Saturday, September 15, 2007

I don't do why's either

Last week I was talking to someone I don't know well and hadn't seen for about a year. When I told her about the breast cancer stuff she asked, "Were you surprised?"

That question semed odd to me. "No, not really".

"Did you have a lump? Did you think something was wrong?"

"No, there wasn't a lump and I wasn't expecting anything. I was scared and angry but I wouldn't say I was surprised."

Why would I be surprised? What is unusual about a routine mammogram picking up DCIS in a 53 year old woman? Happens all the time.

I don't seem to have a "why me?" reflex or a need to search for causes and reasons. I was attracted to probability theory and epidemiology because I always suspected that many things were random. Even if there is causation it may be impossible to prove it and hopeless to look for it. I know most human brains are programmed to deny randomness and demand links. Mine isn't. Some of the distance I feel with others is my irritation at this basic quality.

Breast cancer discussion boards (and probably those for other diseases) are dominated by this obsessive search. One website is actually titled "Why me?" Women post on their belief that one food causes breast cancer and another prevents or cures it. One woman announces she is turning to an all raw foods diet, another says she has given up caffeine, sugar, and alcohol "because they make the tumor grow". And of course there is the power of the pink ribbon positivity...

Miriam's version in "Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person" is the only one that made me laugh. "I think I caused breast cancer by eating too much cheese." I eat a lot of cheese too. I'm going to eat more cheese.

I've been watching the "Joan of Arcadia" series on DVD. I never saw it when it aired, but Lorraine and I met the show's producer at the Springsteen symposium two years ago. A very nice family is struggling with life and God starts appearing to the sixteen year old. In human form. As a hunky high school boy, a lunch lady, a four year old girl in pigtails. In many episodes, Joan is asking for answers. God explains, a little impatiently, "I don't do why's."

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