Having cancer is bad enough without being urged to enjoy your diagnosis, believe you can will it away through your state of mind. And it’s not just nurses chirping “stay positive” as they remove the IV drip from your arm. Sloan Kettering Memorial, the putative mecca of cancer treatment, waxes enthusiastic with its billboard advertising: “We’re looking at cancer in a way the world never has before.” Their byword: “More Science. Less Fear.”
True. More science arrives daily, and for some cancers, improved survival rates, or what’s called Progression-Free Survival (the term courtesy of drug companies reporting on their trials). PSF: that’s me, my drug has worked longer than anyone (aka statistics) imagined. My oncologist says I’m an “outlier.” My friend Susan Gubar, also outliving her prognosis, has been called an “exceptional responder.” Since in neither case do the doctors know why we keep hanging on, it’s difficult to feel joy in the label, even if it means more life for now.
Grief, anger, fear, these negative emotions have been banished from Cancerland. It’s all about “staying positive.” My laconic oncologist Dr. Sweater, in response to my announcement that I was on a crusade against positive thinking, said that physicians were learning not to exhort patients to assume a positive attitude, since it might make us wonder, Oh, so negative thinking gave me cancer?
The drug companies keep at it, though. Here’s a full-page ad for targeted therapies, the treatment du jour: the glories of cancer! Self-esteem mantras underwritten by big Pharma. But the truth lies in your genes, no matter what you think or feel. Have they no shame? (That was a rhetorical question.)
That said, I am grateful for the many kind messages in response to my previous post. I’m too wary about Facebook to answer freely in public. As it is, I seem to have shocked some of my students, who are “Facebook friends,” which was not my intention. I feel sad that they now are living with my cancer, too.
Message to my evil hacker: why not take my cancer while you are busy stealing?