I have become so immersed and so comfortable in my world of cancer that I forgot how weird it is to be 26, look normal, and have cancer. I have so many friends my age with cancer now, I take classes where they talk about the prevalence of cancer, my doctors are used to it and used to me, pretty much everyone I interact with now knows thanks to my video…I guess I just started thinking that it’s not so weird to be 26, look normal, and have cancer.
Today I was reminded: It’s still weird.
There’s a whole spectrum of reactions that people have when I identify myself as a patient in cancer-friendly situations (as the case today was). It’s sort of interesting to observe. I don’t get offended. I don’t feel uncomfortable. I just don’t really know what to say. I have a lot to say about a lot of things cancer-related, obviously, but on the subject of me being young and having a rare cancer, well, I don’t have much to say. What is there to say?
Some people try to explain it, or try to rationalize how someone who’s 26 and female could end up with something that’s usually found in men over twice my age. Other people are a lot more interested in trying to explain it than I am. Again, it happened. Research isn’t quite at the point of being able to target treatments based on causes or triggers…so what does it matter? I think there’s an issue of blame with cancer, though, that I don’t often think about.
Cancer is often lumped in with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease as western ailments that may or may not be caused, or at least encouraged, by the “western lifestyle.” And there’s often some blame associated, because if it’s just a matter of driving everywhere, not exercising enough, eating fast food, eating processed food, drinking soda, not eating enough vegetables, watching too much TV, etc, etc, these are presumably things people can control (but the urban planner in me says the built environment in many places doesn’t make it easy). However, it makes a little more sense logically to associate the latter three ailments with some element of blame or control…though I don’t think that fully explains the problem. Nevertheless, cancer always gets thrown in there too. You’re more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke so other cancers, too, must be caused by something people did to themselves. Smoking, drinking, and not recycling–right?
But i’m young. Too young, perhaps to have done something to give myself cancer. Also, I have never smoked and I have always drank fairly responsibly (I mean, I went to college…), recycled, exercised, and eaten pretty healthily. So people try to rationalize it in other ways: “Do you have a history of cancer in your family?” Yes, but nothing that is remotely related to what I have. “You’re so young, so it just has to be something genetic.” I don’t really know. I don’t really think I will ever know. It happened.
Once all the permutations of the causes of my having cancer are exhausted, some people ask questions. Others express sympathy. Some offer hope. Others acknowledge what a hassle it is. Some are just surprised. Others pretend I didn’t just identify myself as a cancer patient/cancer survivor (i mean, liver) and skirt the issue. This is my favorite reaction and I think the most common among people, especially those not in the cancer-friendly community. It always makes me wonder what pre-cancer Lindsey would do in the same situation. She might actually have skirted the issue. I might still do this now.
I was hesitant to attend an event that would put me in contact with these sorts of reactions because I don’t really need sympathy or hope or hassle acknowledgement or surprise or a change of subject anymore. It’s nice to hear. People are really nice, actually. But it happened already. I’m fine. It’s just weird to think that i’m an anomaly because from my perspective, i’m normal.
But just as my my friends and family have now gotten over the novelty of having a peer and daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter/cousin with cancer, people I meet who are initially surprised do too. And I can learn a lot from them, as I did from many of the people I met today. A lot of smart people get cancer, and a lot of smart people research cancer, and treat people with cancer, and support people with cancer in other ways. It’s pretty inspiring. And it makes me feel a little better about the hand I’ve been dealt.
Did you know that the amount of funding going toward a disease is correlated to the number of treatments available for that disease? More money, more treatments. Makes sense. So maybe the research can’t prevent what’s already happened to me–for whatever reason it happened. But there’s some promising research on genetic causes and on cures. More money, more research. So, if you don’t feel like supporting my cause, but instead want to support something more universal, the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research is a good cause to consider.