I’m up WAY too late (remind me not to make myself a nice huge mug of caffeinated tea right before bedtime) reading the blogs of other people who’ve been through what I’ve been going through for the last few months, and I came across this:
People, even doctor-people, tell you that thyroid cancer is â€œthe easy, one, the one you want to getâ€. Thatâ€™s their preference, because it has its own protocol, its own special weakness, its kryptonite is iodine. What they donâ€™t tell you, and should, is that itâ€™s easy for them. For the patient, itâ€™s not easy. The body still rebels. Innocent cells still get hurt. Donâ€™t get me wrongâ€¦I am damn grateful that I donâ€™t have one of the other cancers. Iâ€™m just annoyed at how trivial they all made this seem, how light and easy they said this would be. If youâ€™re in my situation now, Iâ€™m sorry. I know you want all kinds of reassurance that itâ€™s not going to be so bad. Trust me, itâ€™s not so bad! Only sometimes! Iâ€™ve got friends battling 6 months of hell right now, just to stay alive. You wouldnâ€™t want to ever trade places with them, your cancer for theirs. But, you donâ€™t have the â€œgood cancerâ€â€¦thereâ€™s no such animal. So, any fear, any panic youâ€™ve gotâ€¦itâ€™s okay. You are entitled to it.
This paragraph could not resonate with me more. They don’t really warn you about the weird path on the way to treatment, how very sick they make you in order to treat you. Severe hypothyroidism is significantly more than just feeling “tired”. At least my endocrinologist had the decency to frame like this: “You’re going to be feeling pretty low.”
Also, I found a link to Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent essay, Welcome To Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch, an excellent rebuttal to both the joyous optimism cancer patients are supposed to feel and the cult of consumerism that has enveloped breast cancer, and hinting that the culture of ultra-feminine cancer care and support is actually turned into a form of busywork that prevents feminists from rising up and taking action that might help prevent this disease.
Like everyone else in the breast-cancer world, the feminists want a cure, but they even more ardently demand to know the cause or causes of the disease without which we will never have any means of prevention. “Bad” genes of the inherited variety are thought to account for fewer than 10 percent of breast cancers, and only 30 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have any known risk factor (such as delaying childbearing or the late onset of menopause) at all. Bad lifestyle choices like a fatty diet have, after brief popularity with the medical profession, been largely ruled out. Hence suspicion should focus on environmental carcinogens, the feminists argue, such as plastics, pesticides (DDT and PCBs, for example, though banned in this country, are still used in many Third World sources of the produce we eat), and the industrial runoff in our ground water. No carcinogen has been linked definitely to human breast cancer yet, but many have been found to cause the disease in mice, and the inexorable increase of the disease in industrialized nations-about one percent a year between the 1950s and the 1990s-further hints at environmental factors, as does the fact that women migrants to industrialized countries quickly develop the same breast-cancer rates as those who are native born. Their emphasis on possible ecological factors, which is not shared by groups such as Komen and the American Cancer Society, puts the feminist breast-cancer activists in league with other, frequently rambunctious, social movements-environmental and anticorporate.
But today theirs are discordant voices in a general chorus of sentimentality and good cheer; after all, breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate America if its complexion changed from pink to green.
In the mainstream of breast-cancer culture, one finds very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, few complaints about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasized cases, it is the “treatments,” not the disease, that cause illness and pain.
Even the heavy traffic in personal narratives and practical tips, which I found so useful, bears an implicit acceptance of the disease and the current barbarous approaches to its treatment: you can get so busy comparing attractive head scarves that you forget to question a form of treatment that temporarily renders you both bald and immuno-incompetent.
Fascinating stuff. That last line reminded me instantly of one of the major points of the graphic novel Persepolis, which I’ve recently finished; in distracting the population with head scarves and the length of women’s shirts, radicals and dissidents can be distracted away from the cause of revolutionary action. For the record: thyroid cancer is increasing in frequency more rapidly than any other malignancy. It is now the 8th most common form of new cancer among young adult females. And in case you didn’t know the cause: at high risk of thyroid cancer are people who have been exposed to radioactive particles from atomic weapons tests and nuclear power plant accidents such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. I’m told the Toronto region has one of the highest rates of thyroid cancer. But I guess the best thing I can do is go shop for scarves to hide my scar and keep on being brave, right? The idea of making room for anger in cancer care absolutely fascinates me.