Breast Cancer Profiling and the Blame Game

Posted on: October 29th, 2009 by
2

As Breast Cancer Awareness month comes to a close, I want to express gratitude for all the trials, studies, and the women who suffered before me — just so I and others could live. I also want to thank all the doctors who have worked tirelessly on behalf of breast cancer patients.

But….

You knew there was a “But” coming, didn’t you?

I’ve noticed a disconnect between some doctors and patients.

As a breast cancer survivor (and thriver), I have the same concerns that many patients and former patients have: Will the cancer come back? Has it spread? What is causing my aches and pains — cancer or arthritis? We live with the fear that, once again, chance will, perhaps, choose us to be members of a club that nobody wanted to join in the first place: The Cancer Club.

Yet when I hear doctors speak about breast cancer in particular, I notice an alarming trend. They cite studies that attempt to explain why women get breast cancer. And this is where things get dicey.

Risk Factors Behaving Badly

Reasons given for breast cancer diagnoses include Vitamin D deficiency, lack of regular exercise, lack of eating sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables, having babies later in life or having no babies, having the BRCA1 and/or the BRCA2 gene, stress, and drinking too much alcohol. Studies show, for example, that super athletes (those who work out 4-6 hours per day) have a low incidence of breast cancer.

No offense, doctors, but I’m not buying any of this. Statistics can be manipulated to show a “finding” that is suspect at best. For example, maybe the super athletes tend to be very young and that’s why they have a lower incidence of breast cancer? And what about Peggy Fleming? She is a super athlete doing a weight-bearing exercise.

She got cancer anyway.

And so did I, even though I was fit, exercised regularly, didn’t smoke, had no significant family history of the disease, don’t have the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 gene, and was a non-drinker.

In short, I didn’t fit the “profile” of someone who had breast cancer coming to her. And by providing general profiles of which women are likely to get breast cancer, doctors are doing breast cancer profiling and playing the blame game.

Because truth is, nobody takes care of him or herself 100 percent of the time. The truth is, nobody really knows what causes cancer; truth is, because breast cancer for each woman (or man) is as unique as her (his) fingerprint, generalizations don’t work; and truth is, every person on Earth probably fits into one or more of the aforementioned risk factors.

A healthy diet and regular exercise are a must in order to help foster a viable body and mind. But to link everything back to causing cancer is a bit short-sighted. After all, my grandfather worked with asbestos, and he lived until a ripe old age. Had he died of cancer in his 40s, then it would’ve been attributed to his exposure to asbestos.

I’m not saying doctors are always wrong. It’s just that the best doctors see the patient as human with unique attributes rather than a potential statistic to be presented at a forum.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She writes about a potpourri of topics, including motherhood and her Chinese adoption experience at http://currents-living-discovery.blogspot.com/, and her cat Hemi blogs at http://www.catterchatter.blogspot.com/. Beth teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She has a guest posting on The World’s Strongest Librarian at http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/3597/sharing-a-loved-ones-pain-guest-post-by-beth-gainer/.

She can be contacted at bethlgainer@gmail.com and gainercallingtheshots@gmail.com.

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This blog posting is an excerpt from my book in progress, Calling the Shots: Coaching Yourself Through the Medical System. Stay in loop for when it comes out. Subscribe to the blog in upper righthand corner.

2 Responses to Breast Cancer Profiling and the Blame Game

  1. Alicia (aka Dr. Mom) had this to say about that:

    oh man, i hope those studies arent right bc i think im doing every single risk factor. time for that mammogram that i keep putting off…

    another great post beth!

  2. Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

    Thank you!! Don’t put off a mammogram. Some people have all the risk factors and don’t get cancer, so don’t worry. Going to the doctor may really reassure you.

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