The Pity Party

I can complain, all right.  In fact, I’m probably one of the most accomplished bitchers in the business.  But amid all of the bitching I’ve done since I learned that I have breast cancer, the one thing I haven’t done is feel sorry for myself.  I’ve been afraid, I’ve been pissed, I’ve been sad and introspective, but I haven’t been self-pitying.  I’ve sucked it up.

Today, though, I hung the balloons, uncorked the champagne and had myself a pity party.  It didn’t last long, but was well attended and a good time was had by me.  It all started when I realized I couldn’t implement my pet project without help.  It’s hard for me to ask for help.  It’s caught up in feelings of insecurity, perfectionism, and a deep seated desire to succeed.  And I can’t do it.  And then I asked the question that inaugurates every pity party.  One I have never entertained before.

Why me?

Some weeks ago I overheard a conversation in the doctor’s office.  Two women were talking about how perfect they were: they eat right, they exercise, they meditate, they have children, supportive husbands, yet they got breast cancer.  “We do everything right,” the one said.  “I just don’t understand how it happened.”   One of them caught my eye and I raised my eyebrow.  I looked at them with a sense of disbelief; like I was watching a water buffalo put on a bra.

And I sat across from them: overweight, sedentary, single and, yes, I have breast cancer!  Here I am: everything you aren’t but the three of us have breast cancer.   Ain’t that a bitch?  The undercurrent of these comments–whether people are conscious of it or not–is that some don’t deserve to get sick.   I chalked it up to complete and total ignorance.  It was an episode of The Real Housewives of Breast Cancer.  It’s the Upper East Side, all these rich broads are too skinny, too indulged, and they all think they’re perfect.   Perfect or no, they were the poster children of ignorance.  And that profound ignorance got stuck in my craw like a popcorn hull between tooth and gum.

And when I saw it again the nerve was too raw to contain my reaction.  Two people having a conversation in social media said the same thing.  “We need to know why women who do everything right get cancer.”  Or something to that effect.

Oh, for fuck’s sake!

In the last four months I’ve read about any number of risk factors for cancer: genes, too much/too little red meat, fish, pollutants, nutrition, environmental factors, race, ethnicity, cell phones, estrogen, obesity, preservatives, hormones, additives . . . the list goes on and on.  There is the ideal and then there’s the relative everyone has who is a chain smoking overweight drug using alcoholic who no one likes and yet has managed to outlive everyone in their generation.  You can’t stomach the guy, but there he stands: surviving the odds and flipping you the bird.

These conversations are, frankly, offensive.  That old guy who smokes and got lung cancer–he deserves it.  That lady who’s obese has heart disease–well, it’s her fault.  That woman over there is an accomplished athlete–she doesn’t deserve to get cancer.  That buff guy over there was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer–how could that happen to him?

I can only imagine the defenses:

  1. “I didn’t mean that anyone deserves breast cancer.  But there are people out there who just don’t take care of themselves and they can’t be surprised that they got sick.”  Or maybe,
  2. “No one deserves to be ill.  I just want to know why someone who has done everything right gets sick.”  Or perhaps,
  3. “I’ve been healthy all of my life and I did all the right things, yet I have breast cancer and I want to know why.”

Blogger Ann Silberman, author of  “But Doctor . . . I Hate Pink!,”  recounts a similar–though more direct–game of Blaming the Victim.  Another blogger asserted that Ms. Silberman has breast cancer because of her diet.  She writes

This “blame the victim” is a protective mechanism we instinctively do to allow us to believe we are immune from random tragedy; that it can’t happen to us.

But, it can.  The woman who wrote that blog post can get cancer, just as I did.  The truth is, nobody knows why people get cancer.  Sure, there is a genetic component for a very few.  But for most of us, it’s just bad luck.  It’s probably a complex combination of genetics, external environment, internal environment, diet, proteins in cells, hormones,and a million other body and DNA-specific things that in any given combination, can cause an error in cell division and thus, cancer.

There is just no answer.  People don’t like not having answers, but if it was as easy as eating green, leafy, organic vegetables – there would be no cancer.

My little party didn’t last long.  For me to entertain any thought as to why I got breast cancer was (and is) a wholly useless enterprise.  It’s a little too late to ask that question now; you can’t turn back time.  It is what it is.  The only thing to do now is to move forward and manage the disease.  All we have is the present.

Bad things happen to good people.  Thing is, we’re all good people and none of us are at fault for having breast cancer.

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19 Responses to The Pity Party

  1. dglassme says:

    Totally had to LoL when I read “Ain’t that a bitch?” Thanx for sharing your thoughts…spot on.

  2. Katie says:

    This is such a great point. It amazes me to hear about people that are so wrapped up in their own exceptionalism, they think even cancer couldn’t/shouldn’t be able to touch them. It’s unbelievable.

  3. Beana says:

    Amen with a capital A. No one deserves illness. The fit and thinking they are fabulous probably spend many hours in the pitty party department at Cancers-R-Us. But, I truly admire your strength!! Allowing yourself a healthy dose of “why”, I can only imagine is all part of recovery and management. Hang in. Im thinking about you every day!!

  4. Scott MacKenzie says:

    Water buffalo. You. Need. To. Stop. I just love you.

  5. Susan says:

    I am so glad you brought this up. So many times I wonder why I got breast cancer and then a recurrence. Why did my best friend who went through chemo at the same time in the same office with a different doctor get a recurrence but hers was mets and mine wasn’t. Blaming ourselves is wrong. It’s strange… deep down I blame myself even tough I know I shouldn’t, but when I think of my friend Li, I don’t think any of it was her fault. You mentioned bad luck. I hate being unlucky. It violates my optimism to the core. But you are right that they have no idea why we get breast cancer. I wish they would figure it out so we could prevent it. I wish they could end MBC. Meanwhile I agree with AnneMarie stellar post. I love the way you see things. Thanks for sharing this. XoXoXo-Susan

    • Scorchy says:

      Thanks Susan. I wish they could figure it out too. Or at least develop a way to turn off the cells forever. My oncologist says this is likely happening in the next decade. We’ll see. I can’t blame myself for it. It would be cool if it was proven the marijuana cured it. Can you imagine?

      • Susan says:

        That would be awesome. I keep hoping they solve this sooner than later. That’s why I believe they need to put more money to MBC research..they have to spend way more than 2%.

  6. Acacia says:

    This is my favorite pity party kit :

  7. As usual, STELLAR. I want to make a book of your blog posts and your tweets….. Blame the victim is a really horrible thing. Keeping the mets patients in their own little bubble as if there is some sort of swine flu contagious component to this disease is yet another awful thing… Keep fighting like hell….. And for what it’s worth, you saw the disaster area photo of those papers I posted at least a month ago. They are now piled on a chair and need to be floor triaged again. I was: a control freak, organized, I can do it ALL and I can do it MYSELF maniac, too. I still haven’t sought appropriate assistance in getting my mundane shit under control so you are a step ahead of me in seeking help…

    As for the Loubies as a weapon, my last pity party turned into a retail therapy party. Solo. Was seeking a pair of completely impractical pair of shoes after my onco visit. Was freaked out over the thought of not seeing him for a year. Headed straight for Saks (on Long Island where they no longer sell the line… go figure…. aren’t most of those women you describe living in this area, too????). When I couldn’t get the Loubies, I bought EIGHT… EIGHT pairs of shoes in 4 different stores in under two hours. I may have lined them up and snapped a photo….. The bill is probably sitting in that pile of papers…. four months past due…..

    Love you, girl…


  8. Makes you want to snatch those women bald. That is, if the chemo didn’t beat you to the punch. I was offered a flu/pneumonia shot by a couple of different health professionals in the past few weeks. Each time I declined and said “I never get sick” and then I had to add “I just get cancer”. It is what it is.

  9. Just this week, i’ve had the why me too, for the first time. It sucks.

    Have you ever read about just world beliefs? We don’t do well with the unexplained, so we seek to justify. But then, when there’s no easy reason, we blame the “victim” because there is no other reason. It happens in rape cases, murder, and of course, cancer.

    But the truth is, shit happens and we have no clue why. So hard to have that uncertainty floating around. And sometimes i fight like hell to be in the present.

    Take care – here’s to a better week.

    • Scorchy says:

      I know I’ve had my moments of trying to justify situations–the first was when I went to see my former oncologist. I was in the oncology unit and was appalled that I was now “one of them.” It was a striking feeling, actually. I’ve tried to be conscious of it ever since.

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