Wednesday, 18 October 2006

There's no 'right' way

October is Breast Awareness Month, and breast cancer is in the news again today: apparently, a study has shown that screening may not be the perfect solution:
Researchers looked at international studies on half a million women. They found that for every 2,000 women screened over a decade, one will have her life prolonged, but 10 will have to undergo unnecessary treatment. The report, published in the Cochrane Library, involved a review of breast cancer research papers from around the world. The scientists found mammograms did reduce the number of women dying from the disease. But they also discovered it was diagnosing women with breast cancer who would have survived without treatment, meaning they were undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy, radiotherapy or mastectomies. …. They also revealed a further 200 women out of every 2,000 experienced distress and anxiety because of false positives – a result that indicated a cancer was present but was later found to be wrong. (more info here)
I was one of those ‘false positives’ and I underwent a double mastectomy for nothing… or maybe not… who knows? I’d had symptoms of something being wrong. I told my story at length last year (see A Tale of Two Titties) so I won’t bore you with it again. I think it will be up to individual women to decide whether or not they want to be screened, in the absence of any symptoms. Nearly eight years on I am very glad I did what I did.

If I’d actually had cancer after all, I probably would have fought the disease with all the means at my (and medicine’s) disposal – up to a point, though, ‘life at all costs’ is not a mantra of mine – but I hope I wouldn’t have been made to feel a failure if I’d died in the end. I’ve said it before, cancer is the only disease that makes people use words like ‘battle’ and ‘fight’. No one talks about ‘fighting heart disease’, do they?, and when the person dies they’re not said to have ‘lost their battle with heart disease’. Having a life-threatening illness is difficult enough without being made to feel as if one’s not trying hard enough. If you know someone who’s suffering from cancer, please be gentle with them and let them cope with it in their own way. Sometimes the body wins regardless of how strong the mind is.

Slapping the ‘cancer bullies’! Hello, Debra!


  1. Oh, I'm so glad you said this. I've always noticed and felt uncomfortable with the cliche - 'He lost his ten-year battle wth cancer.' - and never been able to put my finger on what was wrong with it. Of course - it implies that if you do die, it's partly your own fault for not being strong-willed enough to always keep up the positive thinking, disciplined enough to eat only raw foods, brave enough to get poisoned to within an inch of your life. Which is an outrageous thing to suggest. You get ill, you have treatment, you live, or you die. Or the thing in between, since cancer can often these days be more of a chronic condition, which you keep at bay or keep ahead of, rather than either winning or losing.

  2. Guilt. What a good point. There are no short battles with a drink driver, losing fights against TB, are there?

    There's the whole bravery thing too, as has just been pointed out to me. I was leaping around the room exclaiming 'that's so true' loudly, and irritatingly. Everyone felt duty bound to join in the discussion.

  3. Two of my three sisters (all 3 deceased now) had breast cancer.

    I've considered having my breasts removed even though I've never had cancer. Breast cancer which spreads to one's bones is very, very painful. I'll have screenings forever.

    Of course, the final death total is 100 percent. We all die. I'd just like to live longer than I have so far.

  4. I'll slap them too. I have a lot of issues re: cancer, people (companies) supposedly fighting it, charities supposedly working to help it...

  5. ... the body wins regardless of how strong the mind is. Always, I think. Not to be maudlin, but I don't intend to fight the inevitable. Of course, how will I know it's inevitable? And would my mind allow me to see it that clearly? xoxo

  6. Another thought-provoking post. The "battle" against cancer has become, more than anything, Big Business. I find it unconscionable that corporate profits should be allowed to influence families and individuals dealing with life-threatening illness. Slappity-slapping right along with you!

  7. Glad you agree, L. Talking about winning and losing is stupid: as TLP says, we’re all losers in the end, anyway.

    JvS, it’s such a macho way of dealing with things, isn’t it?

    TLP, quite a few women choose to have their healthy breasts removed ‘just in case’. They’ve announced some new screening methods for the near future – non invasive, totally painless ones. That would be such an improvement on the mammogram. I wish you a long and healthy life! :-)

    T, I asked advice from the cancer charity Backup years ago and got wonderful response, but I know that some people have had bad experiences with other charities.

    Of course, M, the body always wins. I think there must come a time when the mind agrees with the body to let go.

    RQ, everything is Big Business these days. And then there’s the fact here that the NHS doesn’t have enough money to allow every cancer patient to have the drugs they need. They call it ‘postcode lottery’ – depending on where you live you may or may not receive the treatment you require.


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