The Fear of Cancer
The Rockland County Times has often re-run this popular Musing. In honor of all those struggling against cancer, we reprint it again, as published in my book, Born Minus: From Shoeshine Boy To News Publisher, An Italian-American Story.
You have worked hard all your life, and taken care of your family to the best of your ability. You have survived many of life’s struggles, and thrilled to its joys. Now, a new challenge rises up to meet you: cancer. You wonder whether you could have done something differently, to save yourself and your family from the road ahead.
But cancer is not a disease that respects anyone’s lifestyle. It strikes indiscriminately. No one can predict with certainty what lies ahead of you, but you are not beyond hope.
Years ago, the diagnosis of cancer was equal to a death sentence. Today this is just not true. With all the advances being made every day in cancer research, people are living many productive years after diagnosis, often defeating the disease altogether. If anything, a cancer diagnosis is the beginning of realizing how precious life is, for you, your family, and friends.
Men, more than women, do not want to face the fact that they are sick. They tend to be macho, and use excuses or scorn. “What does the doctor know? I feel fine. He just wants me to waste money on crazy pills and bunk.” Well, I’ll tell you something, the reason men make those remarks is because they are afraid, afraid to join the sick, afraid to become dependent.
You can’t be macho. When cancer is discovered, it is up to you to immediately seek treatment. Delaying treatment will only increase your suffering down the road. You must have the courage to face cancer head on, from the first sign. You have to trust your doctor when you get a diagnosis of cancer, and you have let your doctor help you face your fear. If you don’t go to your doctor, where will you go?
Let’s start with your team. There are many experienced doctors and other professionals who know what you are going through, and fortunately are available to help you. You are going to realize that the doctors and hospital personnel, on whom you come to depend, are the most dedicated and concerned people in the world, people of all races, religions and genders, who are united in one purpose: fighting for you. You will become aware, for the first time in your life, of the millions of people working to find a cure for you.
You’ve never seen or heard of these unsung heroes, the research scientists in the laboratories looking for a cure, the dedicated hospital workers, doctors, nurses, volunteers, fundraisers, working feverishly to find comfort and a cure for humanity. These people never give up and you shouldn’t either.
You need to find courage to face this ugly disease, and then the determination to fight to win. Understand what you must do to help yourself.
Help your doctor by listening and giving all the information he or she needs. Do not refuse any examinations or tests that are suggested by your doctor; this is very important. The worst part about the tests is that you feel your body is being violated, which is really hard to take. But it must be done, and you should try not to complain. The doctor doesn’t like seeing you under stress any more than you like going through it. All of the tests and studies you go through are stressful experiences, but knowing what to expect will help. You should cooperate as much as possible without brooding, which doesn’t help either you or your medical team.
Someday, cancer will be eradicated. It will be controlled or conquered like polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, diphtheria, tuberculosis, chicken pox, HIV, and many more were. Genetic and microbiological research in recent years has helped to fight viruses and allergies, and is being used to fight cancer.
I refer to cancer as a battle, and it’s a difficult battle to face. It’s up to you to hang tough. Have courage; do not give up. Don’t let your family and all the believers who are praying for you down. A cancer diagnosis is tough to take but if possible, you should focus on the fact that you are not in a hopeless situation. Something can be done to help you. There are many survivors who have defeated cancer more than once. Cancer fears the one who fights the good fight.
Let cancer fear its opponents, and not the other way around.