Cancer Survivor? Three Things to Never Discuss at the Dinner Table

A male breast cancer survivor comments on cancer confusion

Everybody knows that there are two issues to never bring up at the dinner table if you want to stay out of trouble: religion and politics. Now that I’ve lived with male breast cancer for 20 months, I’ve discovered a third issue: personal cancer therapies.

By that I mean the preferred procedures, programs, prescriptions and methods we choose to treat our individual disease. The emphasis here should be on the word ‘‘individual”.

I cannot count the number of times people have earnestly suggested a treatment or remedy to help me keep my cancer from returning, although our choices, in most cases, have already been made, and very often only after some deep soul-searching and perhaps numerous Google inquiring’s through the thousands of pages of research available on the Internet.

As with religious convictions and political wrangling, I listen and appreciate the vastness of human thought and opinion. But more importantly, unless asked for my input and personal cancer strategy, I steadfastly keep my plan for wellness to myself.

Why? Because it was designed by me to work for me, taking into account not only the stage and grade of my cancer, but my entire belief system, my physical and emotional needs and capabilities and my level of determination and resolve. My protocol for survival is also based on the fact that my first wife was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and endured many months of chemotherapy, hair loss, lung taps, surgeries, clinical trials, drug reactions, food tubes, secondary auto-immune diseases, nausea and eventually died peacefully on Valentine’s Day 1997 at the age of 47.

I made a vow then that if cancer ever invaded my body, I would seriously weigh a long life alongside a good life and choose accordingly.

That’s why you won’t hear me advise you about cancer treatments or even tell you about my choices unless you ask me. I’m not qualified to do so, and neither is your barber, or your coach, or your sister-in-law.

They mean well of course, but that’s not the point. Everybody means well, and the number of ideas compound and get scattered like so many thoughts in the winds of wellness, and we are left with more questions than we started with. And so I remain respectfully silent, aware of the turbulence and confusion that a cancer diagnosis and treatment creates. Of course, even these words I write may trigger some who read them. And that should help to demonstrate my point. We believe in our own process of eradicating cancer from our lives. I would no sooner advise someone to accept my religious or political views than I would expect them to choose my way of dealing with cancer.

A lot people talk of their “battle” with cancer. They often speak of the disease as an opponent in a fight, or an enemy at war. I understand the metaphor, but I also understand that the cancer in my body was created by me. It was me, at a cellular level, who produced this cancer within. I don’t’ believe that it is helpful or even beneficial to distance ourselves from any event hosted by us. Rather than do battle with a disease that I cannot even see, I choose to declare my independence as a "conscientious objector”.

I choose to take an active role in my recovery, as opposed to reactive. I talk to my cancer in no uncertain terms, letting it know that I appreciate the “wake-up call” it has given me, but making it very clear that there is no room for it to gather and grow.

The very notion of a “battle” raging within me sets a stressful tone for the work that I want to do and the life I choose to live, and any hint of negativity is, in my view, a fuel for cancer.

Of course I had been a year-long resident in a Zen Buddhist Temple studying meditation when my cancer was discovered, so my view of life as absolute perfection even when it hurts may not be everybody’s cup of tea. But each of us has a very personal plan, a prescription for a life with cancer that we’ve written ourselves and follow diligently because we want to survive.

I think that is the really remarkable thing about human diseases. They call us to action and give us an opportunity to heal. We can’t always be cured, but I believe we can always be healed.

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