idea for health reasons to eat a balanced diet and to exercise than it is to not do those things.  OBVIOUSLY there are cases in which traditional standards of care are not effective against cancer and in which sometimes a supplemental or alternative treatment is advisable when more research-based interventions have failed.  OBVIOUSLY it makes sense to adopt habits that boost one’s immune system.  However … cancer isn’t caused by nutritional deficiencies, nor can it be “corrected” (even just that terminology makes me mad) or avoided by taking supplements, breathing deeply, exercising, or eating foods like blueberries.  Surgery does not cause cancer to spread – and spreading that kind of information could absolutely be harmful if people believe it. 

I remember being told by more than one person (who was well-meaning, I GUESS) while my dad was undergoing treatment for brain cancer that we should keep him from ingesting any sugar because “cancer feeds on sugar.” 

REALLY?  Is that all it would have taken to save him?  ("Ever heard of the Krebs cycle, idiot?" is what I wanted to say in response.  Somehow I held back - but maybe I shouldn't have.)

Of all the ridiculous bullshit fiction out there about causes/treatments/cures for cancer, probably the one that offends me the most is this one: “Cancer is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit."  Some of the most spiritually fulfilled, healthy living, intelligent people I’ve ever known have been diagnosed with cancer.  Both before and after their diagnoses, these people did not have diseased minds or spirits - and it's beyond nonsensical to imply otherwise.

Perhaps worse than the false hope this misinformation seems to seek to provide is the implication that the power to avoid or cure all types of cancers is within each of us, which is an absolute untruth.  I remember the guilt and the pain in my dad's eyes when he asked if he had done something to cause himself to get cancer, and it almost kills me.  A person who is diagnosed with cancer does not need to be made to feel guilty - or contaminated or in need of spiritual "correction" - on top of everything else they are having to cope with.  

I only wish that diet and "spirit" alone could prevent or cure cancer.  If that were true, I wouldn't know what I know today about grief, because my dad would still be here on this earth, happy and healthy.

If you come across one of the articles on the Internet perpetuating misinformation about cancer, I urge you to post a rebuttal, even if it’s just a link to one of these scientifically-based websites: