Once that diagnosis touches you, every headline and news article about breast cancer is more immediate and poignant. I was saddened to learn that Martina Navratilova has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and at the same time fascinated at how the news is used to convey different messages.
There is plenty of detail available about her diagnosis, and her very optimistic prognosis. My interest is more in some of the underlying issues which a higher profile diagnosis brings to the surface.
The frankness and openness which Martina has displayed are very welcome, particularly when she talks about missing screening mammograms. She was also very frank in her surprise at her diagnosis, because of her very fit and healthy lifestyle and was quoted saying “I’m this healthy person, I’ve been healthy all my life, and all of a sudden I have cancer. Are you kidding me?”
This brings forward a whole discussion about the role we all play in our own cancer, or even more so, what we feel we could and should have done differently. A wealth of information and research is available of how to prevent or decrease our risk factors and reduce our probability of getting cancer. Healthy lifestyle, exercise and diet all clearly play a role in reducing the probability of getting cancer. The difficulty with this is that it increases our feeling of guilt and responsibility of contributing to or causing our own cancer when we are diagnosed. As soon as you get that diagnosis, you seek to understand why and we are too often quick to blame ourselves. Guilt comes easily when we think of things we could have done differently.
I think I am a fairly well informed individual, yet I was unaware of some of the risk factors of breast cancer. And my risk factors were mixed to low. Furthermore, there are probably as many factors out of our control as well as within our control. It is highly unlikely that we would know for sure what has been the cause or main causes of our own illness.
I feel that we have enough to deal with in our diagnosis, in the heavy treatment path and all it includes and in being faced abruptly with our mortality. Of course there are lifestyle changes we can and probably have made, following our diagnosis. But how do we make ourselves feel less guilty and as if we have brought this on ourselves?